Rewriting Rory Gilmore: Basically Fan Fiction

“You have a Rory box?”

tumblr_lpruxtk4Yw1r1vggvo1_500Yes. I have a Rory box. A Rory box full of all the dumb things Rory’s done in Gilmore Girls. This is my ode to the writing of Gilmore Girls, which, on an episode-by-episode basis is extremely well-done, and it’s doing something super difficult, which is: be both snappy and intelligent. But those of us who love/live Gilmore Girls (it’s a lifestyle) all have our gripes with some of the outcomes, especially as the series progresses. So here we go: How certain stuff actually happened in Gilmore Girls verses how it SHOULD HAVE happened in Gilmore Girls, according to, well, me. (WARNING: This post is very pro-Jess. If you don’t like Jess, you’re probably in the wrong place.)

How it Should Have Happened: The Rory Version (The Lorelai Version, as well as a jig, is forthcoming):

1. How it actually happened: End of season 4 (4.21: Last Week Fights, This Week Tights) – Dean picks Rory up from her date from hell (Veronica Mars cameo: Duncan Kane!) and gives her a ride back to Yale. That same night, Jess intercepts at Rory’s dorm, asks Rory to run away with him to New York. We all die. Rory tells him to go. We all die twice. One episode later, in Raincoats and Recipes, Rory sleeps with (married) Dean in her childhood bed. Jess, as far as we know, is in the wind. At the beginning of season 5, Dean and Lindsey get a divorce, and then Dean and Rory get back together.

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Analysis: First, I completely understand why Rory returns to Dean in season 4. She is at a crossroads. Away from home, Rory turns out to be more sheltered and unsure of herself than we previously understood. Despite being raised by a single mother, Rory is sort of a classic Millennial: Never actually having experienced a single moment of rejection in her entire life, naturally, at the first sign of “setback,” she freaks out. Not only does she freak out, she experiences a complete and total regression which culminates in her losing her virginity to her high school boyfriend–and not just ANY high school boyfriend: she loses her virginity to dopey Ol’ Faithful Dean. Dean: who worships at the Rory altar, who, while they were still together, never challenged Rory a day in her life. This is the same boy that Rory dumped specifically BECAUSE of his predictability, but that was way back when things were good. When she was valedictorian. When she was student body vice president and on the verge of getting into Princeton, Harvard, AND Yale. Et cetera. “Rory’s used to getting what Rory wants,” says Lorelai toward the end of season 7. And when Rory doesn’t get what Rory wants? Well, that’s pretty much the brunt of seasons 5 and 6. She sleeps with Dean! She steals a yacht! It’s almost comical.

But while I believe that she’s in a classic millennial conundrum, I don’t believe she’s THIS weak. THIS desperate. THIS much in denial. I HATE that she sleeps with Dean, but I believe it. What I don’t believe is the relationship that ensues when Rory returns from Europe and Dean and Lindsey get a divorce. Barf.

So, how it should have happened (Scenario 1): Rory sends Jess away that fateful night, just as we believe she would. She also has sex with Dean. It’s just as awkward and horrible as we remember: twin bed, pink sheets, “Candy Man,” oh god.

But Rory has her holy-shit-you’re-married revelation way earlier–in Europe, to be exact–and it’s way more intense. In my version, she grows the fuck up, or she simply employs that Rory Gilmore logic that’s been so groomed up until this point. She stops being such a little bitch as soon as possible and, though deeply embarrassed, reclaims her dignity and does what has to be done, and after that, she’s through. Maybe it’s because I’m married now, but I really feel like shit for Lindsey at the beginning of season 5. Her desperation–how her entire marriage hinges on a plate of roast beef–I cry for her. In any case, I don’t want them to get a divorce. Or, I don’t want to know about it, and I don’t want it to be Rory. I want Lindsey and Dean to fade away into the Stars Hollow oblivion. Maybe move back to Chicago. Either way, in my version, Lindsey does not find the letter.

So even though Rory sucks at rejection, she’s still self-aware enough to understand the stigma attached to being the “other woman,” and while she may have made the mistake of having sex with Dean, she’s not going to date him. Again. She’s just way too smart for that. And Lindsey finding the letter is cheap drama. It’s easy. We’ve been rooting against this marriage for a while, but Lindsey, despite her naivete, has never done anything to deserve such an exit. At this point, we all hate Dean. So why keep him around for eight more episodes? Dean and Rory 2.o is somehow both flat and humiliating to watch: their rendezvous at Doose’s with chip pieces and smooshed sandwiches? Their weird, cramped sex in Rory’s Prius? Sad. PURPOSELY sad. If I had it my way, I’d be rid of it altogether.

How it should have happened (Scenario 2): In my version, it’s also possible that Rory DOES run away with Jess, or, something to that effect. Plus, I know this would make a lot of my friends really happy. In this version, Rory doesn’t call Dean to come pick her up from her date from hell. In this version, Rory DOES have money at the restaurant, and she is self-sufficient enough to get herself a taxi. She doesn’t call Dean, because she knows (REALLY knows) that he’s married, and she sees him turning down a dangerous route (especially given the current situation with her grandparents’ separation), and because she is Rory, she’s going to take the conservative path and head disaster off at the pass. It’s also possible that she DOES call Dean, but that Lindsey answers. This is a terrible omen, which deters Rory from any further action.

When she returns to her dorm, Jess is waiting for her, but instead of freaking the fuck out, confessing his love like a maniac, and asking her to run away with him, Jess calmly apologizes for having left her in the lurch (twice), and the reason he’s there is, not to sweep her off her feet, but because he couldn’t wait another moment to make things right. Rory, still sort of confused about the whole Dean thing, thanks Jess for his apology, and the two part. He doesn’t stick around. Out of chivalry, I suppose, which is new for Jess.

At the end of the episode, Rory is still very flustered by the turn of events–Jess and Dean fighting over her AGAIN, only now the dynamic’s changed, and Jess is the sensible one. What does she do? Well, she goes back to Stars Hollow to attend the test run for the Dragonfly, just like she was always going to. She and her mom bond over their “pretty spinster” seasons full of stray cats and pictures with Eli Yale. She thinks she may see Jess there (that he might attend with Luke), but when she doesn’t, she’s a little let down, but Rory is Rory–stoic, remember. It happens, though, at the end of the night–when Rory is on her way back from picking up CDs (the trip that initially ended with Dean stalking her and the two of them getting randy). She runs into Jess in front of the Inn. He’s there with flowers, of all things, a symbol of himself as a “changed man,” something he learned from that dorky self-help tape. It’s also an echo of Luke and Lorelai. Rory and Jess sit on the front porch. They “hang.” It’s like old times, and because they’ve never truly had closure, it’s almost as if nothing’s changed. The episode actually ends ambiguously. They’re on the porch. They smile at each other. They laugh. Fade to black.

What happens next?: Well, Rory definitely doesn’t go to Europe, though we definitely follow Emily there for a few scenes (“The view! It’s changed!”). Then, rather than bang Dean in her Prius, go on awkward grocery store dates, and sit on the floor with him watching TV in his childhood bedroom for eight episodes (just awk), Rory and Jess get back together and attempt to start over from scratch. They are very careful. You see, unlike Rory and Dean, Rory and Jess are UNFINISHED. They have much to achieve, which leaves much in the way of potential awesomeness. Rory and Jess 2.0 is wrought with innovation–as Rory is trying desperately to overcome the shock of freshman year, and Jess is, well, trying to find his place in the world. Rory loses her virginity to Jess after the Town Selectman election. I’m not sure where yet, though probably somewhere creative. In Stars Hollow for sure. Because, hey: it’s spontaneous! They’ve been waiting. They’ve been cautious. But something about all that civic pride…time to get weird. Let’s say they do it at Miss Patty’s, while Lane’s band plays in the background. In any case, they do it, and it’s wonderful, and it’s right.

Wow, this is really super fun wish fulfillment. Who DOESN’T wish they could go back and see Rory lose her virginity to Jess?

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2. How it actually happened: Rory enters an open relationship with Logan Huntzberger, ends up dating him for almost two seasons. Believe it or not, Logan becomes Rory’s epic love story. He proposes to her for crying out loud.

Analysis: I understand the writers wanting to go this route. Dean is the small town first love; Jess is the big city bad boy. The only unexplored territory left (per the politics of the show) is Logan Huntzberger, blond and old-money-arrogant bastard. Logan makes sense. Plus, I think Rory kind of needs him. He opens up her world a little bit, introduces her to a life outside Stars Hollow. Without Logan, it’s possible that Rory would never fully outgrow her emotionally stunted and rather sheltered existence. So I’m not saying that I don’t want Rory to date Logan. I’m just saying that I want Logan to be more of an interruption–a season-long interruption to her relationship with JESS.

So, how it should have happened: The first chunk of season 5 unfolds much like it already does, only Rory is dating Jess instead of Dean. This means that Rory’s grandparents become similarly meddling. Jess, however, doesn’t break up with Rory at her grandparents’ house, after the Male Yale party. You see, Rory would never have forgotten about Jess (like she did about doormat Dean), and she would have known better than to invite Jess to meet her at her grandparents’ house. Anyway, it turns out that Jess, after obtaining his GED, gets a job at a small publishing house in Philadelphia. He takes the job, and even though Rory talks about going with him, (“I could transfer to the University of Pennsylvania,” she says. “It’s not Philadelphia, but we can make it work.”) Jess won’t let her come. He wants her to stay at Yale, achieve her dreams on her own. (“We’ll see each other,” he says. “This isn’t over, Rory. You and me.”)

Anyway, Jess leaves the night of the Yale Male party, and Rory is devastated, but she’s still Rory. She’s forward-moving. She rarely dwells. She instead throws herself into her work at the paper. Then, when her research into the Life and Death Brigade leads her to Logan Huntzberger, their coupling makes sense: Rory’s on the rebound, Logan’s on the prowl. In my version, You Jump, I Jump, Jack (5.7) comes after the Male Yale party, and when Rory is single. Her exhilarating “once-in-a-lifetime experience” with the Life and Death Brigade then symbolizes a very important transformation for Rory: she is somebody new, somebody who takes chances, and so it makes sense that she’d take a chance on Logan. To hell with commitment! For a while, she  seems to forget all about Jess.

largeBut this is where I start finding myself extremely unhappy with the writers’ choices in Gilmore Girls: At the end of season 5, Rory goes from the level-headed, well-adjusted, down-to-earth girl she’s always been, a girl who expects success, who finds it no matter what the obstacle, to a spoiled little rich girl who allows the Huntzbergers to control both her life and her future. She relinquishes agency and hands over the reigns to Logan. And you know what the worst part is? He takes them. Gladly.

3. How it actually happened: Mitchum Huntzberger tells Rory she “don’t got it.” Rory, in all of  her anger and frustration, finds Logan and the two of them steal a yacht. After getting arrested, Rory uses the experience as an excuse to drop out of Yale and take some time off to find herself. Lorelai, in her attempts to reason with Rory, actually ends up driving her away, and Rory moves in with her grandparents–the ultimate slap in the face to the mother who did nothing but support her and make every sacrifice on her behalf for her entire life. Rory is suddenly a petulant child who estranges herself from her mother’s life and Stars Hollow. Season 6 is the worst.

Analysis: While I can make excuses for the whole Dean affair, and I can understand Rory’s infatuation with Logan Huntzberger, I cannot for the life of me find Rory even a little bit likable for the first half of season 6. Her actions are those of a child, and they are not consistent with the Rory we know. She goes from being a heroine, a role model even, to basically a character on Gossip Girl, living in her grandparents’ $45,000 sex house and working at the D.A.R. while finishing up her community service, and, you know what, I couldn’t tell you why. I cannot explain why Rory drops out of Yale. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a spoiled and petty move. Rory has always been extremely grateful for everything her mother and grandparents have done for her: to drop out of Yale is to send the message that none of that matters, and so far, Rory has shown herself to be so respectful and polite it’s kind of sickening–therefore, it’s just totally unbelievable. Sometimes I think they wrote that whole thing just so they could find an excuse to bring Jess back to set her straight. It’s frustrating.

After Rory steals that yacht, I find most of her decisions to be antithetical to the Rory we’ve known and loved for five seasons. I think they kind of removed her backbone, her sense of pride, her gracious nature and connection to her roots. And I don’t know why. I can only hope that the Palladinos were being pressured by the network to add more drama, because let’s face it: up until season 6, Gilmore Girls was so lovable precisely because its drama was always low stakes and realistic, and it was always couched in its signature humor. There was NEVER any high drama. Even Richard and Emily’s separation was done quietly, and boy did it take a long, long time to breach the surface. Richard and Emily’s separation is probably the most well-written, believable arc of the entire show, and it was never “high drama.” Gilmore Girls was never a show where a character steals a yacht and goes to jail and shuns her mother and drops out of college. It was never a show about long-lost daughters and ultimatums in the square–not until season 6. It just wasn’t.

So, how it should have happened: First of all, after Mitchum tells Rory “she don’t got it,” there’s no way Rory steals a yacht. That’s…first and foremost. Even if she does have the crazy idea of stealing a yacht, there’s no way Logan allows her to do it. I don’t care how much of an arrogant putz he actually is. HE AND RORY DO NOT STEAL A YACHT TOGETHER. It’s ridiculous. I hate that decision. It’s high drama and manipulative and completely full of shit. It’s a play for ratings. It’s the kind of decision that, had I not loved the first four seasons so furiously, had the potential to turn me off to the show forever. That’s how much I hate the fact that Rory and her asshole boyfriend STEAL A YACHT.

Anyway, so they don’t steal the yacht, and that changes everything. What the fuck happens if they don’t steal that yacht? WELP, the world opens up. Rory, rather than feeding into Mitchum’s bullshit with her insecurities, actually becomes wildly defensive. She even blames Logan…for not defending her, of course, when she tells him the story of what happened. Like we’ve already established, Rory’s used to getting what Rory wants, and when she doesn’t get it, she gets upset. She may become a little insecure, but she definitely doesn’t lash out rebelliously. She seeks comfort in the people she loves (re: Dean in season 4) and the stuff she knows. In any case, she certainly doesn’t believe Mitchum. She already kind of hates the Huntzbergers. They’re total snobs. And it bothers me that she’s so desperate for their approval (“But…I’m a Gilmore!”) that she would allow Mitchum to crush her dreams like that. She is also extremely quick to abandon her roots once he does. In other words, the more rejection she gets from these people, the more desperate she is to become one of them. It’s pathetic, and it’s not Rory.

So, instead, after the whole thing with Mitchum, Rory becomes disillusioned with Logan and everything he stands for. Therefore, instead of stealing a yacht and getting arrested, Rory spends her season 5 finale driving to Philadelphia to see Jess, because if there’s anyone who can put her back together again in a time of crisis, it’s him. In fact, the last shot is Jess opening the door to his apartment, Rory standing there, and him saying, “Come in.” For the audience, it’s an excitement and a revelation. We haven’t seen Jess in a while, and we’ve been rooting him.

six33xb6In conclusion: My ultimate fantasy for Rory at the end of Gilmore Girls is that she, in fact, ends up jobless after college (just like we all do), and she goes on that roller coaster road trip with her mother after all. I think it’s sort of disingenuous to seal everything off with a bow and a job on the Barack Obama campaign, also Christiane Amanpour in the Dragonfly. SUPER contrived. I’m also certain that season 5 is not the last we see of  Logan Huntzberger. In fact, a Logan/Jess rivalry is right in the Gilmore Girls wheelhouse. It’s probable that Jess catches Rory in her weakened, rich girl element and bolts either to New York or back to Philadelphia, feeling inadequate and insecure. But in the end, they both somehow end up in New York. It’s probable that, once she gets back from her roller coaster road trip, Rory DOES get that internship at the NY Times, and she ends up another small fish in a massive pond, her next batch of trials ripe ready for conquer. Meanwhile, Jess gets a better job at a slightly bigger indie press in Brooklyn, and my best guess? Rory and Jess meet back in Washington Square Park, their old haunt, and it’s probably by accident. Because let’s face it: They’re meant to be.

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Why Hermione Could Never Really Love Ron

220px-Hermione_Granger_posterIt’s been a really long while since I’ve come to this place to share my insights. But I thought I’d go ahead and respond to J.K. Rowling’s most recent postmortem on the life of Harry Potter, from an upcoming interview in the magazine Wonderland:

I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment…That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literatureand far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.

Also, according to this (irritating, wannabe-sort-of-feminist-sometimes) article at Forbes (which ignores every shortcoming of Ron Weasley ever in favor of characterizing him as a “goofy sidekick to a brooding superhero”) Emma Watson even agrees with Rowling, wondering if “Ron would have really been able to make [Hermione] happy.” So I’m going to resist the impulse to go back and reread all the books and rewatch all the movies in a massive, time-consuming effort to collect all the evidence necessary to prove my point. My husband has assured me that that would be insane. So, instead of the 15,000 word essay I was going to write on the non-believability of a Ron-and-Hermione relationship, here’s my…5,000 word essay on the non-believability of a Ron-and-Hermione relationship! Haha. I swear it reads fast, and if you’ve read Harry Potter, maybe you’ll find some of it interesting. Then again, I flatter myself. In any case, I’m very interested in peoples’ opinions on this, as obviously, Harry Potter fandom runs deep.

A Little Context: The Hero’s Journey

So let me start by staying that I always thought Hermione was meant to be with Harry, okay? There’s my bias, and none of this is new. Hermione, like Harry’s mother, is a muggle-born, which puts her at the heart of Voldemort’s genocidal agenda and aligns her with Harry in ways Ron, in all of his doltish self-centeredness, could never hope to understand. Hermione is an extraordinary witch, Harry’s equal, paramount to each of his many victories (and, not coincidentally, to Ron’s continued survival). She is, essentially, a hero on her own journey, and it’s my personal opinion that heroes and champions can only ever be satisfied when loving other heroes and champions. There, I said it.

d7161643d352ca7f_fp.jpg.xxxlargeNow here’s where I bring up the problems with a girl on a hero’s journey: at some point, the expectation is that the woman falls in love and subsequently gives up her warrior status to serve a man (ie: every Disney Princess ever). Buffy Summers and Katniss Everdeen are popular foils to this–both of them experience a life-changing love, but neither is willing (or able) to bend their duties into a shape that will fit a life in which love is possible. So after all of their trials and tribulations, they ultimately end up alone.

What we have here is a polarization of the female hero: she can either give up her larger purpose for love, or she can give up love for some larger purpose. She cannot “have it all.” A typical conundrum of the “Sex and the City” generation: one that operates on the assumption that a woman’s life revolves around the love of a man, whether she has it or not. Of course, there are heroines who get to both kick ass and fall in love: Lois Lane, Cordelia Chase, Willow Rosenberg–all of them supporting characters, like Hermione. It seems that, as long as they don’t have to carry the world on their shoulders (and have only pledged to help the one who does), girls are able to succeed both in love and on the battlefield, at least for a little while, and only if by choice. Of course, the moment Cordelia ascends to become a higher power (Angel episode 4.22, “Tomorrow”) is the moment she must choose between love (for Angel) and godliness (she chooses godliness), and, similarly, the love of Willow’s life (Tara) is killed, probably as karmic backlash for her dangerous forays into the powers of black magic, turning Willow into one of the most powerful (and f#cking evil) witches in the world. So…maybe, I guess, it’s just a curse. Girls, we cannot be both powerful and happily in love. Though, I’m not sure boys can either. I’m depressing myself. Anyway. What I’m saying is: We’ve got a problem with women on the hero’s journal. It’s a realistic problem, though. Or, at least more realistic than Hermione ending up with Ron.

Now, because she’s such a young and powerful witch, there’s no need for Hermione to end up with Harry OR Ron. In fact, in some ways, I’m stil rooting for Viktor Krum. But considering the fact that Hermione is, in many ways, a nurturer, as well as a sensitive female supporting character surrounded by boys in a series of novels that is exceptionally preoccupied with the power of love, I would be hard-pressed to peg Hermione as living a lonely life. Maybe it’s not perfect. But lonely? I just don’t see it.

The Singular Importance of Hermione Granger

The fact that Hermione is part of a support system to a character whose destiny is tied up in, not only her survival, but also the survival of the people she loves and the world she knows, is further proof that Hermione’s journey is at least partially by Harry’s side. Also, Hermione is characterized as a fierce friend. Again and again, Harry has asked Ron and Hermione to let him go it alone, to save themselves–especially toward the end of the series when stakes are extraordinarily high; however, they are very adamant about their place at his side. In The Deathly Hallows Hermione even alters the memories of her own parents to both protect them from the Death Eaters and ensure that they won’t try and stop her from doing what she has to do, which is go with Harry.

That said, Hermione displays extraordinary bravery and cleverness in the Harry Potter series, and at some point, she becomes more than simply a helper in Harry’s time of need. At some point, she becomes a weapon, as important to Harry in the Second Wizarding War as his own magic wand:

LIt is Hermione who, in The Chamber of Secrets, brews the Polyjuice Potion to gather evidence against Draco Malfoy, who they believe to be the heir of Slytherin. It is Hermione who uses the Time Turner in Prisoner of Azkaban to save both Sirius Black and Buckbeak the Hippogriff, as well as Hermione who helps Harry master the infamous Accio broom! charm during the first task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament in The Goblet of Fire. By The Order of the Phoenix, Hermione has become no less than a necessity to Harry’s continued success and, often, his survival. Her expertise is integral to the organization of Dumbledore’s Army, as Hermione’s advanced usage of the Protean Charm allows Harry to directly (and discretely) communicate meeting times with the rest of the group via enchanted coins, sort of like a text message. It is also Hermione who heals Ron after his unfortunate splinching in DH, Hermione who modifies the memories of two Death Eaters in order to maintain their cover at 12 Grimmauld Place, and Hermione who saves Harry from Nagini by using the Blasting Curse at Godric’s Hollow. So basically, without Hermione, we’d all be dead.

In fact, due to her incredible wits and resourcefulness, Hermione rarely finds herself in immediate and grave danger. It is not until she is detained and tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange at the Malfoy Manor in DH that we experience the true hopelessness that is a world without Hermione Granger. Despite her clever ploy to convince Griphook that the version of Godric Gryffindor’s sword they found was a fake, Hermione is still tortured with the Cruciatus Curse into unconsciousness. Listening to her screams, Ron is driven to tears, and he and Harry effectively give up hope. In terms of morale, this is a low point, perhaps the lowest of the series. Here we learn that, without Hermione, it takes no less than a deus ex machina to save the trio from their imminent deaths: For it’s Dobby who appears out of nowhere to do what he does best–help Harry Potter, and he dies shortly after aiding them in their escape. We all cried uncontrollably for days when this happened. It is a cruel, cruel world, especially when Hermione Granger is out of commission.

Such a beautiful place to be…with friends.

-Dobby

This, of course, does not even begin to touch on all of the emotional support that Hermione offers to Harry as the series progresses. It’s Hermione in whom Harry confides when he learns (erroneously) that Sirius Black betrayed his parents. In GoF, Hermione was, perhaps, the only student who stood by Harry’s side when he was accused of placing his own name into the Goblet of Fire. Even Ron had accused him of the act, exhibiting early signs of what would later grow into full blown resentment and jealousy. One of my favHarry-and-Hermione-Wallpaper-harry-and-hermione-26304105-1280-800orite parts in the series occurs in DH when Hermione goes with Harry to Godric’s Hollow in search of Godric Gryffindor’s sword (after Ron leaves the group in jealousy). The two sit sweetly at the tombstones of Harry’s parents, and Hermione places her head on Harry’s shoulder and even conjures up roses from the soil on their graves. These small, sweet moments between Harry and Hermione, especially in the face of Ron’s frequent petulance, usually led me to believe that, despite her on-again-off-again tension with Ron, Hermione was ultimately drawn to Harry. They are thrown together far more frequently than she and Ron, or even Harry and Ron for that matter. Any time there’s difficult dirty work to be done–like saving Buckbeak or luring Umbridge into the Forbidden Forest–it’s Harry and Hermione at the helm. While I’m not sure I believe in fated love, I always found Hermione’s relationship with Harry to be far more convincing and complex than any single moment she spent with Ron.

But either way, I have always felt that that a grave injustice was done to Hermione Granger at the end of DH. Whether Hermione ends up with Harry or not (wishful thinking), I feel that Hermione’s heroics in the Harry Potter series are derailed when Hermione is relegated to the love interest of Harry’s jealous, emotionally constipated sidekick, Ron Weasley–all in the name of what Rowling now calls “wish fulfillment.” I was always disappointed, and now I’m vindicated, though sadly so.

And they haven’t invented a spell that our Hermione can’t do.

-Rubeus Hagrid

The Wrong Guy

Like Buffy Summers and Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Granger starts off as a bright and singular female in an otherwise mundane world: the sharpest in her class, wise beyond her years, and the product of unfortunate social circumstances. Hermione is a “mudblood”–muggle-born–which means that, as long as there are Death Eaters, she can never truly be one of the people she consorts with. She must always be on the defense, and she is familiar with adversity. This, she shares with Harry. It is a part of their bond. Being raised by muggles (also like Harry), she has always been a little bit different, fixed and sobered with a dual perspective on the world. For example, Hermione views Voldermort’s return not only for its impact on muggle-born witches and wizards, but for muggles themselves, who (as we see in the beginning of The Half-Blood Prince, the chapter called “The Other Minister”), are not equipped to handle an enemy who can conjure hurricanes and collapse bridges with the mere flick of a magical wand.

Hermione is also ostracized for being too smart, too serious for a girl. Hermione faces a number of double-standards in her young life–none of them imposed by Harry, though a great number imposed by Ron. In GoF, Ron tells Hermione that it’s “just sad” for a girl to show up to the Yule Ball without a date, but when she shows up with one (dreamboat of masculinity Viktor Krum, no less), she’s “fraternizing with the enemy.” Likewise, in OotP, when Ginny, during a heated spat, tells Ron that Hermione kissed Viktor Krum over the summer, Ron becomes increasingly cold and distant toward Hermione. Out of resentment, he starts dating Lavender Brown, who he squires around shamelessly, kisses publicly after Quidditch games, and essentially treats like shit. His actions make Hermione feel both guilty and confused–she knows she hasn’t done anything wrong by kissing Viktor, but she has feelings for Ron, and she feels bad for hurting him. Ultimately, Hermione forgives him, but this is where the books start to go wrong.

Rupert-Grint_320Ron, like a lot of teenage boys, is tragically insecure. Insecure boys don’t want girls who might someday thwart them, so they create certain insecurities in said girls to ensure that never happens. Ron makes Hermione feel inadequate (for “fraternizing with the enemy”) so that, even though she’s the one who got asked to the Ball, kissed, and crushed on by a super cool Champion (and he’s relegated to Patil sister #2), Hermione still feels rejected. Like he does. Jerk! So the question here is: Why is Hermione fraternizing with the enemy in the first place? And why would a girl of her mental prowess and stability still cling to Ron, despite his poor treatment of her and other girls like her, a la Lavender Brown? Certainly a girl like Hermione, someone who is so angered by the poor treatment of House Elves at the Quidditch World Cup that she founds her own support group (remember S.P.E.W.?), would not take this kind of behavior lightly.

But first, a lesson in inferiority complexes: from “Dawson’s Creek,” “Gilmore Girls,” and (of course) “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Pacey, feeling both mentally and morally inferior, sabotages his relationship with Joey in “Dawson’s Creek” season 4 after it looks like he won’t be getting into college after all. Dean, feeling both mentally and socioeconomically inferior, breaks up with Rory in “Gilmore Girls” season 5 after seeing her in a dress and a tiara at her grandparents’ huge and fancy house during an exclusive Yale alumni party. Meanwhile, Riley loses his superpowers in “Buffy” season 5 and experiences an inferiority complex so intense,  he takes to (literal) suck-jobs by vampire sluts in the shadows, and then he leaves to rejoin the army where he can be a “super hero” once again. Hurray! The things that some boys will do to assert their manhood. And in the end, we’re left with heroines who feel inadequate, unable to make their relationships work. And they ARE unable to make their relationships work, but it’s not because they’re inadequate…

It’s because they’re choosing the wrong guys–guys who, in all of their inadequacy, make them feel inadequate for (drum roll) not being inadequate enough. It’s not that Pacey is, in the end, a total fuck-up, or that Dean, in the end, is a small potatoes divorcee with a history of neediness, or that Riley, in the end, is simply bonkers. No! JOEY is an uppity snob, too good for Capeside (and Pacey by extension); RORY is a poor little rich girl “slumming” it in Stars Hollow (and with Dean by extension); and BUFFY is, well, the Slayer–better than me AND you (and Riley by extension). That said, what do Pacey, Dean, and Riley all have in common? They’re all jealous types: jealous of their girlfriends’ academic achievements,their social graces, their many many suitors. For a while, they do a great job of acting proud, but when push comes to shove, they feel threatened, and so they lash out. Ron Weasley anyone?

bts4So I can’t help but ask: Now that Hermione is married to Ron, is this her destiny? A lifetime of dumbing herself down to his level so that she may not disturb his fragile ego and (by extension) the equilibrium of their marriage? Certainly, this CANNOT be what J.K. Rowling had in mind for her beloved and essentially strong Hermione.

(At this point, I’m way too deep, and I’m just gonna keep going.)

The Importance of the Yule Ball

The conundrum: Rather than plant Ron with a big fuck you for the way he treated her at the Yule Ball and the months thereafter–which is what she should have done, and what, in almost every incarnation of Hermione I can think of (other than the one that plays out), she DOES do–Hermione keeps on chasing him (or letting him catch her?). But why? Why? Is it out of some ill-fated desire to prove (to herself) that she can be smart and successful AND “good enough” for Ron? That she can be Harry’s brave and heroic confidant, saving the world from evil assholes with wands, AND she can be sidekick-Ronald’s lady luck and emotional crutch? That she can have it all! Well, that’s preposterous, unless we’re talking daddy issues, and Freud, and let’s please not go that route. This is a total Buffy/Riley scenario, but Buffy and Riley broke up–a necessity if Buffy was going to move up and on to bigger and better things,  ie: continue to ascend on her hero’s journey. But Hermione and Ron didn’t break up, and so Hermione’s journey is just sort of…halted. And most importantly: according to Rowling, the whole thing was a monumental mistake–a desire to stick to the story as it was originally conceived, one she ultimately regrets, one that, in my mind, hardly makes sense. It’s crazy.

Here’s what seems to have happened: Hermione became more of a hero in the Harry Potter series than anyone could have predicted. And rather than allow Hermione to develop into a full-blown hero, independent and self-assured, Rowling, out of self-proclaimed “wish-fulfillment,” relegated Hermione to “Ron’s love interest,” bending Hermione’s journey to fit that of the boys. She (unwittingly) turned the great and powerful Hermione Granger into a piece of furniture to be pushed back and forth across the room–the source of tension between Ron and Harry rather than the life-saving, evil-vanquishing genius that she is. So I totally believe and understand Rowling’s regret. In the end, Hermione is thwarted, stifled, her big moment reduced from what could have been a culmination of all her wisdom and heroics over the past seven books, to an ill-timed, totally anticlimactic kiss with jealous sidekick Ron Weasley. Come ON.

Ron-and-Hermione-Harry-Potter-television-and-movie-couples-27758560-700-467But let’s hold on a minute. I understand that, in the abstract, Hermione’s natural coupling might be with Ron–the underdog, the silent partner. Their relationship could be a constant, a force of good amidst all the Death-Eating bullshit and the end of the world. But this is assuming Ron pulls his own weight, and after he blows things so notoriously after the Yule Ball, the trajectories of these two characters change irreversibly. Ron becomes increasingly jealous and suspicious of Harry, and Harry finds himself relying more and more on both the emotional and intellectual support of Hermione. The dynamic seems to become: Harry wins battles with Hermione at his side while Ron watches, resentful, from the sidelines.

This post-Goblet trio dynamic is played out completely in DH, when Ron, due to an unfortunate splinching, is not only saved by Hermione’s abilities, but rendered a physical and mental invalid for quite a while. During his down time, Hermione tirelessly works to nurse him back to health, while simultaneously run ragged by Harry’s side, helping him search for the remaining horcruxes. She’s super woman! Times are incredibly tough. But once he’s back on his feet, Ron’s weakness is exploited by the horcrux around his neck (a la: Gollum), and he’s driven mad by jealousy, convinced Harry’s trying to steal “his girl.” He is so convinced, in fact, that he splits, leaving Harry and Hermione on their own. If this wasn’t the straw that broke the Hippograff’s back of the love story between Ron and Hermione…I don’t know what is.

SalslylocYou could definitely argue that Ron’s jealousy is purely a product of Salazar Slytherin’s locket. This could be true, though the locket seems to serve the purpose of some essential, manipulative evil, sort of like The First in “Buffy” or the demon in The Exorcist, or, you know, the ring in Lord of the Rings. This type of evil is evil, not because it fabricates fear from thin air, but because it awakens the fear that already exists within: it is able to sense and exploit our deepest fears–Ron’s, of course, being that, in Hermione’s eyes, he will never measure up to Harry. Of course, Ron is eventually able to overcome the grip of Slytherin’s locket and even to destroy it. This is a big moment for Ron. Of course, I feel that it comes too late–for Ron, Hermione, AND Harry. The locket, even after it’s destroyed, has damaged the integrity of their bond, left a fissure. At the very least, it is going to take a lot of time to make things right.

The Real Ron Weasley

Now I want to take a closer look at why, specifically, Hermione’s relationship with Ron would never work, and why Rowling’s regret comes as really no surprise:

Who is Ron Weasley? Ron Weasley: best friend of Harry Potter, poor (unimportant to Harry and Hermione, but important to Ron), haunted by fears of his own inadequacy, and plagued by the success of those around him. Even Neville Longbottom has a destiny! And a date for the Yule Ball. What does Ron Weasley have? Ron has dozens and dozens of siblings, all of whom seem to be markedly more interesting and talented than he is: Bill was headboy and marries Fleur Delacour; Charlie tames dragons; Percy earned twelve O.W.L.s; Fred and George are comic genius panty-droppers, not to mention entrepreneurs! Even little sister Ginny has her superbly mastered Bat Bogie hex. Plus, hey, she’s dating the Chosen One.

So what about Ron? Ron has ancient, hand-me-down dress robes with lacy lapels. Ron makes a fool out of himself in front of Fleur Delacour and relies on Harry to get him a date to the Yule Ball. Ron has one good Quidditch season under his belt, a season he wouldn’t have had at all if it weren’t for Hermione’s Confundus charm at try-outs and, thanks to Harry, a single (fake) dose of liquid luck in his morning pumpkin juice. Look, I’m not trying to be mean. I’m just stating the facts. If Ron was supposed to be the underdog, I mean, there you go. He is. Worst of all–most of these faults, Ron imposes on himself.

ron_weasley_2So what does Ron have? Well, according to Ron, not a whole lot. But his self-loathing is misguided and, I believe, a product of immaturity. Ron DOES have something. He has a lot. Ron has friends. Ron is a pure-blood wizard, guaranteed the love and support of a great big, bustling family, all of whom are heroic and awesome and happy and healthy–at least right up until the very end. Harry, on the other hand, has no family, was raised in a broom cupboard by distant relatives who hate him, and almost lost himself in front of the Mirror of Erised when he saw his parents standing in the mirror there with him. So, I’m sorry, when Ron, on more than one occasion, betrays Harry out of jealousy, or begrudges Harry the material things–like titles and money–he looks downright selfish. I guess I could lay off and just say, Hey, we can’t all be heroes. But instead, I just feel like Ron is super petulant. You don’t have to be a hero to do right by your friends.

Ron Weasley—being both pure-blood and remarkably ordinary—is never truly able to sympathize with Harry. This is obvious. For similar reasons, Ron could never really respect Hermione. He resents her intellect, as well as her relationships with boys who are not him. Ron is an average wizard, and he is not mentally prepared for what’s often demanded of him–whether it be run-of-the-mill maturity, or the unconditional support of his doomed best friend. I don’t think J.K. Rowling intended it so, but at some point, Ron Weasley is no longer just a sidekick. He’s far too jealous, far too quick to betray, and far too resentful. Ron is no Xander Harris. He doesn’t wear his mediocrity with pride, fully aware that SOMEONE has to be normal in this merry band of bright, shining stars. Ron is envious. He has been known to betray Harry and to judge Hermione to harmful double standards. Most importantly, Ron is too often blinded by Harry’s title—the Chosen One—and, as a result, begrudges Harry the material stuff: his fame and fortune, despite the fact that Harry’s fame and fortune have cost him his parents, Sirius Black, and all semblance of a safe and happy life. I think that, at first, we’re supposed to root for Ron. He’s the underdog! But at what point does his petulance and self-loathing become too much?

It’s About Equals.

“Buffy” aside: According to Spike in the episode As You Were (6.15), Buffy needs “some monster in her man” to keep her satisfied, which is his way of saying: Buffy will only truly be happy with an equal. Not a man she has to protect, or feel sorry for, or nurse and coddle. Not a man with whom she has to walk on egg shells, or a man she has to dumb herself down to please. She deserves a man with whom she can comfortably coexist. Somebody worthy. A champion.

Viktor-and-Hermione-stanislav-ianevski-217831_278_267Now let’s think about Hermione’s other major love interest, Viktor Krum: it’s precisely because of Hermione’s enormous intellect that Viktor Krum asks her to the Yule Ball. And who is Viktor Krum? He’s the Durmstrang champion of the Tri-Wizard Tournament and a professional Quidditch star. He is not threatened by Hermione’s intellect, because Viktor Krum is both comfortable in his masculinity and eager for stimulation beyond the hoards of tittering yes-girls who follow him around like puppy dogs. Hermione is not an easy solve. She is a challenge, because she values herself and her own purpose above the validation of men. She is unique. And Viktor Krum may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but he really likes Hermione. He might even love her. She’s the Thing He’d Miss the Most at the bottom of the Black Lake during the second task in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Plus, he challenges Hermione as well: to let down her guard, to try something new, to let someone else take the lead for once. These things are important for her growth as a character. It’s not until she realizes that Krum is somewhat needy, and that they have nothing in common, that she breaks off their relationship. Because if she needs to change to be with him, or feels stifled in any way, that might suggest that Hermione has the upperhand, or that she’s leading him on somehow, which she rejects. This is at least part of why her relationship with Ron is so baffling.

Harry-Hermione-harry-ron-and-hermione-32849805-248-330Because in the end, that Hermione would choose Ron is, like Rowling says, pure “wish-fulfillment.” Look, I’m not saying that strong, brave women don’t fall for ordinary men. I’m saying that strong, brave women don’t fall for jealous, petulant men who make them feel bad about their choices, mistaken or not. I also feel that Hermione could only love Ron in the way we love those we feel sorry for, or in the way we love those with whom we share unbreakable bonds. I do believe she feels sorry for Ron, and I believe that she feels bonded to him, as she does with Harry. Hermione is emotionally complex and extremely forgiving, and the three of them have been through a lot, but I don’t believe she loves Ron romantically, not after the way he’s treated her, and the way he’s treated Harry. So in the end, she’s been demoted. She becomes a woman willing to bend her journey to the will of a jealous and inferior man, and that’s just not Hermione. It’s not believable. It’s why Rory and Dean can’t make it work. It’s why Buffy can never truly love Riley. It’s why J.K. regrets her decision after all this time. It’s about equals.

The Replacements

All along, I was waiting for Hermione to choose her equal: Harry Potter. Then, when she didn’t, I saw Rowling desperately trying to fill in the gaps with “replacement” love interests for Harry, each of which is more boring and less believable than the next. Essentially, I feel that, by negating Harry his chance with Hermione, he becomes an uninteresting, somewhat unbelievable teenage boy. To be that close to her and not even think about it? Especially in DH after Ron peaces out, and Hermione’s sitting there, smelling good like girls do, with her head on your shoulder, conjuring roses from the soil of your dead parents’ graves…I’m shameless. But how they avoided at least some sort of grief-stricken, morally confusing make-out session is beyond me. Even taking into account Ron’s feelings for Hermione–I mean, it was the end of the world, life or death at any moment! Relationships have been ruined for far less. I mean, to write this scene: it’s such a lovely scene, and a fabulously organic moment. All roads lead to Harry. Neon signs. Flashing lights. One thousand glowing hinkypunks parading in the darkness.

(And spare me the whole feminist tirade about Why are men so morally depraved that they can’t have normal, platonic relationships with women they’re close to? Why can’t men and women just be friends? Because, well, they can’t. And it’s not just the dude’s fault. WTF? Watch When Harry Met Sally if you’re confused.)

Back to the Replacements: Rowling’s first replacement love interest for Harry is obviously Cho Chang–pretty, elusive Ravenclaw girl and Harry’s first real “crush,” beginning sometime around GoF. That a school boy would fall superficially for the charms of an older girl like Cho is not remarkable–unless he’s the fucking Chosen One. Harry’s relationship with Cho is confusing, if only because she is just so incredibly boring, especially when compared to the surrounding merchandise: by book 5, Rowling has colored her world with both Hermione Granger AND the supremely interesting Luna Lovegood, both of whom relate with Harry in small but important ways: Hermione, like Harry’s mother (and to some extent, Harry), is a muggle-born, meanwhile, Luna is one of the only other students at Hogwarts who can see the winged Thestrals–a consequence of having seen someone you love die. Both Hermione and Luna, at some point, have been alone with Harry during significant moments–many of them life or death. And yet–!

Cho Chang! He continues to pine for Cho Chang. Cho Chang, even after seeing Hermione look totally hot in her periwinkle robes at the Yule Ball. Cho Chang, who is so believably scarred by the death of her boyfriend Cedric Diggory in OotP that she can hardly look at Harry without bursting into tears. She and Harry have nothing in common. Cho is even a sub-par witch, if her performance in the D.A. meetings is any indication, and her friend is Marietta Edgecombe, the SNEAK who ratted out the D.A. to Dolores Umbridge. Marietta Edgecombe. Marietta Edgecombe!

FINALLY: Harry and Cho’s short, weird relationship comes to a halt when Harry refuses to talk with Cho about Cedric Diggory. They’re on a date at this point, and Cho expresses that she is, in fact, jealous of Hermione Granger–Harry’s true confidant:

Oh, you’ll talk to Hermione Granger! But you won’t talk to me! P-perhaps it would be best if we just…just p-paid and you went and met up with Hermione G-Granger, like you obviously want to!

It seems that everyone recognizes Harry’s connection with Hermione…except for Harry and Hermione. In any case, at least this whole Cho Chang thing is done. For the best, really.

Once Cho falls by the wayside, Rowling delivers up Harry’s next (and, I guess, permanent) love interest in the form of a new and improved Ginny Weasley. But here’s the rub: If ever there was a miniature, somewhat-less-objectionable version of Hermione Granger, Ginny’s it–clever, headstrong, heroic, but younger. More damsel in her distress. Sweeter, popular with the boys, less complicated, both more forgiving and forgivable. Oh, Ginny! Unlike Hermione, Ginny stands no chance of equaling Harry Potter. Ginny would instead be a convincing Girl Friday. But perhaps that’s what Harry really wants, you say? A Girl Friday.

But after everything, after all this shit, all this time he’s spent with Hermione in the trenches, drawing up battle plans and saving Hippogriffs and riding Thestrals and breaking into Gringotts and sleeping next to each other in tents in the middle of the woods with very little hope for survival–after all this shit…he can still relate to his Girl Friday? He has anything in common with her at all?

I’m reminded, for some reason, of Twister (RIP PSH) in which Bill, sexy storm chaser played by Bill Paxton, and Jo, sexy storm chaser played by Helen Hunt, reunite in the midst of a bitter divorce to chase down the storm of the century together. Bill brings his new girlfriend along–a pretty and super-duper nice, if slightly ditzy, antithesis to Jo, and at first, the two seem a-okay. But once it’s all over, something’s changed. Bill and Jo get back together. Because let’s face it: Once he’s been to the belly of the whale and back again with Jo, his equal and a fellow champion in the art of storm chasing, a guy like Bill isn’t going to go back to his Girl Friday. He’s just not. She might be nice, but she’ll never be enough. He knows it. She knows it. We all know it! So…

Harry-y-hermione-harry-and-hermione-17302667-500-375In the end, just like Cho Chang, Ginny seems to come out of left field–an interchangeable product of Rowling’s desperate need to provide her young characters with love interests amidst her continued forced coupling of Hermione and Ron. Hermione’s out of commission, and Harry’s gotta get someone! Hermione was a natural choice, Rowling knows this now, and sadly that path was never explored. Even if they didn’t end up getting married, that Harry didn’t even once consider Hermione (and vice versa) is less than believable. Therefore, I feel that in her desire to couple Ron and Hermione, Rowling not only (unwittingly) demoted Hermione from heroine to furniture, she also cast Harry as a shallow, awkward lover who seems to choose girls for convenience, and for superficial reasons beyond my understanding. I mean, I wonder if anyone will argue with me when I say that Harry’s scenes with Cho Chang and Ginny Weasley are among the least believable, least interesting, and least dynamic scenes in the entire series. Most of them are just plain awkward.

In Conclusion

To be honest, when Harry didn’t end up with Hermione at the end of DH, I was pretty disappointed. I really didn’t give two shits about Ginny, and I know I’m not alone in finding her to be a lame-o add-on, a second thought–too little too late. I thought Ron’s splinching had to be the end of it, finally availing him of the truth about his situation: he is weak, and, if Hermione belongs with anyone, she belongs with Harry, a true champion. Or, she belongs on her own. But she does not belong with Ron. Perhaps this would have even helped Ron’s character grow–beyond the jealous best friend and out of Harry Potter’s shadow.

What’s crazy is that J.K. Rowling has even admitted to toying with the idea of killing Ron off. Looking back, that would have been brutal, but if any of them was going to die, it was going to be Ron. Ron is not only the least capable of the trio, but he’s also the most ripe for redemption. He could have gone down in a blaze of glory.

Alas, in another life, brother. I’ll have to stick with fan fiction for now.

hot.

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Bad Writing: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Freeloading Witch Crowd

This is a sort-of-quick (well, it felt quick) essay with an overly-specific audience, and hopefully the first of three or four (though probably not–my foll0w-through sucks), looking at CHARACTER ARCS THAT DON’T MAKE SENSE in some of my favorite TV shows. These are things that have always pissed me off, stupid inconsistencies that come as consequences to bad, shortcut-happy writing rather than conscious, careful character development, and as a serious, dedicated fan, I’m kind of offended. So now I’m finally taking the time to both VENT and EXAMINE these super irritating and problematic character arcs because I have the tools and abilities to do so. Honestly, these are things, as a writer, I just find inexcusable.

In this essay, I’ll look at BTVS season 6. In the next one, whenever the merp that will be–I’m planning to look at Gilmore Girls season 5 and 6. Future endeavors? I’m not sure yet. But I’ll let you know.

Buffy season 6: Freeloading Witches or Sh1tty Writing or like, Both.

Buffy (6)

(SPOILERS Ahead, FYI)

What strikes me as most problematic in season 6 is that the writers seem completely unwilling to address basic financial weather questions, and so it makes a great many characters that have otherwise proven themselves to be sweet, helpful people we have come to adore to seem like freeloading assholes. I’ve trolled the message boards looking for proof that I am, in fact, not the only Buffy fan who is upset about this shit. And yeah. I am not alone.

Seriously,  let me unpack this, but first, let me contextualize:

I recently marathoned season 5. I mean, I’ve seen it before, LOTS of times, and I’ve even thought about writing a blog post dedicated totally to season 5, what it’s like to revisit it, how good it is, and I might still. Anyway, I like, respect season 5. Season 5, in my opinion, is the most unified in terms of vision. Each episode feels important to the whole while standing alone as a solid, careful piece of writing. It’s certainly the most serious of all the seasons, and it deals with the places in Buffy’s heart that we’ve never seen before–her mother, her sister, her mortality. Up until now, the Slayer has been an abstraction–to both us AND to Buffy. But after season 5, Buffy must face what it means to be the Slayer with a new resolve, a new intensity. Season 5 has the greatest and scariest of all the villains–Glory, the only villain in the history of BTVS that causes Buffy to question her ability as protector: of Dawn, the world–so that she actually runs away. Buffy’s never run before. Fighting, winning–these are the only things Buffy is good at, or at least the only things that give her confidence enough to feel that she’s good, that she belongs, that she has some place in this world.

As you can see, I feel an intense loyalty to season 5. It’s my favorite season, and I think it demonstrates the most growth for all of our characters, especially Buffy. Have you already forgotten? Death is your gift. So I’m hard on season 6. ALWAYS. I’m hard. It’s a problematic season. It’s got incredible ups (“Once More With Feeling,” “Tabula Rasa,” Spike) and really nasty lows (“Doublemeat Palace,” the trio in general), but it’s not a bad season. It’s just…uneven. But it’s semi-ishy episodes aren’t even half the problem. Everybody who’s seen Buffy or pledged their loyalty to ANY WB/CW “teen” drama knows that the occasional silly villain-of-the-week comes with the territory. So it’s not the bad episodes, or even the lame-o villains that really piss me off. It’s other things. I mean, mostly, it’s the money.

So…it’s season 6 now. Buffy has died–to save the world of course, and all of us! Willow and Tara have been living in the Summers house, seemingly since Buffy’s death at the end of season 5. What’s nice about this, or kind of a relief, is that Willow and Tara are taking care of Dawn (and the Buffybot), while surrogate mothering-it all day, living in the Summers house, going to college, and researching spells to bring Buffy back. This is thoughtful of them, extremely gracious and benevolent, helpful, really, and mostly expected. I guess.

Okay, BUT: So when Buffy returns from the dead (according to Spike, she’s been dead for 147 days), she is immediately burdened with a ton of financial debt. Her mother’s life insurance was mostly used up to pay medical bills, it turns out, so the mortgage is not paid, and there’s very little money left for day-to-day expenses. Buffy ultimately ends up getting a job at the Doublemeat Palace to pay down some of this debt (which I don’t understand at all, seeing as she was offered jobs to work with both Xander and Giles—apparently construction/The Magic Box are more stressful than the Doublemeat Palace, no, but this is another issue entirely) while Willow and Tara continue to attend UC-Sunnydale, jobless, while also living (seemingly for free) in Buffy’s house, which is not paid off.

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This is majorly problematic to me. Not only because Willow and Tara don’t seem to pay rent, but because, while Buffy was dead, they were the ones who seemed to let things get so terribly out-of-hand in the first place. I don’t mean it’s their fault, I just mean…negligence, man. During the scene in “Flooded” (6.4) when the Scoobies confront Buffy on her money issues, it seems as if they’ve known about the problem for weeks, months even, but have not done anything to address the problem until now—now that Buffy’s back. They explain to her the specifics with a great deal of certainty. “This house,” scolds Anya, “just sitting here, doing nothing, costs money.” Tara knows all about the life insurance, and Willow and Xander know all about how the medical bills managed to suck the life insurance dry, and, based on Anya’s statement, it’s clear that the house has still got some debt on it, and that a portion of the mortgage is still outstanding. So they’ve seen the paperwork, no? They know what’s going on.

Here’s the thing: all along, while Willow and Tara and the rest of them have been properly assessing the Summers estate financial debacle, Buffy has been dead. DEAD. D-e-a-d. Dead, as in, not alive anymore and therefore, unable to know or contribute to what was going on. Also, even while they did manage to bring her back from the dead, the success of Willow’s resurrection spell was no guarantee–they all knew that–and there was a HUGE chance that Buffy would remain dead forever…like dead people often do…or that she would, yeah, come back wrong (or, in the words of Anya in Bargaining Pt. 2, a zombie: “looking for some brains to eat”). So, it seems like there should have been at least some responsible discussion (over the course of 147 days, which is nearly six months) on what they would do should Buffy NOT return and they be forced to face the financial situation alone: meaning either putting the house in foreclosure and Dawn in foster-care (seeing as her dad is still like, in Spain or whatever, either way: MIA), or at least maintaining the financial situation to prevent this worst-case-scenario from happening. Particularly the Dawn-in-foster-care part, as this would not have been a part of Buffy’s wishes, and, based on what we know about Willow and Tara so far, neither of them would want to defy Buffy’s wishes, because they care about Buffy, and they owe her their lives, and would want the best for Dawn. Instead, it seems like the Scoobies, mainly Willow and Tara, have been operating consistently under the assumption that Buffy would, at some point soon, be back in the picture. This ignores the parts where there was uncertainty as to whether or not the spell would work or Buffy would come back right. AKA: Amateur hour at the Mutant Enemy writers table. Harsh?

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Sue me, but it seems like, if Willow and Tara truly wanted to help Buffy by taking care of Dawn, and if they had planned on doing this for an extended period of time, (I mean, presumably, at least till Dawn was eighteen–so like, 2-3 years) then they would have sold the house, or at least gotten JOBS, even the part-time kind, in a responsible attempt to attenuate the situation and, if not to prepare things as best they could for Buffy’s return to the living, then to build a better future for Dawn, who they care about. Am I wrong?

Let me show: In “Flooded” (6.4), when Buffy confides in Giles about her financial problems, she says about money: “It turns out, mom left me some, and while I was dead, it got squandered on luxuries like food and clothing.” That said, and with no mention of Willow and Tara getting jobs or paying rent, or bringing any other financial support to the table (ie: help from parents, savings, student loans, etc.), it seems like Willow and Tara, while Buffy was dead, were simply slurping whatever was left out of the Summers estate to pay for daily living expenses and the mortgage, while contributing nothing themselves. This left the well dry and the financial situation, not only dire, but in severe shambles so that, when Willow’s resurrection spell DOES work, it is both a relief and a convenience for them (and the writers), in that the burden logistically falls on Buffy, who owns the estate and therefore all of its problems, and who’ll have to clean up the mess on her own.

Like she always does.

But, you see, it’s one thing when Buffy is forced to solve problems on her own because they’re problems that ONLY Buffy can fix—ie: slayer stuff. It’s another thing when you have two able-bodied witches who seem to have completely forgotten that, oh hey, there’s a practical, real-world problem and we can help for once! So let’s do that. The fact that they don’t take any kind of action, based on previous characterization, is totally inconsistent.

Further, and related, there’s no mention as to how Willow and Tara pay for college, but seemingly, they do, as they continue to attend. So where is that money coming from? Even Dawn, in the episode “Flooded,” says to Giles, “[There’s] no chance I’d have to quit school to work assembling cheap toys in a poorly-ventilated sweatshop?” I mean, I know she’s being sarcastic, but at least she’s SAYING something about it, about sacrifices.

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Throughout the entirety of season 6, I’m not sure Willow or Tara once thinks of making a personal sacrifice to make things easier for Buffy. Not once does Tara offer to get a part-time job to supplement day-to-day expenses or does Willow offer to pay half the mortgage. In fact, while living in Buffy’s house, instead of offering to pay rent, Willow becomes a magic addict, brings crazy-eyes Amy back from rat-state, drives Tara away, becomes completely useless, and almost gets Dawn killed in a car accident. Then she almost ends the world. Ie: Even more shit on Buffy’s plate, to which I say, “GEEZ, WITCH LADY. GROW THE F#CK UP.”

Meanwhile, Buffy continues to save their lives on pretty much a daily basis, and what the hell? Are we just supposed to believe that they live there for free, and that Buffy’s all like—Yeah, sure, not only will I continue being the slayer, but let me get a job at that disgusting shithole the Doublemeat Palace as well while the two of you continue living in my house for free, jobless, studying stuff at college that you’ll NEVER need because, hey, we live on top of a Hellmouth, and who knows if we’ll live past tomorrow anyway? At the very least, if they aren’t going to help, they could have MOVED OUT once Buffy got back. That would have solved a lot, at least for me. And given how Buffy is sort of passively angry with Willow and Tara anyway for bringing her back from the dead, wouldn’t she just, like…be more upset?

These are all questions that could be easily answered with throw-away lines here or there, something, anything, to solve such glaring logistical nonsense, but the writers seem to instead focus all of their energy on burdening Buffy—like they always do—but this time with the practical stuff of real life upon her return to the living, rather than the requisite apocalypse stress. It’s an interesting tension for this show, financial weather, and something they’ve never really dealt with before; however, it’s not interesting enough to carry so many logistical problems scot-free. There are consequences: Willow and Tara, in my eyes, seem like irresponsible freeloaders in season 6, and while Buffy is dead, they’re just playing house, and I’m never able to truly forgive them. It seems like they have no intention at all of helping Buffy or Dawn practically or financially—only emotionally, and only, (again) considering Willow’s wicca-meltdown circa “Wrecked,” when it is convenient for them, which, in a season with a lot of tension predicated on practicality and financial weather, is simply not enough. The logistical holes end up being these huge distractions, and there are just too many, so I am asking questions where I should be enjoying what is otherwise my favorite TV show in the world.

Final note and tangent: At this point, it is no wonder Buffy runs off and starts banging Spike. If your friends were being such complete and total assholes right after they forced YOU out of  a sweet existence in some heaven dimension just because they missed their superhero bff, you’d be boffing the Big Bad, too. In fact, Buffy’s is probably the only character arc in ALL of season six that MAKES TOTAL SENSE. Buffy, feeling abandoned by the very same friends who, while she was dead, apparently missed her so much that they had to risk majorly to bring her back, turns to Spike—who’s also been brought back from the dead against his will, who’s also experienced extreme loss in the way of, well, life, and who, in his weird, vamp way, loves Buffy unconditionally.

In fact, he’s the only one who seems to truly love Buffy (and Dawn) for the duration of season six.

Here endeth the ranteth.

from: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/ben%20is%20glory

~t

Posted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, television, writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Chivalry is Undead: Bad Boy/Nice Guy Dichotomies in The Vampire Diaries or, What Does Elena Want?

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WARNING: VAMPIRE DIARIES SPOILERS AHEAD

Or else just another overly-long post about vampires, young women, and modern-day masculinity. Your call.

With this week’s revelation (or alleged revelation–there’s no proof yet) that newly-vampired Elena Gilbert of The Vampire Diaries is, indeed sired to Damon Salvatore, I’m feeling more excited about the series than ever (especially after last season, which was a languorous, snooze-fest tease). I’m also, however, feeling more worried than ever–about Elena, our heroine, and what this means for her potential happiness (which you know I’m obsessed with).

Question: Why is it so fashionable to write teen heroines these days whose most featured characteristic is indecision? In terms of TVD, would it have been too much to allow the audience, for even one episode, to believe Elena’s decision to be with Damon Salvatore over Stefan Salvatore was 100% of her own volition? Why, the moment she finally seems to find a smidgeon of agency inside that martyring heart of hers, is the instinct to reveal that Elena is, in fact, under the control of the sire bond, and nothing she’s said or done since becoming a vampire is based on her own desires? More than ever, I’m literally dying to ask: WHAT THE F#CK DOES ELENA WANT? Will we ever know for sure? And why is this question, the question of what a main character wants, so popular these days when talking about heroines of teen-based literature and entertainment?

I don’t know. It has something to do, I feel, with many of the representational changes that certain facets of our culture are trying to make in terms of defining masculinity. For the last twenty years, it seems like we’ve been overhauled with girl power (Spice Girls, Buffy), but now, it seems the factor to manipulate is the place and role of boys (and by extension, men). The bad-boy/nice-guy dichotomy has never been so important in literature, and while fictional women have been plagued by this type of indecision for more than a hundred years (Mr. Darcy, anyone?), I feel that now, more than ever, young women are confused as to what they should desire in a mate vs. what they actually do desire. Meaning: What qualities should be attractive in terms of masculinity vs. what qualities actually are attractive, and who’s setting these standards? I really have no idea, but I do know that these decisions are getting tougher than ever for our girl in question: Elena Gilbert.

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Chivalry is dead. That’s one you’ve heard, right? It makes me think of that scene in Sleepless in Seattle when Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner are just walking around, talking about dating in the 90s, and Tom tells Rob, in a fair bit of disbelief, that he doesn’t think could ever let a woman pay for dinner. Oh-ho-ho! “Great!” says Rob. “They’ll have a parade in your honor. You’ll be man of the year in Seattle Magazine!” Man of the year!

It’s clear that, in our time, strict societal gender roles in terms of the mating game have, in many ways, been defused, and this has thrown a big, politically correct wrench in the old-fashioned ways of chivalry. Men are no longer expected to open doors, pull out chairs, or toss their expensive jackets over puddles to impress us, because these things are symbolic of an old-fashioned time come-and-gone. Men are also not necessarily expected to be aggressive or dominant in their pursuit of women. We’re all supposed to know better now. It’s “gross.” Some feminists argue that these types of actions are condescending, that the whole chivalry thing, in acts big or small, is actually a “gendered premise,” and it displays that women need special treatment–so even though it’s technically positive or flattering in nature, it’s still sexist. I don’t personally agree with this argument, but that’s beside the point for now. Let’s look at the way things actually are:

If experience serves me correctly (and if Feminist Ryan Gosling serves me correctly) women still, despite this reorganization of social expectations for men, somewhat desire a certain amount of “romance” or chivalry in their mating and dating rituals. Thus the complaint, “Chivalry is dead,” and the overwhelming success of old-fashioned-male-chivalry-porn mags Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. Considering the Sleepless in Seattle example above, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Tom Hanks, everyone’s favorite leading man of the 1990s, is cast as chivalrous for a reason. Even super-sensitive Feminist Ryan Gosling seems to be extra attuned to a woman’s romantic sensibility, and when bad-ass Buffy Summers, at the end of the episode “I Was Made to Love You” (5.15), enters her home to find a bouquet of flowers by the stairs with a note addressed to her mother, she makes no hesitation to appreciate the gesture: “‘Still some guys getting it right,” she says.

*butterflies*

*butterflies*

And what about Hermione Granger, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? Despite her independence and superior intelligence, Hermione still responds positively to the 0ld-fashioned, brutish charm of Viktor Krum. She puts on a dress, does her hair and make-up, and gets weak in the knees when he *chivalrously* kisses her hand at the bottom of the stairs. Taylor Swift sings songs about Romeo and Juliet, sells a bajillion copies (whether you like it or not). Paula Cole asks, “Where have all the cowboys gone?” and Captain Mal takes on Atherton Wing in a duel to win the hand of Companion Inara Serra in the best Firefly episode ever, “Shindig.” Finally: Angel surprises Buffy at the prom (“Every now and then people surprise you…”), dances with her one last time, and then rides off lonely into the night because they simply cannot be together. Gasp! And we’re all like *BALLING.*

…..So, chivalry is dead? I don’t know. I mean, at least not in the realm of entertainment I know, not at this moment. It might be UNdead, but it’s certainly not dead.

Evidence: Damon Salvatore of The Vampire Diaries and Edward Cullen of Twilight are good, rather exaggerated representations of “old-fashioned” chivalry and masculinity: they’re dominant, worldly, strong-jawed, and protective “bad boys,” almost obnoxiously so. These guys are written with a sort of “daddy knows best” rhetoric–sweeping the girls off their feet with a wisdom that only comes from having lived over a hundred years. Meanwhile there are counter-parts: Stefan Salvatore and Jacob Black. These guys are the “good guys,” written as sensitive, feminine in their sensibilities, submissive, and brooding, though with a considerable dark side (that’s been tamed, of course–at the behest of the girl). Stefan frequently defers to Elena’s wishes rather than asserting his own (which, at the end of season 3, costs Elena her life), and Jacob, well–while at times he does display frustration and agency, it’s almost always due to Bella, plus, at the altar of Bella, he freaking worships. It’s like in the old movie The Philadelphia Story (1939) when all Tracy Lord wants is a man to treat her like a human being instead of a goddess. She wants to be desired, not worshiped, not placed, made of bronze, on a pedestal. We can learn something from this.

A lot of old movies explore this dichotomy: men who worship or intellectualize women vs. men who love and desire women. One of my favorites is The Long Hot Summer (1958), in which the ultra-sexual Ben Quick (Paul Newman) blows into town and, after some difficulty, captures the fancy of local beauty and scholar Clara Varner (Joanne Woodward), who prior to and for some time after Quick’s arrival, is in a relationship with an intellectual named Alan who is essentially a mama’s boy and seems to be evolved beyond romantic love and sex.

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My favorite segment of the film is the Bid-a-Basket ritual, in which women auction off homemade picnic lunches to eligible bachelors in order to raise money for a local cause. This ritual you may recognize, as it was usurped by the show Gilmore Girls in its second season episode “A Tisket a Tasket,” in which bad boy Jess Mariano shows up to town and unceremoniously outbids nice guy Dean Forrester, winning the picnic basket of and ultimately lunch with Dean’s girlfriend Rory Gilmore–yet another contemporary heroine of indecision.

Rory's basket is mine!

Rory’s basket is mine!

In both Bid-a-Basket scenarios, and for both leading ladies, the winning bid on their “picnic basket” goes to the “bad boy,” the deviant, the out-of-towner with a good jaw and a smart mouth whose bold, central mission is to get the girl. I mean, we all saw it, right? It’s so obvious. While Dean is busy looking out for Rory’s “best interests,” gushing his feelings to Lorelai about all the bad influences in Rory’s life, Jess is busy swiping Rory right out from underneath him! Hey, they shoot Gilmores, don’t they? I don’t know. Ask Dean.

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Okay, back to my original topic: In both Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, our heroines are inarguably drawn to the sex and dominant nature of the old-fashioned chivalrous “bad boys”–the boys who pull out chairs, open doors, bring enough money to outbid competitors on picnic baskets–and meanwhile, these same girls are almost obligatorily inclined to covet the sensitive guy who, like argued in this pretty interesting article about the roles of boys and masculinity in contemporary YA fiction, “rejects social status and dominance with respect to morality,” and this somehow makes him the better choice–because he rejects dominance, or whatever. It’s the moral or, politically correct(?) thing to do.

Either way: It’s clear, in watching The Vampire Diaries, that Elena is drawn to the “in charge,” confident, and sexual dominance of Damon Salvatore, but her ambivalence about what it would mean to succumb to this attraction keeps her latched to the sensitive, more submissive Salvatore, Stefan. Meanwhile, in Twilight, Bella wishes she could be in love with Jacob Black, because it would be “right” (he is warm-blooded, human, and they could have human children); however and unfortunately, Bella is helplessly in love with Edward Cullen (cold-blooded, undead, old as shit), despite the fact that her love for him means she will have to become a vampire and will probably not be able to live a normal life. While both situations are different, there’s this common, odd separation of “sexual love and desire” and love that is “correct” or morally acceptable, between what makes our heroine happy and what should make her happy. “I should be with Stefan, not Damon.”/”I should be with Jacob, not Edward.” Who, or what set of guidelines, are these girls appealing to when they succumb to such indecision? Such goddam indecision!

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In this season’s fourth episode“The Five,” Elena is shown almost euphoric, dancing and losing herself with Damon at a college party where she’s arrived to try and learn to be a vampire without remorse–and without killing anyone. She’s experiencing significant satisfaction from being a vampire, and while this kind of behavior might seem a little morally ambiguous (a lot), she hasn’t really hurt anyone, and neither has Damon. Actually, in terms of this show’s standard of living for vamps, this is about as innocent as it gets. So the two have kissed before (Damon and Elena), and Elena knows how Damon feels about her (and we know how she feels about Damon). But the moment Elena’s friend Bonnie walks in and sees them, wearing a look of, um, total judgment and disgust, Elena promptly abandons Damon on the dance floor, (just leaves him there!) starts crying, and says to Bonnie, “I should be here with Stefan.”

Despite her earlier happiness: I SHOULD! Or, I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t be happy? I should be correct? What is correct? When has happiness become separate from “correct?” I’m not sure.

So what makes Damon, our representation of old-fashioned chivalry more dangerous than Stefan, our representation of a more submissive and sensitive mate? Of course, these two types of male characters (the bad boy and the nice guy) have foiled each other in really familiar ways that we see in Buffy and the True Blood series and certainly all over entertainment and media these days. But I’m very interested in the young heroine’s “forbidden” love for a man with a traditionally old-fashioned or more dominant masculinity–why that love must be forbidden, and why Elena, for example, cannot feel free to love Damon without having to accrue hypocritical criticism from her friends and family (a la Caroline in this week’s ep “My Brother’s Keeper”) who, like Stefan, seem more concerned with Elena’s “innocence” and “correctness” than with her happiness. Sexist much?

Especially since Stefan, our stereotypical “good” guy, is really, actually…not so good. Despite his sensitive and submissive sensibility, Stefan has once already ditched Elena in Mystic Falls to go on a murderous rampage across the country with Big-Bad Klaus. It was Stefan who initially tricked Damon into feeding on human blood over 100 years ago after they were sired by Katherin Pierce–despite Damon’s desire to die rather than turn into a vampire. This season, Stefan is working with Klaus (yet again) to find a cure for Elena’s vampirism, at first claiming that he wishes to cure her because he loves her, because he cannot bare to see her in such pain; however, in this past episode, “My Brother’s Keeper,” it’s been revealed that Stefan’s true intentions for curing Elena are more along the lines of…well…he is unhappy with what she’s become. Because it just ain’t pretty! And I guess he wants his martyr back–the girl who loved him because it was “right,” because it was “good” and moral, despite her growing feelings for Damon (which are “wrong” and “bad,” but still–they’re there).

Oh fuck!

Oh fuck!

Now, another crucial example of chivalry failed: When Elena asks Stefan to save Matt instead of  her at the end of last season when their car goes off the bridge, Stefan listens. He saves Matt’s life and Elena ends up dying. Seems weird, a little confusing that he would sacrifice her like that; however, when she is resurrected as a vampire, Stefan is somehow cast as the “good guy”–for saving Matt and allowing Elena to martyr herself, while Damon, who proudly states he would have ignored her wishes and saved her life instead, is cast as the asshole. One can make a pretty good moral argument for both sides, I guess; however, because Damon admits that he would have defied Elena’s bidding, even to save her life (pretty chivalrous, if you ask me–like knight-in-shining-armor chivalrous), he’s somehow condemned for it, and insensitive. (Even though now, ironically, all Stefan wants is for Elena to be human again–when it’s his fault she is not–and Damon, who accepts Elena despite her being a vampire, would have stopped the whole situation in its tracks by simply saving her life in the first place.)

So Stefan, despite his fanatical tendencies as the ripper and his unclear motives for wanting to cure Elena of her vampirism, is frequently cast as the “good guy,” the sensible mate, because he defers and submits to Elena’s will (without fail) and wishes to preserve her mortal “innocence.” Meanwhile, Damon, whose love for Elena remains unchanged despite her transformation into a vampire, is cast as the “bad guy,” ostracized for valuing dominance, being aggressive, sure of what he wants, and mostly, I feel, for his smart mouth and disregard for authority–Elena’s included. Stefan lets Elena do whatever she wants, no matter how ridiculous (ie: killing herself), and while, at first, this seems positive (since when should anyone tell Elena what to do?), this failure to directly challenge Elena when she’s making bad decisions–especially since she’s what, seventeen years old? And she has no parents, no authority in her life?–isn’t really doing much for her self-esteem, and in the end, it’s not really saving her life either.

When Damon challenges Elena’s authority, she is forced to adapt as an individual. To grow. Not all of her decisions are good decisions. She is not a goddess or all-knowing or incapable of screwing up. Damon’s willingness to point this out on a daily basis makes him the “bad guy,” even though he almost always seems to be the one character on the show that truly understands Elena, and he almost always ends up being the one Elena turns to in a time of crisis (and vice versa).

"I know you love Stefan, and it will always be Stefan, but I love you, and you should know that."

“I know you love Stefan, and it will always be Stefan, but I love you, and you should know that.”

Conversely, whenever Stefan does challenge Elena’s decisions to act (which he has before, like in “The Killer”–when she wants to infiltrate a hostage situation to save her brother Jeremy, and Stefan won’t let her), it’s typically in his own best interest and not always to protect her. Had Stefan allowed Elena to infiltrate, attack Connor, and save Jeremy, he would have blown his cover: his alliance with Klaus and the secret plot to cure her. It’s also interesting to note that not once does Stefan sit down to engage Elena on whether or not she really wants to be human again, and what that means–what it could mean for Jeremy, and what it will mean for her (because she won’t be just Stefan’s human, but a human doppelganger-blood factory for Klaus’s hybrid super-race)–he just goes off and initiates the plan without her, playing the hero and displaying his own self-interest, yet again. Further, in “My Brother’s Keeper,” Stefan willingly puts Elena’s brother Jeremy’s life in danger in order to further his plot to cure her since he’s so sure it’s what she wants–but if there is anything that we are sure Elena “wants” in TVD, and there isn’t a whole lot, it is to protect her brother Jeremy, right? So, Stefan, where is your heart?

Continued: Damon sees what he wants and simply takes it, while Stefan goes through a considerable amount of hemming and hawing, bemoaning and self-loathing–displaying his many weaknesses. His weaknesses are what, I suspect, make him seem so safe. Elena is never endangered of becoming overpowered by a man who hates himself as much as Stefan does. In fact, his frequent self-loathing is almost cast as an attractive quality (ew) like it is with other brooding, introspective heroes such as Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Damon, however, is extremely confident, and he threatens not only to consume Elena with his way of life, but also to challenge her decisions and, yes, sometimes even dominate her body with his.  Stefan, again like Angel in Buffy, is way up in his own head, over-analyzing the ramifications and seriousness of being in love with a woman, beaten down by his past and burdened with neurosis, and this often causes him to act selfishly under the guise of self-sacrifice, while Damon, like Spike, is happily “love’s bitch”: He sees, he wants, he takes. He may act selfishly from time to time, but these acts rarely come with ulterior motives like they do with Stefan, and they are almost always in the purest interest of love. This kind of thing is undesirable, at least intellectually, because it too closely resembles man as animal rather than as evolved, analytical being–it depicts him as slave to the basic instincts, like lust.

However, Damon is anything but animal, as his love for Elena consistently manifests in some of the show’s most honest and tender moments. I think of the episode “Heart of Darkness” (3.19), in which Elena is caught spying on Damon as he drinks alone in their hotel room in the middle of the night. Also: episode 2.8, “Rose,” in one of the show’s single greatest moments, Damon confesses his love to Elena in her bedroom before compelling her to forget–since he characterizes the decision to tell her that he loves her as “the most selfish thing [he’s] ever said in his life.”

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“I love you, Elena.”

Damon: I love you Elena. And it’s because I love you that I can’t be selfish with you, and why you can’t know this.

Where Elena cannot turn to Stefan, she turns to Damon–because of these moments. Damon, being the more traditionally masculine Salvatore, does not typically advertise his emotions (unlike Stefan, who is constantly brooding). He does, however, share his feelings with Elena when he feels it most necessary. He is not afraid of being honest with her, but he always does this without expecting anything in return. Damon is frequently shown comforting Elena at her lowest and her most unbecoming–embracing her pain, allowing her ugliness, whether she’s a human or a vampire. The only other character who seems to do this is Matt, a childhood friend, while, alternatively, Stefan exists mostly to reassure Elena that he will fix the ugliness, whatever it is. He will make it better, while Damon allows it to manifest, to burn, because it’s part of who Elena is. In fact, in the end, it seems like Stefan is always off trying to “save” Elena (whether it be by pushing her away when he’s back to his old ripper tricks, or making shady deals with Klaus to restore her humanity) while Damon is always there, actually being physically with Elena (gives me flashbacks to the Jess-Rory-Dean triangle of Gilmore Girls). So Damon seems to love the flesh and blood of Elena while Stefan worships and lives to preserve the idea of Elena. These are two very different things. I suspect that, like me, most viewers are more inclined to believe the former.

Speaking of the fans: TVD fans, or at least the ones I know, are typically getting pretty sick of Stefan’s bullshit. In fact, most of us actually prefer him as the ripper, because then at least he’s assertive and makes decisions based on his own needs, rather than yielding to Elena’s all the time. These days, Stefan mostly just clomps around like an expectant martyr, doing the right thing, it seems, so he can hold it against her later on, or so he can look like the “good guy” in front of Caroline, Bonnie, and especially Damon. Stefan’s desire to cure Elena’s vampirism so that he can have his all-sacrificing princess of compassionate purity back, is a little disgusting–regardless of whether Elena is sired to Damon or not.

In conclusion, Stefan is threatened by Elena’s blood lust because, well, it’s just not so lady-like! That’s just not very pure of you to drink that frat boy, Elena. And, further, he is threatened by Elena’s relationship with Damon, one he cannot suss out, because it just won’t seem to go away. It just keeps coming back again and again…and meanwhile, most everything Stefan does still seems driven toward getting that pesky, bittersweet taste of Katherine out of his mouth, one that certainly can’t be getting any better as, with every moment that passes, Elena begins to resemble her more and more…

Anyway, again, I hit you with:

HeygirlDamon? Okay? Unrelated? Probably? It’s just a really hot picture. I’m very much looking forward to how the season unfolds. For Elena’s sake, I hope that her feelings for Damon are at least partially real and not totally controlled by the sire bond; however, who really understands a sire bond, anyway? I’m not a vampire. Maybe it’s as real as love gets. Maybe it’s even better.

t

Posted in feminism, television, The Vampire Diaries, women, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Hate Feminist Ryan Gosling.

Hey, Girl.

SHUT THE F#CK UP.

Just kidding.

Seriously, though.

That’s f#cking weird. And grammatically incorrect.

>>>DISCLAIMER: If you like Feminist Ryan Gosling that’s your deal. This is a rant and not in any way meant to be persuasive. Cheers.<<<

ANYWAY: While the multiple ironies here are not lost on me, and my boyfriend was trying to convince me that it’s “supposed to be funny,” I just think this kind of sh1t is annoying. I think it’s weird. I say this only because I feel like there’s a (mainly academic) brand of feminist out there who’s sitting around preaching a new paradigm for men: men who are not only sensitive to feminist values (which is fine with me, absolutely), but men who are also soft, meek, self-deprecating, and who are apologetic for their masculinity, as if masculinity is a crime. Men who have low self-esteems in the face of women because they’re constantly afraid they’re going to offend someone JUST BY BEING A MAN. They agree with us because they think it’s somehow right…even if they don’t agree! So like, you’re humoring us? THAT’S SEXIST. But who cares? Somehow, sh1t’s got twisted so that anything and everything a man says can somehow be made sexist, so there’s this idea that if men just don’t say anything, or if they say only what we want them to say, they won’t be sexist anymore…They’ll be like, feminists? And so like, who wants that? I don’t mean who wants a feminist. I mean: Who wants a man who only says and does what you tell him to say and do? And further, who would want their man talking like that?  THAT’S SO SEXIST. And, like, ew.

If my boyfriend said something like that to me, I’d kick him out. Or I’d just tell him to go have feats of strength or something. I’d be all like, HEY, BOY. Go drive to Joshua Tree with a couple of your rougher buddies, and when you get there, pick up the heaviest rock you can find, and carry it out into the middle of the desert with nothing but your wits and a belly full of whiskey. Come back when you’re properly weathered and masculine. I’M SORRY.

Anyway, I know I’m late to the party here, and I’m totally blowing things out of proportion, but I am not alone. Apparently, true blue “crabby” feminists hate this sh1t as much as I do, because they think that having a super cute white male “avatar” use feminist fodder as a means to “melt our hearts” is, inherently, blasphemous. It validates the very gender roles and white male patriarchal values that fodder-in-question is seeking to preach against. Or something. (I lifted this argument out of the comments section for a Feminist-Ryan-Gosling-related Jezebel article.) So this is called “Feminist-lite,” and it’s something for girls who kind of toy with being feminists (but are really not? Apparently?) to find snarky, self-congratulatory comedy in, while more hardcore feminists find it frustrating and antithetical to what feminism means. While I totally disagree with the idea of “feminist-lite” (because it implies there’s a “right way” and a “wrong way” to be a feminist), I think I like these hardcore chicks better sometimes. While I think they’re full of sh1t, they’ve got a code.

Hey girl, get over it.

Anyway, girls, come on. BE SERIOUS. Would you rather have Feminist Ryan Gosling or this?

#imadethis

Think about it.

-t

Posted in feminism, television, women | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

TV Analysis: Narrative, the Importance of Happiness

This is an overly long blog post about storytelling, television, and the role narrative plays in our lives. At some point, it branches off and becomes about The Vampire Diaries. Since I come to this blog when I have something to say, something too long for a facebook status but too urgent for fiction, I can’t always control where these things end up. They are what they are. I think that, if you at all watch or like television, you might be interested in what I’m saying here.

OKAY: When we think about storytelling, lots of things come to mind–characters, plot, conflict, resolution. I heard something interesting the other day, though I can’t remember where, which was talking about contemporary television serving a similar purpose to the novel–It’s rich, continuous story lines fulfill our cravings for world immersion, escapism, and human drama. I think this is interesting, though for me, reading a novel is MUCH different than watching TV, and it’s nothing really about the experience of being attached to characters, as our pull toward TV is something more than that, something else entirely.

Part of the allure (and tragedy) of reading a novel, is that you can feel the end coming, based on the number of pages you’ve gone through, how heavy or light the stack of pages beyond the bookmark, and depending on the quality of the writing, this can be a sad or joyous affair and then a bitter farewell. This is nothing like the experience of watching television. While, with the television episode, there is a “ticking-clock aspect” (we can use the passing of time to sort of gauge how close to the end we are–thirty minutes: Joy! Eight minutes: Sadness!), it is really the ongoing nature of the television series that I’m talking about here. It is naturally attractive. Like life, its expiration date is unknown, and so as far as we’re concerned, it could go on and on forever. The cancellation of a TV series can often be met with great dismay. Outrage! Confusion! Tears! This is not something we encounter when reading a novel, which has a finite purpose and an even more finite end.

The novel series is a different animal; however, even Harry Potter had to see his final pages. J.K. Rowling is just one woman, and the act of writing a novel is mighty. That she wrote seven of them is mind-blowing, and it took a very long time. Writers get tired. Novels take a long time to write.  Like with the film franchise, there are waiting periods of months, years, sometimes decades. To me, the experience of finishing a great novel or novel series is, many times, more gratifying than finishing a television series, because I feel powerful, accomplished. I made it to the end of something that took a very long time to craft and now here it is, ending in place. I can hold it in my hand. With TV, where a show must end is often decided by non-creative suits who deal from on high, more to do with accounting than character arcs. TV show endings are rarely satisfying. Most of the time, they’re rushed off or sad. Who saw this coming? Even the creators have a hard time letting go. Look at Joss with his Buffy comic, and devoted fans who’ll haunt message boards for days, searching out the perfect feat of fan fiction, unauthorized writing that serves as a continuation of an otherwise discontinued plot. Half the appeal of TV is about its unpredictable, though inevitable end, and then when it’s over, there’s always that fear for “unfinished business.” Who’s still upset that we never got to see Luke and Lorelai get married? That so little goes resolved in the life of Veronica Mars, to say goodbye so soon seems criminal? As I said before: Like life. What can you do?

Joan Didion, one of my favorite writers, has often written about the importance of narrative to our daily lives, how we need it, how we tell stories to cope with life’s various curve balls and atrocities. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, she says. There’s nothing more true. And so finding characters we can attach ourselves to helps us do that. We want stories, and we want connection. We want to feel sympathy and, women especially, are innately empathic creatures who need to like, practice these things, to emote, to express these desires, because otherwise it’s a repressed existence. I talk about women now and all the time because I am one. I’m an expert woman. Especially in terms of how many women watch TV.

Women watch more TV than men. Okay, that’s anecdotal evidence, but it must be true. How can it not be? I think specifically about the importance of the love story, of the love triangle, of the “will-they-won’t-they?” on TV and how these conceits are candylicious for women. How we crave it, talk about it, flood our facebook walls and statuses with speculation on WHEN WILL THEY KISS? WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN? I THINK SHE IS IN LOVE WITH HIM. I DON’T KNOW, BUT HE CERTAINLY LOVES HER.

Women are immediate creatures. Unlike men, women feel AT ONCE. Our emotions are always urgent. They cannot wait, and so naturally, we want stories that fulfill us now, and TV does that. Soap operas–primetime, daytime, whatever the setting: in space, in high school, in the landscape of vampires–these are the things that reflect our desires to feel, to let go, to bask shamelessly in our emotions, because we own them. They’re ours, and they’re alive and always working and rooting around in there, scarring our hearts, and they need to be let out once in a while!

I don’t know about you, but I watch most of my TV alone. It would be a travesty to have to sit next to my boyfriend while watching the latest episode of The Vampire Diaries. I’ll clutch my face with joy at the sight Damon and Elena’s first true kiss, and I’ll relish in the dire masculinity of Alaric’s nasty alter ego facing off against Stefan’s blood lusty torture tactics. Okay, yummy. But I can’t do these things and TRULY enjoy them in the company of someone else. It’s a lonely thing, watching my TV shows. How I love to talk about it afterward! Exchange theories, emote and complain and hope and wish out loud (see above). But DURING, that’s something else. It’s some sort of emotional catharsis. And I want to be able to cry at the end of every episode of Fringe if I want to, and I don’t want anyone telling me that’s weird or petting me on the head and commenting on how creaturely and sweet I am! (Fringe Sidenote: Olivia and Peter together again is one of the grandest of all reunions on a J.J. Abrams show, including Lost, and there are a great many–shows and reunions–though the irony and Lincoln’s sadness blow me away as he, who loves Olivia, and who Olivia could have loved once, but in a different universe, must cope with his own growing meaninglessness in the face of her waning memory…and who wouldn’t cry over that? All against the background of a stellar science fiction. Abrams! Such the pastichey romantic.)

I know this is supposed to somehow be about happiness, so I’m getting there. Now. I just had to contextualize with this bit about the importance of narrative. I swear it will matter.

Anyway, this whole thing got started a long time ago, but it’s been brought to the forefront lately with my recent champion marathon of CW’s The Vampire Diaries. This show is still ongoing, in the final episodes of its third season and sure to be renewed. Now, I’ve been addicted before (Lost, Buffy, Angel, The O.C.) but never have I been so, like, in love. My initial reaction to TVD was pleasant surprise–Nina Dobrev was not nearly as “expected” as I thought she’d be–neither the blond-haired-blue-eyed heroine I’ve come to expect from a neo-WB drama, nor a Joey Potter (brainy brunette) or an all-out Bella Swan (damsel). Plus the show is just full of characters. Humans, vampires, witches, werewolves. This was a relief, a welcome break from one of my other CW favorites, Supernatural, which, despite all of its emotional and plot-centered creativity, can get very dead-endy as a two-man show (especially when, each season, a new supporting character gets the–sometimes literal–axe). Most of all, I was impressed by the show’s rare and talented writers, who, unlike the teams for so many WB/CW shows of yore, use speed to their advantage, exercise restraint and economy with some of the show’s more languorous and gothic aspects, and manage to, as my friend Meg put it once, “Get shit done.” These writers don’t wait around. They go! There are three-episode arcs in TVD that, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural, would have spanned entire seasons. There’s no waiting, hoping for things to get better. There’s only characters and speed. This show is just full of action, full of doing. Every episode features multiple new decisions and directions, and these episodes are paced well and constantly unveiling new and important information. All of these things make the show just so attractive and so addictive!

Now, for the rub.

Marathoning a show like TVD, one thing has become clear to me, clearer than others–these characters live terrible lives. Terrible, sad, f#cked up lives that keep getting worse and worse with each episode. Every character on the show has seen at least one family member die. People get turned into vampires, werewolves, worse. Constant, unshakable threat hangs over every turn, and if, at any moment, relief seems even remotely possible, a new and worse threat rises up to squash it. It is not so much a wonder to me that these characters are still living, for they’re very good at protecting each other and saving each others lives, but I do worry about how they’re still standing. How Elena can bear to roll out of bed every morning, having seen not just the deaths of her adoptive parents, but her biological parents as well, shocks me, and while at first, I thought her to be an overly moral, too-serious girl who plods heavily through life, pointing fingers and shaming those around her, I’ve grown to really admire and respect her gumption, her resilience, how she’s able not just to pull herself back together, but to protect and maintain a relationship with her younger brother, who’s seen the same loss she has, and in some ways, more.

poor elena.

I do feel that sometimes, one of the television series’s greatest faults as a medium is its rush to drama, to plot. A show like TVD especially, which moves at such speed, will rarely afford itself small, inessential moments with its characters, moments in which the world stands still, and the writing attends to, not setting up the next fun thing or putting some new turn into motion, but, instead, the here and now. These things are, of course, because TV is a ratings game, and unless you write for a show on HBO, Showtime, or even a cable network like AMC, you’ve got much less creative control than you’d like, and you’re yoked to certain standards, expectations, with your content and your return. This is what will keep a show like TVD from becoming art, where a show like Mad Men has all the art in the world–this ability to linger, to stay, to wait around in a moment. This “lingering” should not be confused with “stalling.” Supernatural, for example–its writers are masters of the stalling technique–as they struggle to figure out what happens next, they’re good at spinning their wheels, entertaining, though nothing new develops. There’s no movement–not forward, not anywhere. “To linger” in a scene or a moment or a feeling does not mean to stop moving. It means to move in a new direction. Rather than go forward, go deeper. Explore a moment, an interaction, a relationship as it exists beneath the surface. A show like Mad Men operates MOSTLY beneath the surface. Its plot relies on the inner stories of its characters and situations. A show like NCIS is the exact opposite, in that it only goes one way–forward–because there IS nothing beneath the surface. A show like TVD does a little of both. It is always moving forward, very rarely lingers, but its characters do have inner stories, and they do have remote agendas. The writers are very good at, say, developing a plot point while also furthering a character’s agenda–Damon and Elena go on a road trip to find information they need to solve a problem, but this road trip also serves as a way for them to explore their feelings for each other outside the gaze of Damon’s brother and Elena’s ex-boyfriend Stefan. You can see the dual purposes here. One is for plot, and the other is for character. This is part of the master economy used by the writers of TVD. Nothing goes to waste. Everything is important. This is usually a good thing, but sometimes, I just want a moment of inessential beauty or joy–something that stands alone.

In this week’s episode, “Heart of Darkness,” there was actually a moment of lingering that I was not expecting, and that I really hold dear. While on a road trip to pick up Elena’s brother from Denver, Damon, Elena, and Elena’s brother Jeremy must stay in a hotel room while in hiding from one of the Original vampires (evil). When he thinks Elena is asleep, Damon gets up to have a drink alone, just sort of sits at the table in the dark and pours a glass of whiskey. Elena, however, is awake. She watches him. There are no words, and for a while, it’s just her observing Damon and his perceived solitude, from where she lies in bed–all of Damon’s despair, his complication, on display in the scene. Then, when he notices she is awake, he goes to lie down with her, and the two hold hands. Again, no words. Only action, lingering in the moment. Subtlety. This is a very strong moment, and I do hope that its arrival means there will be more of these moments. For it is very nice to just be with Damon and Elena for a little while, and not to have to fear for them or wait for something to happen. To just be with them. Because we like them, and we have hope for them.

#watching #heartofdarkness

damon and elena just are. #tension #heartofdarkness

Now. Happiness. I’ve mentioned the magnitude of loss that Elena, our heroine, has experienced in the course of her young life. She’s just seventeen. The writers have done a wonderful job of building her character, forcing her to become more independent, self-sufficient as more dangers arise. She is not a passive character. She jogs and punches punching bags and does what she can to protect herself. She stands up for what she believes in. Even though she is merely a human and, further, a girl, she is in control, and that makes her sympathetic.

SO: I would like for her to experience some happiness. For one moment, one day, one episode of nothing but happiness. Elena on the beach somewhere, holding Damon’s hand, with the light turning purple and the water calm. This is something that, for example, the Buffy writers, could and would do–allow their characters small moments to themselves, small moments of contentment. Snow in Southern California, ballads in the park, jokes in the cafeteria, uninterrupted nights of bliss or sex or movie marathons, the simple pleasures of prom and boys and girls and friendship–the characters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are allowed their happiness. Their lives suck–just as bad as Elena’s life sucks–but it’s not so doom and gloom all the time, not so constantly getting worse. There is good with the bad, and sometimes things even get better! That’s part of why the story rings so true and why Buffy is timeless and remains so very popular to this day.

Because we cannot know the value of a character’s sadness if we don’t know what it means for them to be happy. Understanding happiness is the only way to truly appreciate despair. It’s a game of relativity, in life and in stories.

buffy happy.

buffy sad.

So over and over again, I have called for some happiness in The Vampire Diaries. For the world to slow down, for Elena to just choose love rather than worry about it all the time. It’s easy to watch a show and only appreciate it for its slick and speedy plot, for the heady atmosphere, twists and turns and ups and downs. It’s easy to be entertained. But it’s something else to be attached, to love a piece of writing for its characters, to root for characters. We get emotionally involved and then we cannot help but notice how sad and complicated these lives really are, and we love them, so we want happiness for them. If I could write an episode of The Vampire Diaries (which I’ve thought to do more than once), I’d write a stand-alone, stand-still episode, in which the characters just experience some simplicity and some happiness. We give them everything they want, even just for a day. Because then, when, in the next episode, all of that happiness is wrecked and taken away from them, it hurts a whole lot more. The emptiness is that much heavier and more apparent.

Anyway, that’s my sh1t for today. I just wanted to rant about how much I need some happiness for the characters of The Vampire Diaries, and it turned into this whole big thing. This was a long one, but if you made it to the end, sweet. Here’s a picture of what it looks like when Elena Gilbert is happy.

Peace, love, and bloodsucking happiness,

t

Posted in television, women, writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

When we climbed on giant rocks.

In December, we went to Joshua Tree for a little retreat thinger with other fiction writers at UC-Irvine. Joshua Tree is, more or less, a national park located in a great big wilderness place in the Mojave Desert. We went into this national park and we climbed on giant rocks. The whole time we were looking for mountain goats and tarantulas, but it was wet and chilly, and so there were none. There were only giant, ancient rocks. Some of the rocks looked like faces or other body parts. Most of them just looked like rocks. It was exciting but also ironic and abandoned and a little apocalyptic, as this was supposed to be an adventure in the desert, but it rained on and off all day. As you can sort of see, when you’re up on these rocks, all you can see are more rocks. We felt very much like the last people on earth.

This is what we looked like when we climbed on the giant rocks.

#badassrockclimbingb1ch

I need help.

Girls running

boyfriend gazing down at giant rock butt crack(s)

I bet there are skulls in there.

#monkeyboyfriend

We're a cute couple, especially on the giant rocks.

Mysterious lurker. Just kidding. That's Aaron.

Eugenie, assessing.

Weird mist? The rocks were a little haunted.

Us again, just smiling on rocks.

[end]

This is a SHORT POST. lol

Thanks, John Kim, for taking these pictures!

lurve,

t

Posted in rando | 1 Comment