Friday, 14 June 2013

How Much Are We Willing to Forgive?

I have a confession to make...I'm a "Spuffy" fan. While I was watching Buffy I found myself cheering for the passionate, volatile relationship between Buffy and her Vampire lover, Spike. So when I reached season six I was blind-sided. No one had warned me about the dreaded "Seeing Red" episode.
For anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, "Seeing Red" is the episode where Spike tries to rape Buffy. She's badly injured, and drawing a bath (standing in a towel) and Spike comes in and tries his usual stuff, but this time she's not up for it. But he continues. And as I was watching my mouth dropped open in horror.
After the episode was over I was in denial. "Well," I said to myself. "He wasn't himself. Plus Buffy has been stringing him along for ages and being a total jerk to him. It wasn't his fault..."
Then I had to stop and really think about the things I was thinking. Here I was, blaming Buffy for the attempted rape. Why?
Because I like Spike. That's why.
That's a terrible excuse. So I had to rethink things and change my perspective. Okay, this was to show that the character of Spike really is a monster, and that sets him on the path to get his soul back and ultimately leads to the ultimate self sacrifice that plays a major roll in the finale. But from that episode onward, I wasn't cheering for Buffy and Spike anymore. For me, that was over. There could be no going back to that because there are some things you just can't make excuses for.
I know, I know. It's fictional, so what? But here's the thing, if we're glorifying this type of relationship, and we're willing to forgive any type of behavior, what does that say about us? How are we portraying our characters and how does that influence YA readers?

 I'm also a big Eric/Sookie fan. Or...I was. I'm not talking about the TV series, which seems to have made him a softer, more charitable version of Eric. I'm talking about the books. I know there was a big uproar (and some very bad behavior) in response to the last book. I haven't read it yet, but people throwing tantrums online have already given the ending away for me.
Am I disappointed? No, the ending makes sense. Not to mention, I stopped liking Eric nearly as much starting with Dead Reckoning. Here's one of the scenes that did it for me:
"You are being a hypocrite and I will take your blood," he said, and he struck.
It hurt. He didn't make it feel good, an action almost automatic for a vampire. Tears ran down my face without my wanting them to. In an odd way, I felt the pain was merited, justified - but I also understood this was a turning point in our relationship.
This made me flinch. No Sookie, the pain isn't warranted. Eric is being a straight up butt-head. There's no excuse for that. And he doesn't get better in the next book either. He's clearly willing to let Sookie give up everything for him (the Cluviel Dor) as long as he himself doesn't have to make any sacrifices (like ignoring his creator's orders). Bill isn't much better, having cheated on her (personally, I don't take "I couldn't help it" as an excuse). And yet, fans seem perfectly content with rooting for either of the vampires.
Are we willing to excuse any kind of disgusting behavior as long as the guy has washboard abs?

How about one of the most famous examples of douchebag behavior in a book character? Edward. He climbs in her bedroom window at night and watches her sleep. He tries to control who she hangs out with. In short, he's a complete control freak with major stalker tendencies. But because he rescues her a couple times and has smouldering eyeballs and pointy cheekbones, we eat it up? What's the message here?
He only controls you because he loves you.
He's aggressive and controlling, and it's HOT.
Crawling into someone's bedroom window at night is SEXY.
Does none of this bother us as readers? Are we willing to forgive this as long as he's hot? What to take away from this: Maybe as YA writers, it's our responsibility to portray relationships in a realistic fashion? Maybe our characters are fictional, but this is a very real problem. Do we give people a pass to date rape just because they seem "nice"? Maybe they're a popular football player, so everyone attempts to sweep it under the rug. Is it art imitating life, or the other way around? We need to axe this mentality somehow, because it's seeping into everything, including our writing.
What's your take on it? Do you still love Spike and Eric? Do you think Edward is just a little too enthusiastic? 


  1. Personally, this is why in the past I have had such a problem with vampire/werewolf/faery stories. The author will sometimes write in some cheesy line that says, "Well, he [the character] isn't human so you can't expect him to have human values/morals."
    That is complete crap. If the character isn't human but has lived around humans he would know about morals and know right from wrong. It bothers me because it is just usually a way for the author to excuse their main character's abuse of another (usually human girl) character. I have seen this often in fae/faery type stories. I try to ignore it and read the whole story, but unless the character redeems himself, stops the behavior, and apologizes then I usually stop reading.

    1. Very good point! And in the case of the Vamp or Werewolf, that character originally WAS human. So he should know better. I can't stand it when the author writes an excuse in like "he was made to do it because of werewolf compulsion" or something. And people then take that as an excuse. I could say that about a normal human being, "his sex drive is out of control, so he couldn't help but grab your bum without asking". That wouldn't fly though, would it?

    2. Just because I like playing devil's advocate - there are going to be stories where the author has rewritten the mythology so that vamps and weres aren't created, they are born. Therefore they will be able to claim that these characters never were human, so human morals don't apply.

      I think the only classic mythological character I would say is "allowed" to be a sexual predator would be an incubus or succubus.

      And even then, the supernatural character is still only half the problem. The human romantic counterpart could very easily act in a more believable manner and resist instead of being a compete doormat...

    3. Ah, this is true. Didn't think of that. But still, it's funny because if the MC acted the way some of the love interests do, the audience would have no sympathy for them. But since it's coming from a "hot guy" it's okay.

      Incubus or Succubus makes for an interesting dilemma. I think I'd still have a big problem with it if they weren't trying to resist their "true nature", if you know what I mean.

      Agreed. I can't stand the "doormat" characters. Or the "no means no until you keep persisting and then it will turn into yes". I had to put down the Hush Hush series because she said no a billion times until he kept bothering her and she caved in.

    4. Sometimes i wonder if they are deliberately trying to tap into the primitive part of the female psyche that was conditioned for x-thousand years that being protected by a strong male is the only way for her and her offspring to survive...

      I think for the incubi and succubi, it all depends on the genre... Horror - let them lose to do their thing in all of it's creepy evil. Romance - i just can't see a "happily-ever-after" pairing for them... Something is gonna snap along the journey...

      I think a key aspect missing from a lot of romance stories nowadays is respect. Seriously, how can you truly love someone if you don't respect them? If you respect them, you won't constantly pressure them into giving in to your way.

  2. I agree with you wholeheartedly!

    This type of behavior - if performed by an ugly, deformed, or old character would immediately garner screams of disgust by readers. Even an average Joe would not escape unscathed. So why do we as a society allow this double standard? How shallow are we? And why are we teaching impressionable young people that this is acceptable?!

    If any of the mentioned examples had been performed by someone to another person in the real world, there would be valid grounds for criminal charges.

    I'm only familiar with two of the examples, but they go to show how something can be approached in two different ways.

    In the case of Spike and Buffy: she fights him off, she is disgusted by his actions, he is later tormented by them and so moved by the event that he leaves to find a way to redeem himself and regain his soul.

    In the case of Edward and Bella: she is a lump on a log, perfectly accepting of his stalker tendencies and can only moon about his looks. He does not come to any grand self-enlightenment about how wrong his actions are, he does not suffer any guilt or attempts to redeem himself, instead he increases his creepy behavior.

    In one instance the event is shown in the light of infringement on personal rights, and is clearly shown to be WRONG. In the other, it is portrayed as something romantic and endearing. I wouldn't want to personally have to deal with either thing, but from a literary standpoint i can understand why the character was made to act that way (even if i didn't like it) in the case of Spike. In the case of Edward, I just want to beat my head against a wall and cry... (and a morbid part of me wants to check the statistics on the rise of stalking and other crimes ever since that book came out).

    But any way you slice it, i would never trust either character, and hope that any sickos who behave this way in real life are behind bars.

    Sorry, I'll get off my soap box now...

    1. Well said! And I agree with you about Spike. His character (and that scene) were well written. And it wasn't an attempted rape just for the "sake of it". His character grows and changes and he KNOWS it was wrong. My only problem is the "Spuffy" fans that have the same attitude as I did initially, making excuses for him because they still want them to be together. In the end, Spike redeems himself, but it doesn't make it "okay".

      And you make a great point about ugly or old characters. If Edward had been less attractive, I'm sure readers would have pegged him as "creepy". But since he IS attractive, it's "protective" and actually, the fact that he's probably at LEAST a couple hundred years old (being a vamp) and DEAD is okay as long as he's hot. (I guess that goes for all vamp fiction though, haha).

    2. Exactly - if a character behaves reprehensively, we shouldn't make excuses.

      Maybe I'm just weird, but i kept getting flashes of the phrase "he's old enough to be your grandpa" the entire time i was reading twilight... That, and "does she realize she's lusting after a corpse?"

      My theory is that authors turned to vampires as the hero in romances in order to allow them to act with the old-world charm that is lacking in many of today's youths. They're banking in the fact that people will gloss over the more gruesome details that accompany that state of being.

    3. That's an excellent point. I've heard readers of the Sookie Stackhouse books say they like the vampire Bill because of "the way he talks". Well, he talks kind of old fashioned, a southern gentleman, if you will. I don't think we see that anymore (gentlemen that is) so we're starved for it.

      But you'd think if they were REAL gentlemen, they wouldn't act like jerks. :p

  3. Hmmmmm.... interesting!!!!! I think that young adult readers (being one myself) just want ro think that true love is still out there. For Edward and Bella, I diddnt think it would work seeing as the whole "till death do us part" thing kinda means that their free to do whatever they want...right? I can still remember my grandfather talking about long hand written letters, and I think, WHYD WE STOP? And what about Romeo and Juliet, sure we might not like to study Shakespear but (for me) I get goose bumps just thinking about true love. So as an overall, I think that YA readers just want to feel as if true love is out there. Becuase honestly its fading fast.

    1. I absolutely agree with you about letter writing! It's mega romantic, and I wish my hubby would do it! ;) But his writing is so terrible I probably wouldn't be able to read it, hehe.

      I understand about wanting true love to exist, I'm right there with you. And I think part of why Edward was so popular (and vampires in general) as an above reader said, is the "old world" charm they tend to have. SOME of them are gentlemen and often tend to be portrayed as "rescuers". And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the girl is also capable of strong independent thought and rescuing herself from time to time. I think true love is great! As long as it's portrayed in a healthy way, with both guy and girl being equal and treating one another with respect.

    2. I agree with that point. I can tolerate with men being 'gentlemen' as long as the girl contributes to the relationship equally. I hate how men are supposed to do most of the work. I mean when a good-looking guy comes up to the 'average' female protagonist and proposes and stuff it's extremely romantic (talk about self-esteem boosts). For some authors, its what they wish happens to them (cough fanfiction cough). Because of all this, men back in the real world have it a bit tough. Men who aren't 'romantic' enough suffer...

    3. Haha, tell my husband that! He's terribly UNromantic. :P Actually I DO give him a hard time for it...

      I think a lot of authors live vicariously through their fiction. Hence the "ridiculously handsome man sweeping average looking girl off her feet".

  4. Vampires have been climbing in windows and forcing themselves on women since Bela Lugosi, it's OK and of expected.

    1. Expected yes. Not sure if that makes it "okay" though, especially not in young adult fiction. It just sends squicky messages.

  5. That should be 'its kind of expected'.

  6. I totally agree with you about spike and Edward but Eric I'm torn about. There are some serious issues in their relationship, but there is an undeniable chemistry there as well. I think this is part of the problem in real life abusive relationships too. People stay in missed up situations because they're magnetically drawn to them. They're willing to over look a lot for the illusion of love.

    1. I know what you're saying, and I have SUCH a hard time with it, lol. I LOVED Eric and Sookie together. But even though there's chemistry there, that can be there (as you state later in your comment)in even the most abusive relationships. That's one of the reasons women go back to those types of guys. It's the heartfelt, "I'm sorry. I'll never do it again. I love you." That's why they go back. It's the "But he loves me" mentality that's the problem.

      "The illusions of love". Very well put. Actually sort of sounds like a book title, haha. :)