Guilty Pleasures

*cough* This is a really old post that’s been in my drafts folder since January. I thought you guys might actually like to read it!

I spent most of today out with a friend and running errands, so I haven’t had time to write.

Translation: I didn’t get home till three and that felt too late to get any real work done, so I decided to do some less productive crafty work and watch old episodes of The Vampire Diaries. Episodes I’ve seen before. Episodes that aren’t particularly noteworthy except for the abundance of pretty people moping about who’s not sleeping with whom.

Yep. I’m a shameless lover of teen vampires. In fact, while I’m confessing things, I’ll admit that I’ve read Twilight. More than once. The Kindle was a godsend because it meant I no longer had to deal with my husband’s mockery when I wanted to read something really and truly awful—now I don’t have to face the shame of, say, the cover of Breaking Dawn staring at him from my nightstand, giving away my weakness. I read Twilight like some women read bodice-rippers, the ones with shiny, shirtless men on the covers: furtively, pop-eyed, and generally while hiding the evidence.

Come to think of it, that sounds rather like one of the signs of addiction. The one where you lie about your problem. Also the one where you feel guilt and shame. And that other one, where you put time and effort into your habit.

I only know about those signs for research, of course. Totally.

I like literature, too, I’ll have you know. I reread Jane Austen’s complete works every year. A Farewell to Arms is one of two books that makes me cry. I am capable of exerting some self control and occasionally reading things that actually merit my love.

But, damn it, every now and then I just like to lose myself in a fluffy, high-stakes romance between two pretty (and often fanged) people. I also like dipping my fries in mustard. Whatchu gonna do, sue me?

I AM NOT ASHAMED.*

The fact is, I’m not alone. Twilight sold a flobbity-gillion copies. Margot Adler incorporated her obsession with vampire novels (including Twilight) into a series of academic lectures. How many people watch The Vampire Diaries? More than a few, judging by Twitter on Thursday nights.

Everyone has a few guilty pleasures. Maybe for you it’s not teen vampires. Maybe it’s wealthy teens who sleep around a lot. Maybe it’s those afternoon soap operas. (Do those still exist anymore?) Maybe it’s some terrible sitcom.

But you know… you can tell me.

This is a safe space. No one here will judge you.** C’mon. you know you want to share. What’s your guilty pleasure?

 

 

*Okay, I’m a little ashamed. Fine, a lot. That doesn’t stop me, though.

**Much

 

Pathos, Tears, and Recriminations

These days, I don’t watch many new TV shows. Generally I wait till they’re on Netflix, then I watch ’em in big batches. But I keep up with Downton Abbey and The Vampire Diaries…

Worse luck for me this winter.

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You’ve been warned.

If you’re plugged in at all, you at least know that Downton Abbey ended tragically, unforgivably. Just after all our hopes and dreams came true, everything fell apart.

First Matthew and Mary got married. Yay! We waited for more than two years, hoping and wishing and finally, all our dreams came true.

Then Sybil, arguably the nicest, sweetest character on the show, died in childbirth. Horribly.

Then Matthew, noblest and most honorable character on the show, died in the last few seconds of the finale. Again, kinda horribly. And just after his son was born, right at the height of his happiness.

(Downton Abbey, FYI, is not a good show for new parents.)

And then, just as I’m beginning to recover from the woes Downton Abbey inflicted on me, The Vampire Diaries pulled the rug out from under me.

We’ve watched Elena’s younger brother, Jeremy, grow from an angry, rebellious stoner to an angry, rebellious, courageous vampire hunter. He’s made mistakes, learned from them, and tried to set them right, and just as he was coming into his manhood and his potential as a character–

Crack. (That’s the sound of one of the many broken necks on The Vampire Diaries.)

Last night’s episode, called “Stand By Me,” showed the reactions of Elena, Matt, and Caroline to Jeremy’s death, and the episode completely destroyed me.

I lost a brother as a teenager, too, and this episode made real the grief we all feel when someone dies too young. Elena weeps for a life and a girl long gone, Matt weeps for the loss of his friend, and Caroline struggles to find the right way to hold herself and her friends together.

There’s no right way, of course. The answer is only to feel the pain and let time pass.

So why do we inflict the vicarious pain of grief on ourselves through fiction? Why do we relive it again and again—voluntarily—as show kill off characters we know and love?

Maybe it feels good to weep for ourselves when we don’t have to face the consequences of reality. Maybe it eases grief we’ve bottled for years. Maybe we just love to love, and fictional characters are easier to let go of when we must.

Maybe it’s as simple as Dan Stevens declining to renew his contract, and something must be done with the character.

I cried for Jeremy, Matthew, and Sybil. I cried, and will cry more, for Elena, Mary, and Tom. I’ll keep watching, and I’ll keep opening my heart to fictional characters.

Because we don’t give up. We keep watching and hoping and dreaming. We pin our hopes on imaginary characters, and we suffer when they fail. Maybe I’m a masochist, but I’ll be watching Season 4 of Downton Abbey.

Will you?

What’s the most you’ve cried for a piece of fiction? What show has broken your heart and had you begging for more?

Freudian Friday: The Salvatore Brothers

I’m midway through yet another rereading of Shaken, this time to make sure it’s pretty okay for those unfortunate few who are going to read beta read it for me. I read the first half of the book last night, after significantly editing the second half earlier yesterday afternoon. I spent a full eight hours working on it yesterday, and at least that much the day before.

Needless to say, I was ready for a break. My reward? The latest episode of The Vampire Diaries.

Quick disclaimer: I have never read the series of novels by L. J. Smith. Instead, I’m completely hooked on the CW television series. It’s like True Blood lite: all the sexual tension, but with less disturbing violence!

Anyway. For those of you who don’t know, the Salvatore brothers are Stefan and Damon Salvatore, the dreamy vampires who each capture in turn the heart of our main character, a teenage girl named Elena Gilbert.

HERE BE SPOILERS.

I think Stefan stole his look from Angel.

Stefan shows up in high school in the very first episode and pretty quickly catches Elena’s heart by virtue of his brooding semi-good looks and general charm. She realizes he’s a vampire, there’s drama, you know the drill. Soon after, Stefan’s sexy older brother, Damon, shows up, and more teen hijinks ensue.

Then things get complicated. Stefan goes evil, eventually, and Damon becomes our semi-nice character. Nowadays, they’re both fairly chaotic-neutral, and neither of them gets smooches with Elena.

That’s just the front story, if you will. In terms of back story, the two brothers were both turned into vampires by a woman named Katherine, who, by some freaky coincidence of genetics, looks exactly like Elena. They’re both “Gilbert doppelgangers,” whose magical powers I’ve long since lost track of. Both brothers loved Katherine, and she played them into becoming immortals.

Requisite shirtless picture of Damon.

Damon blamed Stefan, Stefan blamed Katherine, and the brothers spend the next century alternating between good and evil, and hating each other all the while. What a pickle.

END SPOILERS.

So, we have several issues to discuss.

1. Both brothers love the same woman. This is pretty classic stuff in paranormal romances: the love triangle! Rarely, though, are the two male sides of the triangle brothers. This adds another layer to delight the amateur psychoanalyst in me.

The woman they love looks like their surrogate-mother into a new life, a woman who was also their lover. We’ll get to that in a minute. But why would two brothers love the same woman? How does that even work?

It’s pretty simple sibling rivalry: you have that toy, therefore I want it. I suppose Stefan gets credit for loving Elena first, but, as we now know, her resemblance to Katherine and super-doppelganger powers may have had something to do with that. He lies to Elena, deceives her, kidnaps her, but somehow never loses her love.

Poor Damon looks like the villain: he toys with Elena because Stefan loves her, and makes a move while Stefan is away. But he loves Elena on her own terms, without conflating her with vampire-Katherine. He jerks her around, though, confesses his love and then sleeps with someone else, and competes with Stefan for the award of “Who Can Lie to Elena the Most?”

They each have their reasons for loving our plucky heroine. (Okay, she’s not really that plucky. She’s broody, too.) So let’s look at why those reasons are really messed up.

All paranormal women wear formalwear in the woods!

2. That woman looks exactly like a woman who screwed them over around the time of the Civil War. The original woman turned them into vampires, giving them a symbolic second birth. While they may have originally had a good old-fashioned sibling rivalry over Katherine, what does it mean to love her great-great-great-descendant?

Are they competing over who Mommy loves most? Are they trying to get a fresh start with a girl who looks exactly like the woman who made them? Are they looking at Elena as a fresh, unsullied Katherine?

Either way it’s disturbing, making their so-called love for Elena still more twisted. They cannot love her completely on her own terms, because they have a past with her ancestress and a motive for keeping her around.

But why fight to hang onto her?

3. Each brother hates himself almost as much as he hates his brother. It’s the ultimate self-destructive act to love someone you can’t or shouldn’t have. Damon loves Elena at first because he can’t have her. Stefan loves her because she’s a fresh new Katherine.

Sure, it looks like they’re competing with each other for Elena’s affection, but they’re competing with themselves, too. At this point in the show, both brothers have pushed Elena away because they feel they’re not worthy. I could make another mother-love joke here, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

Why be happy when you can instead be depressed? That brooding, tortured look is oh-so-sexy.

Ultimately, it seems they should wash their hands of Elena, Mystic Falls, and the whole mess. It would be far healthier… but, of course, there’s so much more to it than just mental health.

What do you think, readers? Which brother would you pick for Elena? Why do the brothers love her so much? And why would anyone think Damon is attractive when Stefan is in the room?

Oh, my!