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Bad Boys – How Bad is too Bad?

So, apparently Chris Brown has a new album out.


The fact that he isn’t in jail somewhere is hard enough to reconcile, but that his career is still viable? I’m truly shocked. Worse yet, prior to his assaulting Rihanna, he was a “good boy” in the music industry and now it appears he’s being marketed as a “bad (but sexy and non-threatening) boy”.

I’m under no illusions about record companies – they operate on balance sheets and profit & loss; they understand gold and platinum. So they must think that his album sales are going to be worth their while. But, unless Chris Brown’s fan base has changed significantly, these album sales are going to be taken up in large part by teenage girls.

What? And, why, please help me understand, why?

As Chris Brown was, and most importantly, still is an attractive male for many, I’m using his continued viability in the music industry as the jump-off for a thought on heroes in romance:

When is a bad boy too bad? If Chris Brown had been the hero of a novel and Rihanna a previous girlfriend and the heroine found out about his assault, would his actions be considered past redemption? Would it depend on the details (How long ago did it happen? How old was he? Did he come from an abused home? Had she threatened him? Had she threatened someone else?) or would the reasons or situation be unimportant, and the actual physical act push him beyond redemption?

In romance, heroes get away with a lot of physical, verbal and emotional misbehavior. Heroes often “grab” their women, they “crush” their lips to hers, they say “you’re mine”, they “unleash” their power, and they give quasi-freedom by saying things like “tell me ‘no’ now before it’s too late and I can’t stop”. They also frequently use social or monetary status to bring heroines to heel and all of the above is perceived to be ways in which the hero loves, desires, protects and saves the heroine.

A good example (chosen because I recently re-read it) is a personal favorite of mine, Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas. When Sara is compromised and Derek presents her with a list of eligible bachelors, he is frustrated when she refuses to entertain any of them as possible husbands and says, “Pick one or I’ll cram this down your throat!” In response, “Sara was unfazed by his fury.”

Later, as newlyweds, Sara makes a joke about returning home and calling it a day. Derek “grasped her upper arms with bruising force” and says, “I won’t let you leave me.” This time, Sara manages to be “alarmed” but she still reassures him that “nothing would make me leave you.”

I’m certain many of you for whom Dreaming of You is a favorite, may be thinking “You’re taking it out of context! You’re not providing a proper backstory for Derek! Leave Derek alone!!”

I only choose these examples because the story and characters are such favorites of mine. By and large, such domineering male behaviour is ok – even expected, even desired – in RomanceLand.

I myself can’t read a “you’re mine” whispered into the ear of a heroine without getting all tingly. However, in the world of romance, readers are cushioned from reality because they know their HEA is coming and it is an assumption from Chapter One, that the Hero and the Heroine are “good people”.

However, it sometimes takes real life situations from real life people to make uncomfortable juxtapositions between fact and fiction in romance. It also highlights – quite apart from the sex scenes – why some romance novels really aren’t meant for more impressionable, teenaged eyes; aren’t meant to be read by young teens for whom these books represent their field guide to relationships. It can also explain why some safe houses for battered women do not carry romances, or choose to review each book before it is accepted into the their libraries. Things to think on a Friday morning.

-Abi Bishop

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