Here we are, in 2023 and our first! theme month! It’s February, the month of Valentines Day and my dead grandmother’s birthday, and since people are going to be selling chocolates at a discount at some point and TV will be screening romantic media, it’s of course, the best of times to focus on that, in our theme of Smooch Month!
And of course, when it’s Smooch Month, we get to see two particular types of article, which I’m going to try to get out of the way ahead of time: One, ‘here’s what I mean by Smooch Media,’ and two, ‘wow, it’s super hard to write Pile articles this month.’
When I talk about Smooch Month media, what I mean is media that is focused primarily on characters having a romantic relationship that develops in the story and where the indulgence of that relationship is the main reason to engage with the story. It’s about being able to watch something and enjoy the way the characters are enjoying one another. It’s not just ‘romantic’ mind you – after all, you wouldn’t call Beauty and The Beast a ‘romantic’ movie in the same type as say This Means War (though they’re both bad and treat women as objects, ho ho), but you’re definitely meant to enjoy the relief and satisfaction of The Right Person Getting To Hold The Right Hand.
Ostensibly the point of Smooch Month was to try and get me to look at media outside of my normal interests. After all, if I don’t look at smoochy media, then in a month of smoochy media, I’m going to see, what, at most, four pieces of Smooch media? Four movies, four books, four TV shows, four whatevers — if I have a whole year to work on them, surely I can find the best in that context, right?
Yeah, well, turns out ‘the best’ is really bad!
I think it’s partly form function. Smoochy stuff in media either is built around a long term, will-they-won’t-they kind of tension as you saw in the romantic sitcom like How I Met Your Mother or Friends that builds joke after joke on the same question of how boring people manage being in love. There’s movies, which want to make ninety minutes or so of telling you a story where you meet a character and get along with them, and then get to see them fail to get together then suddenly oh ho, check it out, they got together.
Books, there’s a lot of stuff in romantic literature, but also I do enough reading that I need to be engaged with the writing itself. I guess there’s smut books as well, but you’re probably not going to see me telling you anything about that kind of storytelling, thanks.
I think, basically, for the subject to be just characters hanging out and having a relationship, I need to find them interesting, then I need for that interestingness to play out over a meaningful length of time while they do something. Basically, I think, for me, the ideal shape of a smoochy piece of media is probably a single-season anime, about 13 episodes long.
Of course! Anime is one of the few mediums I enjoy that has a specific romantic form that I tend to enjoy. And yes, I’m going to absolutely lean on that for this month, but also, you might notice a trend in that space of the romantic media being a lot more inclined towards queer romance. I think about this a lot when I do Smooch Month media versus Pride Month media – because almost everything that matters in Pride Month can also matter in Smooch Month, but there’s a lot of hetero Smooch Month that doesn’t work in Pride Month.
I mean unless there’s a bold Ace Rights straight movie going on out there but I somehow doubt it.
Also, in anime, the boys get to be hotter.
A thing I learned in 2022 that stands out to me is that while there’s a really tedious trend towards ‘almost’ romantic queer anime, there’s a lot of actually queer manga, just being published out there, in long forms and short, mixing together so many genres, and it’s just… there. It’s a library of the form, and the fact that anime tends to be produced by people who don’t want to make the explicit, clear outlining of ‘this is a romantic relationship and yes the people involved are the same genders or are transgender’ is a byproduct of the scale of business.
It’s not like I’ve been exclusively looking at queer romances or anything. It is the case though that my attempts to watch more things from more sources I’m mostly watching a lot of stuff that’s kind of boring. I mean, I watched To All The Boys I Loved Before and I couldn’t help but focus helplessly on how alien it was to me. I grew up in a weird little cult environment, sure, but even setting that aside, growing up, I saw all sorts of high school dramas from the Pies America genre, I knew what high schools are ‘meant’ to be like, what high school relationship dramas are ‘supposed’ to be like (and oh hey, look at that, I already wrote about Ten Things I Hate About You, which was contemporary to me and also keyed to my tastes), but things made twenty years later, like, those aren’t going to be meaningful to me and they shouldn’t be!
I do like looking at Hallmark media, because they are so bad and often feature an incredible nothing in the middle of the movie that’s easy to mock and ridicule. But I need to break up those movies to make sure I’m not just going ‘now here’s a load of crap, isn’t this crap?’ because oh my god who cares! They need to be entertainingly bad, right?
I think a few years of Smooch Month has had this as its great, defining truth: I don’t like much smooch media. Romantic comedies tend to be tiresome, hetero romance as presented is built out of things that are typically boring, and the visual genre of two characters who I, ostensibly, should want to kiss or at least see kissing, is overwhelmingly prone towards presenting dudes who are aggressively mid. Any time these things try to get my attention they have to do it with elements of farce or action. I like a few romantic comedies that are also spy stories or crime stories or … well, yeah, the kinds of stories I already like!
And thus, my aim this month? We’re going to talk about some Not Boring Stuff that cares about characters who do a smooch on one another.