Older Broads Are The New Box-Office Powerhouses. Are You Listening Romance Publishers?

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

As part of the ongoing expansion of The “Mature” Content Stockpile of articles regarding women and age on this website, I keep track of news and other items I can add to the stockpile. When I came across this fab piece by Mark Harris from NY Mag over at Vulture you know I fist bumped myself, and OH YEAH MAMA-ed while I jumped all my about my kitchen. I was so loud, so exuberant, the builder installing insulation in my garage called out to to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself.

The article is titled Actresses Over 60 Are the New Box-Office Powerhouses.  As I read, the line that first stood out is pretty much what I soapbox about on a regular basis. Harris mentions “society’s tendency to write off older women as dear little “characters” without passions or aspirations of their own.” Then Harris goes on to discuss a 1968 study in Hollywood that examined the age demographics of film-goers.  It’s that paragraph that truly hits home; it’s what I say about a certain overlooked demographic of romance readers with an appetite for a certain overlooked subgenre of romance fiction–the Older Romance, Mature Romance, Mid-Adult Romance, Seasoned Romance, Contemporary Adult Romance. 

The audience is real, and so is its appetite. And those who get it — who don’t simply view this particular group of movie lovers as the “about to die” demographic — may, a few years hence, look like very smart early adapters. In 1968, well before demographics were a subject of serious discussion at the studios, Variety reported the results of a study that showed 48 percent of American moviegoers were 24 or younger. For the middle-aged men who then ran Hollywood and thought they were making movies for themselves, the news was revelatory. Baby-boomers — the pig in the python — were coming of age, and over the next 15 years, the way movies were conceived, made, and marketed would undergo a revolution as a result. Now, almost 50 years later, that demographic is coming of old age, and making itself heard again. And if anyone wants it, they’ve still got money to spend. —(Harris, 1 Aug 2016)

Did you notice that first line Early adapters are smart?

Did you notice the last line? That last line means I have to rewrite a small part of an academic paper I am presenting at the upcoming University of Love conference in Adelaide, Australia. My paper is titled The (Saggy) Bottom Line: Women of a Certain Age and Romance Fiction. I have to include what Harris says alongside what a few other studies and authors note. That last line is a big fat flag I wave when I’m on my soapbox, a big fat signpost that is being overlooked by the publishers of romance fiction.

In case you missed it, because romance publishers miss it, so it must be easy to miss, that big fat signpost is MONEY.

I’ve said it before, I say it in my paper presentation, and I’ll say it here again, There is a demographic of romance fiction readers  who MATCH this demographic of film-goers, and this demographic wants romance fiction that reflects the reality of their lives, not some hackneyed stereotyped bullshit about how a woman over 40 is dead below the waist, or, as Harris mentions, are people who buy “adult diapers and medic-alert systems and sit in their adjustable beds leaning forward with ear horns to make sure they hear the list of dangerous side effects in the commercials.”

This demographic wants romance fiction with heroes and HEROINES who are whole, intelligent, vibrant, active, sexual human beings, not diaper-wearing crazy, cat-loving, dried-up-old grannies with walkers. This demographic of romance reader wants a romance heroine who is like any romance heroine, only she just happens to be older. This demographic of romance reader is trying to make itself heard, and they have money to spend.

This Demographic HAS MONEY TO SPEND! What are you romance publishers waiting for? Early adapters WIN! Romance has been the Early Adapter of so many social changes regarding women– until now, and the industry is missing this goldmine right in front of them.

Thanks to Mark Harris for making me have to rewrite a small section my paper. I have to include this article because he’s given me more evidence that the romance publishing industry is overlooking a goldmine.

The Hippest New Thing?

Photo credit: Jessie Romaneix © / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: Jessie Romaneix © / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

March 12, 2015: Time Magazine’s Sarah Begley discusses How the Romantic Comedy for Senior Citizens Became Film’s Hippest Genre .The Time piece states, “that these stories are usually more grounded in the real world than many of their younger counterparts,” and that movies that show the diverse experiences of senior citizens is a good thing, both for the viewers who recognize themselves in the aging faces of Bill Nighy and Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and for younger audiences who can learn to see the elderly as the multifaceted people they are.”

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel do well to present mature-age in a romantic comedy, yet the really awesome thing would be to have Rom Coms for the over 40 crowd where sex IS a regular part of the narrative, where older adult sexual intimacy is shown as healthy, rather than a punchline. That is, there are no jokes about erectile dysfunction, Viagra or anything that views ageing as a running gag (as was the case with ‘old’ buddies Michael Douglas-Robert DeNiro meeting up in the movie Last Vegas) or a disease. Sexual intimacy lasts longer (no Viagra joke intended) than a few decades, and if we are mature enough (and I mean mature in the ‘we are all adults here’ way) to show BDSM relationships (even toned down ones) and explicit sex scenes on screen, then aren’t we also adult enough to view accurate portrayals of mature sexuality on screen as well?

Now, if we could translate ‘film’s hippest next genre’ to fiction, particularly to romance fiction, then we could about a real trend worth applause.

PORTRRAIT PAINTING / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

PORTRRAIT PAINTING / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

But wait. Is the mature-aged romance novel a trend?  On 8 March 2015, in a piece titled Forget Bridget Jones, divorce comedy is the new romantic fictionHannah Furness of The Telegraph reports that Man Booker Prize Nominee David Nicholls, believes that stories of unconventional families and romance in older age are likely to become more common to reflect “huge cultural change.

In the words of Matthew McConaughey ”Well, all right, all right, all right, all riiiiight!  In fact, Nicholls says that he wrote a protagonist to defy the stereotypes of middle-aged men in love. Well, gee, that sounds familiar, only I write about middle-aged women in love.

Sandrabooks

Keeping ’em Young and Powerless

Old Ladies10 February 2015: In a study titled It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2014 Dr Martha Lauzen from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University that found that a mere 12 % of the highest grossing films of 2014 had female protagonists. Secondary female characters and females with speaking roles were also underrepresented. Lauzen states, “As we grow older, we gain personal as well as professional power.”

Lauzen also suggests the consequence of having few female authority figures portrayed onscreen (and as I suggest in fiction, especially romance fiction) means that, “When we keep them young, we keep them relatively powerless.” Further to this, Lauzen notes that “The chronic underrepresentation of girls and women reveals a kind of arrested development in the mainstream film industry…It is unfortunate that these beliefs continue to limit the industry’s relevance in today’s marketplace.”

While the study shows the majority of film roles lack racial and ethnic diversity (the majority of roles are white), the study also indicates that ageism is still hard at work onscreen.

  • Female characters remain younger than their male counterparts. The majority of female characters were in their 20s (23%) and 30s (30%). The majority of male characters were in their 30s (27%) and 40s (28%).
  • Males 40 and over accounted for 53% of all male characters. Females 40 and over comprised 30% of all female characters.
  • Whereas the percentage of female characters declined dramatically from their 30s to their 40s (30% to 17%), the percentage of male characters increased slightly, from 27% in their 30s to 28% in their 40s.
  • The percentage of male characters in their 50s (18%) is twice that of female characters in their 50s (9%). 

I’m sure none of this surprised the female movie-going population. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise women who read fiction, write fiction, are awarded prizes for writing…

 

Lauzen. M. (2015). It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2014. Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. Retrieved from http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/files/2014_Its_a_Mans_World_Report.pdf .