Friday, February 7, 2014

Throwing the Sacred Cow to the Wolves

I am not watching "Bitten." This is despite the fact that I have had a crush on Laura Vandervoort since Smallville. This is also despite the fact that I read and - at the time - enjoyed the books. I'd like at some point to finish the Otherworld series, which I never got around to doing, but know that as this point I'd have to reread in order to catch up, and I've been putting that off for the same reason I'm not watching the show.

I have a problem with the central relationship of the show (and the first such relationship in the books). A big problem, that I think gets glossed over far too frequently in the genre. It comes in two parts, the first one being the idea that the two people in the relationship, Clay and Elena, are "meant" to be together. I know this is a standard trope, especially in paranormal romance, but I viewed many of the Otherworld books as leaning more towards straight Urban Fantasy than its romantic subset. And to be fair, I don't remember it being as strong a push toward them as a couple as it usually is in what I have heard referred to as the "fated mates" trope.

Instead, to the best of my recollection, it's more of a "the author has decided this couple should go together, so they will, and damn any uncomfortable repercussions." (Not too very different from JK Rowling's recent pronouncement about Harry and Hermione. Which, being in the middle of rereading the Harry Potter series, I take issue with. But that's another post.) But we'll get back to the fated mates thing. And there are some unsettling issues that arise from that push. Oh yes indeed there are.

Clay assaults Elena. And yet they end up The Couple. Because, of course, Clay is hot. And this makes up for the fact that he is a Class 1 Jerk ... and that he assaults her. Now, I know, some of you out there are at this point screaming at the monitor that he does not do any such thing. He "just" bites her.

That's crap.

And not only is it crap, it's recognized as crap in the book. Clay, in biting her, does something he is not supposed to do. Something that is treated - in the book - as a major offense. Something that gets him punished, severely. Only later on is seemingly all is forgiven when Elena falls in love because, hey, Clay's hot so it's okay.

Which is still crap. Even leaving out the arguments laid down in the novel itself about why it is very much NOT OKAY, think of it from this perspective. He bites her. That, by itself, in human context, is an assault. If someone just came up to you and bit you, you'd be pissed. If a dog just came up to you and bit you, they'd put it down. Beyond that, not only does she get bit, but it completely upsets her life, results in her questioning who she is, forces her out of the life she had been living (quite happily, mind you), and all for the sole reason that Clay can have someone like himself. Because let's be clear here, being a werewolf in that universe is not seen as this great thing, especially not from Elena's standpoint.

Clay's action is violent, selfish, self-serving, and puts Elena through real physical and psychological trauma. ... And yet, they end up the couple. Take away the werewolf bit, and would anyone out there argue that this is right?

Nor is this the only example. I started reading another series of books. (I'm leaving this one nameless, because unlike the Otherworld books the central POV does not switch people, so this incident pretty much damns the whole series for me.) I liked them. Up until the main heroine is forced into marrying the Alpha Male - which is a ridiculous and wholly manufactured concept anyway in wolves - immediately after she'd been raped.

Yes, you read that right. The assault in question this time at least comes from the bad guy, at the end of the previous book. And at first, with the next book, the aftereffects of this are taken seriously. The heroine is having issues with simply being touched, where it's setting off anxiety attacks and making her physically ill. Even when she's touched by someone she likes - including, specifically, the aforementioned alpha male who has, until this point, been competing for her affections with someone else. (Remember that point, too.)

And then the big bad of the new book rears its head. And, to "keep her safe," this same alpha - who, remember, she just got sick when he went to just hug her - forces her not only to choose him as the person she loves, but also to immediately be married to him.

And it's treated as being entirely okay. Because, again, he's attractive and charming and hey she had a thing for him anyway. So who cares that she's just been through something where she was forced into something against her will? That was different, because that was the bad guy. This is the good guy, so his taking the decision from her, forcing his relationship on her, because he decides it's in her best interest, that's okay.

Remember, he wasn't even her only romantic interest. She had pointedly still been unsure of which guy she wanted not ten pages earlier, and still reeling from the assault. But, again, it's okay that the alpha forces her, because that's the way it's meant to be.

Look, folks, I'm sorry, but it does not get to be okay when a guy forces a woman to do anything along these lines, no matter what argument you make about him being the "right" guy. Because under any other circumstances, the very fact that he forces this on her would most definitely not make him the "right" guy and would, in fact, make him the opposite of the right guy. But because it's a romantic trope, because the guy is hot and charming or suave and dangerous, that somehow makes it right.

No, no it does not.

Fantasy or not, there is no circumstance under which something like that is all right. As a trope, it needs to go, and there needs to be a harder look at this idea that force is an acceptable way to ensure a relationship when it's the "right" guy. This isn't about fantasy, anyway. These characters weren't playacting a role (which is different). These were two men forcing two women into a way of life without giving them the option to choose.

Find me any other setting where that is something that should be condoned, and maybe then I'll start watching "Bitten."

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