Bad Romance is a classic tale of boy meets girl… meets other boy… meets other girl. Lots of stories about men and masculine self-discovery wind up being stories about a man having to choose between the “whore” archetype and the “wife” archetype. Which he chooses often defines his character. The immature, selfish, childish man chooses an endless succession of nymphs and sluts, whereas the wise, adult, mature man who’s ready to accept the duties of family and community, chooses to put a ring on it. It’s the story of the Lovers card in the Tarot deck, and it’s the premise of almost every rom-com out there. It’s a hidden subtext of most women’s magazines articles: how do you convert that wandering dude into marriage material?
Straight up and down the interpretive ladder, there’s no level at which there’s something about this ancient “story” that isn’t somewhat offensive to me. From the grading of women based on fuckability (virgin, slut, wife, crone), to the diminution of human relationships to accounts of negotiated sexual commerce, the more I looked at this archetype, which should be a living symbol through which we interpret the mysteries of existence, the more it seemed like stereotype, the dead, flat, useless, insulting “heap of broken images” T. S. Eliot laments.
But like most any stereotype, archetypes exist for a reason. There’s usually a nugget of truth to them, somewhere, if you look deeply enough. Where I found that truth was in the idea that human moral development is much more tightly tied to the evolution of the sexual self than we usually acknowledge. I believe that we make our moral choices and our biggest choices not so much on what the mind thinks it knows, as on what the body and the mind have experienced together, even if we’re not always aware of this “secret knowledge,” what Joseph Campbell (or is that Poi Dog Pondering?) calls the wisdom of the dreaming body. We go through life, we have experiences, and we learn things, often things that contradict what we think we know, or what we’ve been taught. And the only way we have these learning experiences is with our bodies. The living, red, pulsing heart has its reasons whereof reason knows nothing.
I once read somewhere that anything having to do with the body is necessarily erotic. Whether or not this is true, whether or not we can even agree on what “true” would mean with a statement like that, it certainly does suggest a lot of questions, the most interesting of which to me is: are morality and sexuality separable? Can we learn to be moral creatures without being sexual creatures? How much of our understanding of the world is colored by our own sexual impulses, fears, and fetishes? Can we really have a meaningful conversation about human technological and moral advancement without also talking about Ess Ee Eks? Can we afford to keep trying so hard not to?
All of which makes me think that maybe I think too much about sex, and so, rather than be an uncomfortable person to be around at parties, I decided to channel all these questions into a book, and hence the seed that grew into Bad Romance. As that seed grew, I also became fascinated by a lot of other questions as well. Each question I posed in my writing led me to six more, most notably, “What the fuck is up with all these fucking vampire books right now?” I also, perhaps inevitably, got drawn to the noir style, which very nakedly and unabashedly confronts the way lust can color our moral judgements. But can lust also make us make good decisions? Can we make choices that are both right and wrong at the same time? What if, instead of stereotypes, real people lived out the story of a man of questionable moral character, a woman who’s good long-term relationship material, and a woman with whom there’s not much long-term potential, but a lot of sexual chemistry? How would real people, with their own motivations and histories, live out that kind of triangle, and what kinds of choices would they make?
As the story grew, it became more and more clear to me that, finally, this would be a story of how we make moral choices, and how our bodies and experiences can shape those choices. It’s become a tale of sympathy for the devils that live within all of us, and a story of how big wrongs are reached by small choices. I also hope it’s become a tale of the greatness of which we are all capable, and the smallness to which we can all descend, and how, somewhere, somehow, these great and small personages are all contained in this one fleshy vessel, programmed, on a cellular level by a program billions of years old, to get freaky.