Part 1 – An Intro
I remember the first time I heard someone suggest that if Christian Grey hadn’t been a billionaire he’d be an episode of Criminal Minds. I paused, and then I laughed because it was true. I’m not ragging on BDSM because, to be honest, it’s something I would totally be down to explore. And I’m definitely not here to rag on the book because at the end of the day, that’s someone’s work. I will admit that I was never able to connect with Ana Steele. That had a lot to do with the fact that I never felt that she could hold her own with Christian in any domain. He controlled her in his Red Room of Pain and pretty much everywhere else. That relationship had all of the markings of abuse and then glossed it all over with expensive finery. I only ever made it through the first book.
Let’s just take a second and consider how different that book would have been if Christian hadn’t been a billionaire. Would it have achieved the popularity it received if he’d just been a local high school teacher? Or would people have been a little more disturbed, not necessarily with the sex, but with his general treatment of his love interest? Would the sex portrayed still be as appealing or does it somehow become lurid? What is it about wealth that triggers the imagination – and similarly, royalty? And why do we automatically give a little extra space for bad behaviour to exist in these spheres?
I’m sure I’ll write other blog posts on this topic as my thoughts evolve – and also with your feedback – but I guess as a writer I can give you an idea as to why I fall back on these tropes.
1. Habit. I’ve been reading millionaires/billionaires and royalty for twenty years – like most romance readers I started extremely young. Before sex in Harlequins was a thing and before I understood about Cinderella complexes. Yes I have one. We are working around it.
2. Gimme a break, I know you like it. So do I. I’m not sure if it’s because we like to speculate on how the 1% live, if it’s just an escape from reality or if we’re all just feeding our Cinderella complexes together but we like reading about the super wealthy even if it’s all make believe.
3. Assigning an alpha male wealth does half of my work for me. I don’t have to explain a lot of dominant traits to you because his success in his field has already indicated that he’s a leader. If he didn’t command the respect of his peers, if he didn’t crush his opponents, he wouldn’t be where he is now. If I need my heroine to have the same characteristics, I do the same thing. If I need them to go toe to toe, it immediately sets her up as his equal in at least one arena. She’s crushing her field, and her goals, just as fast as he is. With that out of the way I get to spend the rest of the story showing you how she’s his equal everywhere else.
4. Making my hero/heroine royalty does something similar. There are certain characteristics you might immediately jump to if I propose a Royal character: breeding, education, class, luxury, independence – Royals are usually held to higher expectations. They don’t really get the benefit of doing whatever they want to many extents and yet they don’t necessarily play by our rules. I get the benefit of wealth without those dominant character traits necessarily, plus I get to dabble in imaginary politics if I want to.
Now I just said, “they don’t necessarily play by our rules” and that’s true. I really believe that there’s a general understanding that the uber successful had to make tough calls, bend or break the rules in order to get where they are. In a fictional world these are victimless crimes so we can afford to let our characters do whatever they want to a certain extent. So long as it doesn’t deeply offend our core values we’ll compromise our virtue for the payout at the end – a happily ever after or even a happily for now.