There are romance novels I've loved because of the depth of the characters. There are fictional relationships I've rooted for despite them going against what I believe a good relationship should look like. Then there are the relationships that make me want to pitch the book across a room. A very popular young adult series depicted a predatory vampire watching a young women in her bedroom while she slept. When he left her "for her own safety" she decided she would rather die than live without him. This was a very unhealthy example of a codependent relationship. Young women used it as a reference by which to judge their own relationships. The Internet came alive with teens who were dumping their boyfriends, despondent that they may never find the man willing to sacrifice himself for them.
Is it the author's fault that young women used her fictional characters' relationship as a basis for their own? No. I doubt she could have foreseen the impact those characters would have on many young women. Maybe she even thought that she was portraying the perfect relationship -- illustrating the apex of loyalty and devotion. There are many books I read and wonder, "Is this what love is to the author?"
Fifty Shades of Grey has been analyzed and torn apart. I haven't read it. I probably won't. But I do question whether it was the author's responsibility to portray a healthy relationship, let alone represent the BDSM lifestyle. She did what many of us do. She wrote her story, caught up in the words, not thinking of whether or not it would become a best seller and influence people. There are plenty of books I've read that portray emotionally abusive relationships as the "ideal." Perhaps the only reason the authors don't get reamed for it is because their book hasn't made it to the big screen.
Is it possible to demand that an author portray the perfect relationship? Would this get boring?
If each of us was asked to sit down and describe the perfect relationship, the write ups wouldn't look the same. What we look for in a partner and the treatment we find desirable or even acceptable is a blend of many, many things. What we witnessed during our childhood, the relationships we had growing into an adult, what we discuss with friends, biology, and what we choose to read and watch can all feed into what we desire. The benchmarks we use for a relationship aren't impartial or scientific. Have you ever had a friend talk about their own relationship and walk away from the conversation viscerally disturbed? If it was easy to see all of the flaws in our own relationship, many of us wouldn't have spent so much time with certain people in our past.
As an author I feel an obligation to try to develop strong female characters and portray relationships in a realistic light. This doesn't mean my characters will always make wise choices or the relationships will be ideal. Characters will be manipulated, lied to, and blinded by their own lust. These flaws make the characters more human and the story more believable. That said, I don't shy away from bringing the unhealthy elements to light and calling them out as such.
I think the fact that relationships in books have been blogged about and analyzed is a very positive thing. It gave people an opportunity to talk about their own unhealthy relationships and warn others. However, I do wonder why people don't ask why a minority of readers felt it was acceptable to act out what they read in a book. The genre is fiction. Should we be more concerned about people who take the work literally than what was written?
Do you think writers have an ethical responsibility to portray healthy relationships in certain genres? Should works of fiction be held to a standard and looked to as an example to live one's life by?