Monday, November 30, 2009

Money is the Honey

Reading "Will The Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up" from Girls' Love Stories 147 the other day on Sequential Crush set me thinking about the role wealth plays in the stratification of our society. When anyone mentions the Indian caste system you'll hear groans and judgmental attitudes from all over, but when you think about it, our society is in its own way just as hung up on wealth and status. Things have changed a bit over the years, maybe. Instead of a young woman's father telling her suitor that he expects him to be able to keep her in the manner to which she is accustomed, the women themselves do the talking. In Indian society a woman traditionally would marry a man of equal status to herself, but could also marry a man of a higher caste if he'd have her. But to marry 'down' to a lower caste man would violate accepted norms. This expectation of remaining within one's stratum in society is also there in the west - we just don't call it a name like 'the caste system', and it's a little more subtle, more informal than formal, but it's a force at work in society nevertheless. In Girls' Love Stories 147 the 'loser' in the story was a 'gold digger', a woman planning to snare a wealthier man so she could up her station in life. I started to look around and quickly came across some variations on this theme. Heart Throbs 1 (Quality Comics, August 1949) has a couple of stories with differential wealth as a stumbling block on the path to romance. In "Spoiled Brat", lonely millionaire's daughter, Mona Barclay, surprises herself by falling in love with a hired hand on board Daddy's yacht.

The assumption of superiority that accompanies wealth appears to be a barrier that Mona uses, in this case, to avoid confronting her true feelings regarding Bill. Those feelings become evident to Mona later in the story when the yacht is in trouble in a Caribbean storm. Mona sees Bill injured and instinctively goes to his rescue while putting her own safety in danger. Its also a new side of Mona that Bill hadn't known existed, and its enough to tip the scales in his heart towards declaring his love for Mona.

What we don't see is Mona's father's reaction to this union. Will he suspect Bill of using his daughter to get at the Barclay fortunes? Will Mona really be able to cope with such a drastic reduction in household income if she and Bill live true to the statement that they'll manage on a sailor's wages? The cultural differences between the two are likely to create distance in a number of areas of their marriage. But the story's author stops at the point where everything's really hunky dory, without troubling our minds with worries about what might not work out.

Another story in the same comic, "Double Masquerade", is a version of the gold digger story mentioned above. Judy is an office worker, a typist, fed up of existing in the lower socio-economic stratum of society. She's saved up a bunch of money, bought herself some great clothes, and she's off to stay at a swanky country retreat, Lakeshore Manor, where she fully admits she will make every attempt to find herself a well-to-do husband. Very similar to the Girls' Love Stories 147 plot. At the Manor she plays it cool, then the opportunity for a handsome gentleman to step in is provided by Judy's horse bolting. It looks to Judy like everything's going according to plan.
They fall in love, but Judy has to repeatedly avoid Marty's questions about her family. Judy doesn't want to let go of him, believing him to be a member of a wealthy banking family, but her love for him is real, and her conscience won't let her go through with the charade. She fesses up to Marty that she's just a poor stenographer, but runs off too soon for Marty to tell her it doesn't matter 'cause he's from the lower echelons of society himself. Marty's persistence catches him up to her where they can both come clean about their masquerade and their true feelings for each other. They can both live with their failed ambitions to become rich by tricking the other because they've found something more. And don't you think their comparable backgrounds will assist in allowing them to make a good go of their marriage?

Then I took a look at the second story in Intimate 1 (Charlton Comics, December 1957), entitled "Late Love". This is a 5-page short story highlighting awareness amongst the impoverished of how financial difficulty places additional stressors on a marriage, putting it at greater risk of failure. So accepting of this principle was Carmen, that she never entertained the idea of marrying the man she'd loved since high school, because he couldn't provide the financial security she required to make her feel that her future marriage would succeed.

Carmen turns down Brick Howell's proposal's of marriage, telling him straight it's because he's poor. She doesn't count the acreage his grandfather left him as worth anything, but Brick has faith that one day, as the area develops, his plot will be sought after and worth a bundle. Carmen dates one guy after another, but can't connect with them because she's in love with Brick. She finally gets a handsome, rich guy, Clay Mason, interested in her, and mentally prepares herself to settle down with him. But seeing Brick brings it all back to her, and she knows he's the only one for her. She gives up her requirement for her man to be rich, and agrees to marry Brick. Just then Clay turns up, steps aside seeing that Carmen obviously  adores Brick, and announces that he's just purchased Brick's land for a tidy sum. So Carmen gets her financial security after all - if only she'd had more faith in Brick's vision, they could have been together all this time. Still, better late than never. Again, though, this story brings up the issue of wealth, in this case being the concern of a woman requiring monetary assets as a precondition of marriage. Strangely enough, this behavior is supported by research that shows women are more attracted to guys with money, while men are more interested in a woman's looks, and its all very Darwinian and down to what's going to produce offspring most likely to survive. So when romance comics incorporate these societal stereotypes (comic book writers pull ideas from, for example, existing media or simply from life itself) there's a lot to the stories in terms of giving us glimpses of patterns in human behavior. Comic book - 10 cents. University research - thousands of dollars. Hmmmm...!


  1. Great analysis, KB. I am sure between the two of us we could have a daily blog on just this theme alone in romance comics. They also seem to serve as somewhat of cautionary tales.

  2. You're not kidding, Jacque. And while I was browsing for material for that post, I came across the cover to Young Brides #27 (Vol. 4 #3) which looked to be another example of class-related romantic anguish, but I don't have the issue in my collection so don't know what the story is actually about, although it looks like the woman might have lost her wealth and suddenly considers herself unfit to rub shoulders with the economic elite, including her fiancee. Who says this stuff isn't true to life? The more I read romance comics and the more I observe the interactions of people young and old, the more I don't see as many differences between then and now (romance comics representing the 'then'). Lovers are still getting together or breaking up, and experiencing all the emotional tumult that goes with all that. People still want love to last a lifetime, and suffer tremendously when they're cheated on. The anxiety and trepidation of the search for one's partner in life, the agony of lost or unrequited love, the thrill of the first phase of a relationship, have characteristics which span the decades, despite the decline in standards that has accompanied the 'progress' of our society onto the slippery slope into decadence.