Thinking of heroes

Over the weekend I was reading The Guardian Weekly. An article caught my eye. Now, I try to keep off the topic off politics online. So, although the article by George Monbiot is “Ultra-rich suffer from bad case of Romnesia” I don’t actually want to talk about its social critique as such. You are free to agree or throw tomatoes at the screen when he says:

Rich lists are stuffed with people who either inherited their money or who made it through rent-seeking activities: by means other than innovation and productive effort. They’re a catalogue of speculators, property barons, dukes, IT monopolists, loan sharks, bank chiefs, oil sheikhs, mining magnates, oligarchs and chief executives paid out of all proportion to any value they generate. Looters, in short.

Okay, so either you think these people create wealth or, like Monbiot, think they just siphon it off … the point is, doesn’t the list look like a list of alpha heroes? That’s what struck me.

And then Monbiot ended the article with:

A century ago, entrepreneurs sought to pass themselves off as parasites: they adopted the style and manner of the titled, rentier class. Today the parasites claim to be entrepreneurs.

Hmm. I know it’s not a revelation: the lords and dukes of Regency novels are the CEOs and billionaires of contemporary romances. But it kind of was a revelation for me. I’m thinking through what it means when we frame romance novels as fantasies. Do we look for heroes who don’t actually have to work — is that our fantasy as readers?

Of course, there are lots of romances where it is the hero’s work that defines him – the defence force heroes, the policemen, the whole protectors/guardians theme, or the medical romances where the doctor is a hero. But still, there are plenty of Cinderella themes where the hero is a prince.

I always thought the appeal of the lordly alpha hero was that he was top of the pyramid. Now I’m wondering if the appeal is also that he doesn’t have to build the pyramid, he just lounges there like Pharaoh, supervising.

I’m still thinking on the question, but I thought I’d share it. And if you go along with Monbiot’s critique, it’s interesting to consider that these lordly alphas are merely parasites!

4 Replies to “Thinking of heroes”

  1. Different societies in different eras have different attitudes to wealth and its creation. If my memory serves me correctly, James Herriot wrote that dwellers of a certain district , possibly Darrowby, preferred inherited wealth.:) It's an interesting point to ponder.

    1. James Herriott – oh I love his books!

      You're right on the attitudes and that they change…I'm intrigued now by how and when they change, and how those changes affect the style of romance we read.

  2. I loved your long comment, Maria. It's such an interesting question. I've tended to ignore the whole issue of the hero's wealth, and just concentrate on whether he's competent (the sexiest trait in a man – can change lightbulbs, deal with spiders and remember to take out the trash – to be frivolous about it).

    There are a couple of academic conferences on analysing romance novels coming up in Western Australia in the next few years. I'll be interested to see if economic analysis plays a part.

  3. Monbiot might be simplifying it a bit too much, and perhaps we all do that to an extent.

    Let's take the average person with medium earnings. He works hard all his life, toiling for "The Man". He saves his money and invests a little of it. Finally he has enough to retire and live comfortably.

    He retires, then dies a few years later. A son or daughter inherits. It's a princely sum but not enough to retire on. S/he adds to the wealth, retires even earlier, then passes it on.

    The cycle repeats. In each case though, the person with the wealth has to not only preserve it but make it grow. With luck and good stewardship, it may reach a generation whose only responsibility is to maintain that prosperity. There is nothing parasitic about maintaining wealth. If you own lands, land has to be improved, rented or put to use. If he owns a corporation, it needs to be overseen to make sure its investors see a profit. Even an IT monopolist had to create that bubble. There is still labor involved even if it doesn't require a pick and shovel.

    On the other hand, there's the ridiculously rich, super billionaires who inherit and have other people manage their income. Maybe they don't deserve their good fortune, but it's still their fortune.

    If you won the biggest fortune in world history, would you think of yourself as a parasite? You paid for your lottery ticket like everyone else.


    Ref: alphas in fiction

    I've always preferred the hero with a real job. But in fiction, it's always convenient to have a hero who has nothing else to do but have an adventure with his heroine.

    (sorry for such a long comment) Great questions though.