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January 19, 2009

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Protection Porn

June Thomas on the Secret Service:

The protagonists of disposable lesbian fiction—romances and mysteries—have had varied lines of work over the years. Back in the late 1950s and early ’60s, Beebo Brinker—the butch anti-hero of the first pulps in which lesbian characters weren’t all evil, sick, or suicidal—delivered pizzas and operated an elevator because those jobs allowed her to wear trousers… In the last few years, though, a new hero has emerged: Braver, fitter, and more sensitive than a cop, more honorable than a PI, the Secret Service agent is the perfect romance paragon, particularly for lesbian readers…

It isn’t just a matter of looking good in a suit and being able to handle a trigger. Although lesbians no longer hide in the shadows, everyone appreciates discretion, and Secret Service agents are the ultimate strong, silent type—they fade into the background without hiding, they keep their mouths shut, and they have your back. But the question of protection is especially complicated territory for women involved with other women. Since our relationships aren’t recognized by the state, we aren’t always able to shield our partners from hardship and can’t offer them the social-welfare benefits that marriage confers… In the real world, security is a fantasy even more desirable, and more elusive, than endless love.

Now here’s where it gets (yes) even more interesting. The popular series Thomas references as her prime subgenre exemplar started in 2002. But check out Slate’s terrific “Related in Slate” sidebar:

Scout Tufankjian, a photojournalist who spent almost two years covering the Obama campaign, became fascinated by his Secret Service detail; she said the experience “felt like traveling with the 40 or so older brothers and sisters I had never wanted: They were nosy and overprotective and fun to be around.” Brendan I. Koerner explained who is entitled to Secret Service protection, while David Greenberg described how the protective service developed its mystique. Back in 1998, David Plotz described the gushing cultural representations of Secret Service agents as “protection porn.”

Here’s Plotz’s truncated description of the idea (this time in hetero guise):

Protection Porn includes the movie In the Line of Fire, sundry authorized TV specials, and countless articles the service cooperated with. The notable qualities of Protection Porn: It is obsessed with the image of the stiff-suited, sunglassed, wrist-miked, stone-faced agent, and it dwells on the (admittedly impressive) fact that agents make themselves targets, spreading themselves to take bullets rather than ducking them. Unlike other law enforcers and soldiers, who have the ambiguous duty of attacking, Secret Service agents only defend. They are self-sacrificing, self-abnegating, irreproachable.

If I were to add anything to these two takes, it would be to say something like this: the dramatic arc of the secret service and/or bodyguard-themed romance inevitably begins with an adversarial relationship. Neither the protectee nor the protector trust each other, and they’re resentful of the intrusion of the other onto their life/work. Only later, after near-constant nagging and dramatic demonstrations of loyalty, is trust gained and romance begun.

This is an allegory of all romantic relationships. Only it picks up at some midway point, when the relationship is contentious and you resent the other person’s demands on your time and attention. (Historically, for me, this has been three months into any given relationship.) Then something happens and you clear the hurdle, convinced that your partner DOES have your best interests at heart and that your life would be unimaginable without them. And in fact, “hurdle” is the appropriate metaphor, because in the lifetime of a relationship, this is what happens again and again.

After all, what is the virtue of the protector? The protector keeps away the intrusions of the outside world, which allows for the intensity of the relationship to flourish in isolation. Protection porn is the fantasy of romance regained.

Posted January 19, 2009 at 4:18 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Fairy-Tale Marriage, Society/Culture
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