Friday, September 27, 2013

Billionaires, Vampires, Wolves and La Bete

Continuing the series on the currently popular character attributes - Wealth, Dominance and Jackassery (inspired by the fad for Billionaire Bad Boys, and a series of posts by Kyra Halland.)  Index of the Whole Series (scroll down to the bottom of the post).  This week we're talking about Wealth.

Kyra kicked this off just as a fun little riff on the current fad in romance fiction for Bullying BDSM Billionaires who seduce young innocent, virginal women.  She wryly decided to see how her own characters stack up against this super hot fad.

She did it for fun, but how she did it raised some very deep themes that really go far beyond a fad in one genre.  Wealth, power, dominance, asocial "acting out" behavior, redemption (deserved or not) -- these are all big issues in fiction.

But before I start talking about my own fiction, or about the wider themes, I thought I might take a deeper look at that Billionaire's theme itself.  Take it all the way back to the origin....

No, not Fifty Shades of Grey.  Further back that that.

Okay, we can pause ever so briefly here to acknowledge that.  I haven't read Twilight, but I understand that the romance in it wasn't bondage and dominance based. But that's only because it's a modern spin on something older that really is right in line with Dominant Billionaires.


What is a vampire, in terms of story and theme and symbol?

He's a powerful, seductive but somewhat frightening being who can mesmerize innocent young virgins, and transform them in an animalistic, ritualized, symbolicly sexual encounter, with which he refreshes and renews his own life essence, while awakening in them animal appetites like his own.  Thereafter they are his willing slaves.

These modern billionaire BDSM fetishists are Dracula with two differences: we don't have to cloak the sex in symbol any more, and instead of magic, they have money and power.

So in these billionaire stories wealth isn't money -- it's magic.  It's power.

But to really understand it, we have to go back further.

The modern Dracula story is really kind of screwed up by Victorian prudishness.  Not in the fact that it hides sex behind a symbol, but in the fact that women have to be saved from Dracula.  He's a monster, and these ladies have to be saved from liking what he does to them, because liking sex makes the ladies into monsters too.

So we go back somewhat further to versions that strip away those cultural mores altogether and dive straight into the unconscious human psyche.  Fairytales and folklore.

La Belle et La Bete -- Beauty and the Beast

There are many different versions of this psychological trope -- and nearly any fairytale with a lady in it, it's going back to the same sexual angst.  Little Red Riding Hood is a variant.  Sleeping Beauty is a variant.  But I think these are for the younger psyche.

Red Riding Hood, in particular, is about that first confused, pre-conscious awareness a child has about sex.  Sex is like a wolf -- it's weird, scary and invasive, and sometimes wears a mask, and in the small child's mind those first inklings don't really seem any different than other irrational fears.  Fear of the dark, fear of being consumed.  Fear that Grandma isn't really Grandma, because when she gets angry or is hiding something, her face changes. (That one is one that sticks with us. It's called The Uncanny Valley -- and it's a hard wired fear of things in disguise.  It's why clowns are so scary.)

And the Little Red Riding Hood type stories are about being brave and facing the fact that the wolf exists.  In other words, it's not about sexual awakening, just sexual awareness.

But that story stays with us.  It's in a primal part of our brain that will continue to respond to patterns for the rest of our lives, and it's why monster stories continue to haunt us throughout our lives.

Beauty and the Beast, on the other hand, is about the next step.  It's about that first irrational inkling that the scary, invasive uncomfortable thing we later know as sex is kind of a mesmerizing biological imperative.  You can't escape it.

But you can redeem it with love.

The beast is repellent.  He's a monster.  He is powerful and controlling and enchanting.  Belle has no choice but to face him, live with him.  But he's also a man, and if she can see beyond the beastlines, overcome her revulsion and actually make contact, she can make the beastliness go away.

In the meantime, for the dude, it's can be about feeling like an alien beast, and braving the rejection, and becoming human again.

This isn't about redeeming an abuser.  It's not that logical.  It's tapping into the remnants of a major existential crisis in our past -- when the child's brain is reconciling repulsion and attraction.  That's also a pattern that gets hard-wired into us and lasts a lifetime. (And yes, abusers do exploit this part of the brain too, but that's not the fault of fiction.)

This particular pattern isn't just about sex.  (That's just a particularly powerful part of its development.)  It's about overcoming our discomfort with anything unfamliar.  It's about overcoming prejudice.  It's a part of our journey to maturity.

But the romantic version are about sex. And the billionaire stories are just about facing the wolf, and getting past the fear and revulsion and reconciliing with the fact that we have sexual appetites.  Redeeming the wolf is about accepting our own sexuality.

And in those stories, wealth is just a symbol for magic and hormones.

You can find traces of those primal symbols in all stories, but for my fiction, the themes are up closer to the surface. They're more rational, more social and even political than psychological.

I suppose that with a fairytale and with erotica, it's a lot more about the psychology of the reader.  With less visceral stories -- definitely with my stories -- those kinds of elements are more about the psychology of the character.

Next time (Starting Monday) I'm going to be talking about Wealth.  It's not a subject that exactly interests me, in and of itself, but it does have a role, and it does actually say something about my characters.

That one may be a two parter, or even three parts.  Not sure yet. (Next Post: Wealth and Glamor.)

See you in the funny papers.

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Kyra said...

You're right. I hadn't thought about it back that far, but the theme or archetype of the wealthy/powerful male taking aim at the young/virginal/innocent female goes way back in a lot of different forms.

I was trying to turn this around: stories with the young, innocent, penniless, powerless male. Another archetype, but those ones don't seem to involve as much sex.

oh, and as an aside, those posts on my blog have been getting more hits than anything else on my site. I'm thinking of putting the word "bondage" in all of my blog post titles from now on. Search Engine Optimization, y'know.

The Daring Novelist said...

And like I said, more than one layer. There's the beast, which is about internal stuff. But when we turn it into stories about people, it gets shaped by the society around it.

As for the young, innocent, penniless, powerless male -- well some of those have to do with sex too (often in a more occult way). The only one who can heft that sword pulled from the stone (or lobbed by the watery tart)?

And on a more surface level, some of those come from a very different place. And THAT I'll be getting into, although, since I'm starting with this trope, I can't really get into it until later.

(But...there will be some. As when I get to the Dominance part: Poor don't mean Powerless. Especially not in my universe. ÇA IRA! ... Oh, uh, ahem. Where was I?)

As for bondage -- I thought I might get a little more action on the Billionaire front but so far, not a lot more than usual. We'll see if talking about the wealth stuff bumps the SEO any....