Your tax dollars, to the tune of $914,000, are going to the serious study of romance novels, James Bond, and “Call Me Maybe.”
It’s true. According to a report in this year’s Wastebook–a compilation of the most unnecessary and ridiculous federal government projects of the year curated by the office of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)–the National Endowment for the Humanities has funded the “Popular Romance Project” for the past three years, and the incremented funding surpassed the $900,000 mark in 2013.
The Popular Romance Project is first and foremost a website but also a group that puts on events and has a documentary in the works, whose aim is to enlighten Americans about romance novels, music, and fanfiction and give this genre of pop culture its due.
According to its About page, the PRP “will explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction.” It takes as its mission the lionizing, of sorts, of the romance novel, which the website laments is “largely ignored by mainstream critics, regularly maligned by academics, and sometimes hidden away even by their readers.”
The project’s centerpiece is the documentary “Love Between The Covers,” which takes a look at the evolution of romance from the well-known Harlequin novel to fan fiction. Its website, however, covers everything the federal government needs to know about how people fall in love, including in-depth looks at Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit “Call Me Maybe,” “Black Superhero Romance,” “men who become cats at will,” and the frantic fandom surrounding the male vampires in the Twilight series. With a million dollars in taxpayer funding, it has to be good.
While romance literature is certainly a cornerstone of American art and an inextricable part of our national identity, even the PRP’s website makes the point that the industry really does not need the government’s help. According to the website itself, “romance fiction generated $1.37 billion in sales in 2008, and romance was the top-performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists.” No one needs to argue that the free market doesn’t like Twilight (or Twilight fanfiction) enough for it not to stand on its own merits.
The ridiculous project is nowhere near the first to which Americans have been enlightened by the efforts of the Coburn Wastebook. In 2010, Wastebook revealed another million-dollar grant went to fighting the scourge of poetry-less zoos, placing snippets of poetry in and around the animals because it was apparently in America’s best interests at the time. Just last year, the federal government spent half a million on a “prom week video game” in which the player must find a date, pick a dress, and clean up nicely for the big day.
You can read the entirety of the Wastebook’s finding for 2013 here.