August 13, 2005
The Perverse Fascination Continues: Sheikh-Themed Romance Novels
Joining secretdubai, yinshuisiyuan and myself, the ever-thoughtful Jackmormon is also contemplating the mysterious popularity of sheikh-themed romance novels:
All mockery aside, I suspect that there is a statistically significant boom in such novels--one Susan Mallery began writing romance novels with "sheik" in the title in November 2001 and is up to eight in her series by now--but I can't really make the longitudinal argument I'd like to without more serious Library of Congress diving. And for that kind of research, I'll have to have an academic article in view. My hypothesis so far is that since romance novelists and readers are constantly in search of new diabolical male stereotypes, the recent media coverage of Arab masculinity has sparked an uptick in Arab-male leading roles in romance novels. And since the romance-novel writing business is so fast, I'll bet one could find one hell of a statistical correlation, if one knew how to look.
I suppose one might try to force such a survey through Amazon’s Advanced Search, but the speed at which these novels are published is probably comparable to the speed at which they drop off the face of the earth.
Of course, there are less rigorous ways to observe such a trend. In fact, there is a website dedicated to collecting information about this sub-genre. Books can be sorted by title, author, fictional country (view the map), theme (e.g. “kidnapped by a handsome sheikh”) and most helpfully, publication year. It’s probably incomplete, but in keeping with my tendency to take even very silly things seriously, I have emailed the webmaster to ask about her data-gathering methods.
In the meantime, I’ve built a graph using data from the Sheikhs and Desert Love collection:
Stop laughing, you cretins.
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» The Romance Novel Index from Political Animal
THE ROMANCE NOVEL INDEX....Via Abu Aardvark, who has an unhealthy fascination for this kind of thing, Aqoul has compiled a chart using rigorous data mining techniques that shows a surprising surge in the popularity of sheikh-themed romance novels. The ... [Read More]
Tracked on August 15, 2005 01:47 PM
In romance novels the key male factor is "dangerous" a la Rhett Butler and Arab males have the danger factor in public image.
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 13, 2005 09:03 AM
Peaked in 2002-ish, I see. Any correlations jump out at you? Keep in mind the lag times for publication.
Posted by: Eva Luna at August 13, 2005 10:59 AM
I'm not sure that there's much in the way of a lag-time in publication for romance novels. The top selling authors are chugging out more than three novels a year (!!).
That's a great graph, and more authoritative than any data I was able--willing?--to compile. The ultimate would be LOC records, though, because even the books that drop off the radar get tracked there.
Posted by: Jackmormon at August 13, 2005 05:45 PM
Hmm, I wonder if there's a similar correlation with Soviets and the Cold War.
That map is amusing. And the cover pictures: all those "Arabs" look like white guys, only with the traditional Saudi head-covering, and a tan.
Posted by: zurn at August 14, 2005 12:43 PM
This is possibly the strangest and most unexpected topic. Well.
On the covers, hmmm, well on one level the white guy with a tan thing is not 'incorrect' insofar as plenty of Middle Easterners look what you would call "European" - above all North Africans; the classic Arab look is very much a Peninsular physical type. Of course so then is the silly dress.
Funny how everyone thinks all Arabs dress that way. I recall some novel - I think a sci fi novel - about (Arab) Egyptians in space (not the ancient angle) and the illustration showed Egyptians wearning Saudi outfits. Bloody hell, could have at least done the much cooler traditional Saadi turbans.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 15, 2005 05:48 AM
Do you recall what novel that is? I'd absolutely LOVE to get my hands on it. It sounds fabulous!
Egyptians in SPAAAAACE!
(judging by their construction techniques and safety oversight, I think a more apt title would be "Egyptians getting BLOWN UP!")
Posted by: drdougfir at August 15, 2005 11:00 AM
"Egyptians in SPAAAAACE!"
Damn, can't decide whether that reminds me more of the Muppets "Pigs In SPAAAAACE!", or more probably, the analogous Mel Brooks bit at the end of History of the World, part I, "Jews In SPAAAACE!"
Also, thank you very much for the mental image of Miss Piggy in a niqab.
Posted by: Eva Luna at August 15, 2005 12:29 PM
Wasn't there a small, yet thoroughly deranged, subset of women who had the hots for ObL after 9/11?
Posted by: Anonymous at August 15, 2005 12:54 PM
Sorry, nope, it's a hazy memory at best and I frankly would hate to cop to having read and then actually recalled bad literature.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 15, 2005 01:04 PM
Why not? The rest of us admit to having read F. Scott Fitzgerald (and worse), after all.
We all read bad literature.
Posted by: John Penta at August 16, 2005 12:04 AM
remember the sheik is the original forbidden lover.
The whole point is that your father and your brother don't like him, remember? He wants just you, not your family.
and, yes, Valentino was a white guy ... with lots of eye makeup.
Posted by: Diana at August 16, 2005 01:48 AM
The book about arabs in space was Crescent in the Sky by Donald Moffit.
It's pretty good, great space opera.
Not the best "Islam in the future" novel though, those would have to be George Alec Effinger's "When Gravity Fails" but that is about a mahgrebi hustler not sheiks.
Posted by: roy at August 16, 2005 04:20 AM
That is not the one.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 16, 2005 05:09 AM
Curious...looking at the graph in a stock chart sense, there seems to have been a long-term resistance level at 5 books/year. The peaks in 1979, 1989 and 1997 just push that level and drop back. Interestingly, the breakout above that came in late 1998 - and the surge in 2000-01. Given a lag of say four months, the wave must have started in mid-98 and then taken off around the millenium.
Now, if we assume some reflexivity - that choices to write and publish sheikh porn are influenced by past success - that would suggest the millenium surge is at least in part the result of an initial sheikh event in 1998/9.
Embassy bombings/USS Cole/Kosovo/Op. INFINITE REACH might bear on that if the dangerous-lover theory is accepted. Note that there was a fall off in sheikh growth in 2001, lagging a fall in publication decisions sometime in mid-2000. That would map onto the spring of optimism for final status talks in the Israel/Palestine conflict - before the September 2000 intifada, which would predict a lagged sheikh boost in late 2001. That effect was probably overshadowed!
The peak is 2003, after a year of Iraq poker and Afghan intervention (remember when Hamid Karzai was the World's Best Dressed Man?) but before the Iraq dread might have set in w/uncomfortable realities. Interesting there was a rebound this year, though.
Posted by: Alex at August 16, 2005 06:21 AM
i don't know the "egyptians in space" book, but a good authority on arab science-fiction is prof. michael cooperson of the near eastern studies department @ u.c.l.a. -- just send him an e-mail & he'll happily answer your question.
obviously, my personal fave of mideast-ish sci-fi are jon c. grimwood's novels.
Posted by: raf* at August 16, 2005 04:33 PM
mick jagger played the sheik (chique?) on the stones' "emotional rescue" in about 1979 -- grafting the image of lawrence of arabia onto some poetic liftings from d. h. lawrence -- a double lawrence, you might say. the bootleg version of the song was about 45 seconds longer and MUCH better than the regular version. a great track!
Posted by: tom at August 19, 2005 11:10 AM
I'm the creator and webmaster of Sheikhs and Desert Love, and found your blog most amusing. I especially enjoyed the graph.
I was pretty floored seeing my site given a small write-up on Time.com. Ultimately, this proves that there is a fan base for every silly on earth.
Posted by: Erika W. at September 14, 2005 09:13 PM