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The Sexually Violent Diaries

21 Jul

Trigger warning: rape, sexual violence, and abuse. Graphic images from The Vampire Diaries ahead. 

tvd poster

Famous for its bloodsucking, teenage vampires, and infamous for its underage drinking and sex, The Vampire Diaries has gained a cult-like following over its first four seasons.

When The Vampire Diaries aired its first season, I caught an episode or two, and thought of it as superfluous, especially with the rising momentum of Twilight and the Paranormal Romance section of Barnes and Noble. We surely didn’t need another supernatural love triangle, did we?

Apparently, we did.

As Twilight grew in popularity, so did Twilight-shaming, or more aptly, girl-shaming. There are reasons to criticize the Twilight Saga and its author — in terms of technique, pacing, world-building, and all else related to writing, as well as problematic material presented by Stephanie Meyer.

What Twilight-shaming does instead is shame the people who enjoy Twilight, i.e. teenage girls, rather than the writing or problematic story lines.

Wearing Twilight paraphernalia, standing in the movie ticket line, and carrying around the books became taboo. I first read Twilight when I was fifteen and I loved it. It was a time before I could recognize the problematic nature of Edward Cullen’s possessiveness and stalking of the main character.

But it was when Twilight was discovered overnight, made into a movie, and subsequently shamed, that I stopped wearing the (very comfortable) Twilight jacket my grandmother bought me.

Girls and women needed a safer place to enjoy paranormal high-school life. We found that in The Vampire Diaries, which we could watch from the comfort of our couch.

We just didn’t know how uncomfortable The Vampire Diaries’ content could be — arguably worse than Twilight’s problematic material, even though it is shamed less.

tvd triangle

I decided to give the series a real try while in college. And I became a Vampire Diaries junkie overnight. I introduced it to my roommates (one of whom still loves it, and the other stopped watching) who ate up the love triangle and supernatural spins as much as I did.

We found something we could enjoy and only mildly feel embarrassed about, something difficult as young women who routinely enjoy female-geared tv like Say Yes to the Dress and The Bachelor/ette.

That’s great, right? Looking back, I realize it was not so great. The Vampire Diaries has a host of problematic material that goes beyond the over-used, paranormal love triangle.

I was not as disturbed by some of The Vampire Diaries’ M.O.s as I should have been. The same things that I watched fervently then, make me uncomfortable in my own skin now.

Let’s put a sharp eye on —

The abuse and rape of Caroline Forbes.

caroline and damon

…by Damon Salvatore, the most beloved antagonist-to-protagonist vampire in our media.

I’m afraid that if this post falls into the wrong right hands, Damon lovers and Delena shippers will want to tear me to shreds. Because no one wants to admit that their favorite Bad Boy Turned Good is a rapist.

When Damon first struts into Mystic Falls, he’s a villain, bent on making life miserable for his brother, Stefan Salvatore. As the season progresses, his bad image starts to unravel as his feelings for our main character, Elena Gilbert, deepen.

But, in his journey to become a Good Guy, the narrative must have Damon continuously rape and abuse one of the female characters, then never apologize, admit, or be held accountable for what he did.

In The Vampire Diaries, vampires use compulsion to make their prey malleable. With a quick dilation of the pupil, and some words, humans are made to do a vampire’s every whim. Normally the power is used to lure prey, keep them silent, and make things in life generally easier for a vampire, such as getting a free drink at the bar.

Damon decides, as the resident evil in Mystic Falls, to subject Caroline, the show’s spunky, neurotic, and judgmental friend of Elena’s, to this compulsion for days.

He compels Caroline to not only date him (so that the can be closer to Stefan and Elena), but to let him feed on her, and rape her. Let me make this very clear, compulsion is not consent.

Even when Caroline is unaware of what Damon is and what he is doing to her, she is under his compulsion, and cannot consent. It is Damon’s words that make her believe not to be afraid, and that what is going on is okay. It is what he wants that is happening, not what the everyday Caroline who has never met a vampire wants.

Even when Caroline is aware of what Damon is and what he is doing to her, she is powerless against him, and cannot consent.

Damon rapes her the first night they are together, again the next morning (when she wakes up scared), and more as the compulsion continues.

Then Caroline does what some abused women are forced to do. She hides the physical marks of the abuse with a scarf and a smile.

Friday Night Bites

Damon keeps Caroline in a limbo of limited awareness and an inability to act.

In a moment of clarity, she asks him, “Are you going to kill me?”

He answers that he will, but not yet.

Caroline can’t act on any feelings about her imminent death, rape, and further abuse. It’s an extremely frightening and traumatic situation, one that The Vampire Diaries sweeps under the rug once Damon is a Good Guy.

Sure, Caroline often voices her dislike and distrust of Damon, but never once is her character allowed to bring up her rape and abuse as the reason, or as something that even happened to her.

She and Elena are often at odds over Damon, and never once does Elena say, “Actually, you might be right. Remember that time we were all aware that he sexually abused you and we still let him into our circle, anyway?”

And that’s frightening too.

But it was a one time thing! He was a bad guy then! He’s good now!

The abuse and rape of Andie Star.

andie

Hate to burst your bubble. (Note the tell-tale scarf)

Let’s jump ahead to season 2 and 3 when Damon is a part of the group, working for good against the Originals and his brother, Stefan Salvatore (plot twist: Stefan’s the bad guy now).

He’s on the side of good, a changed man. Yet he still compels, then rapes and abuses a woman he “dates.”

Andie is not a part of the main cast, and was only introduced for Damon to compel. When her story comes to an end, she doesn’t get away with just a fogged memory and inkling feeling that she had been sexually abused. Stefan overrides Damon’s compulsion to force Andie to fall to her death.

Damon is horrified after, and the look on his face is supposed to make us believe that in the end he did care for Andie. The moment is about his anguish, not the death of a woman whose last memories were being forced to sexually gratify her “boyfriend” and then commit suicide.

What I’m not trying to do is vilify Damon’s character. He does that enough himself, if we just care enough to see it.

It’s the people writing and directing these things that need to be held accountable for not holding their work accountable. The actions on screen have real-life consequences. The audience needs to be aware, and demand better from their favorite tv shows, and their favorite characters.

We live in a culture that absolves Chris Brown of his abuse against Rihanna because he’s a talented, attractive male. And, well, just because! That same culture forgives Damon of any recognized sins because he’s a smoldering vampire (with a heart of gold, guys) played by the Ian Somerhalder.

It’s a problem in the real world and on our screen because the two aren’t exclusive. What we see in our media is shaped by society’s standards and gender bias, and what we see in our media somehow justifies society’s standards and gender bias that created it in the first place. Confusing? I know.

Think of all the people who say, “It’s always been this way!” or “Things aren’t ever going to change!”

Well, The Vampire Diaries doesn’t learn from its past mistakes. Things don’t get much better when Damon finally does  get the girl.

The siring and silencing of Elena Gilbert.

elena and damon

Major Spoiler — in the finale of season 3, Elena becomes a vampire.

She then becomes sired to Damon, something that causes her to listen to everything he says, and want to do anything that will make him happy.

Naturally, season 4 is the season of Delena, when Elena finally chooses Damon over Stefan. So it’s their first shot at a real relationship. The implications of such a relationship are more than a little problematic.

Elena can’t consent when she’s sired. Elena can’t focus on what she wants when she’s sired. In essence, we lose the Elena we knew to a woman that wants one thing only: to make a man happy.

No one listens to her after the truth of the sire bond comes out (as if they listened to her before she was a vampire, anyway) because she can’t be trusted with her own opinion. Yet, Damon, the one who can make Elena do anything he says seriously or on a whim, can still be trusted, and uses this power against Elena.

To be fair, most fans that I’m aware of hated this story line. Partly because they wanted Elena’s feeling to be proven real, and partly because they just wanted Damon to be happy after seasons of pining after Elena.

This time, a compelled love wasn’t enough for Damon. It just happened to be enough with the other girls before getting Elena.

The culture of sexual violence in Mystic Falls.

tvd sexual violence

I told a friend once that I didn’t fully understand the fascination with vampirism. She responded that its origins come from a place of forbidden, sexual desire.

It’s not a stretch to think of a vampire feeding as an erotic experience, after all of the Buffys and Angels, Bellas and Edwards, and Elenas and Stefans/Damons. The question is: an erotic experience for who?

In The Vampire Diaries, feeding is often shown as a painful experience for the victim, unless compulsion is involved. It is a violent experience for both parties, and one that is usually sensual, if not sexual, for the vampire.

And this sexual violence is almost always against women. Even if the vampire is a woman.

Haunted

It was a chilling moment when I first fully realized that even the female vampires choose to victimize other women. As vampires, any human is prey, whether it is a high school cheerleader or a football player. Time after time, our female vampires go for the cheerleader.

There are, of course, moments when the women feed on men, but most of the moments we see on screen are male and female vampires feeding on women. Sometimes they even tag team! Rarely do the men victimize other men. Remember, it’s an act with sexual history and implications.

the vampire diaries

Feeling uncomfortable? I am.

The Vampire Diaries sensationalizes violence against women, as do most horror films, and macho films rated R. It is common to see violence, especially sexual violence, against women in our media, while it is uncommon to see women sexually pleasured.

We see sexual violence against women far, far more than sexual pleasure for women.

This is one of those moments when it’s perfectly clear — media is against women, not for. Even when it’s a tv show with a female main character, shrouded in romance, and marketed to women.

The problems don’t stop there. A Vampire Diaries M.O. apart from its sexual violence? Stripping its women of agency, namely the main character, and Caroline Forbes.

Caroline’s insistent, romantic interest is Klaus, the Original who teeters on the Bad Guy – Good Guy line. What Caroline needs to do is push him over into Not My Guy territory for good. Even now that he’s starring in a spin-off, the writers have kept him available as a viable partner for Caroline.

Except, he’s not. His interest in her often leads to violence, and he won’t take “no” for a final answer. After touching on the sexually violent nature of the show, I’m surprised Klaus keeps up the chase instead of just forcing what he wants, as so many of the other characters do.

But, I guess, if it’s true love , it’s worth pressuring her the good old way, instead of compelling her.

Most of the show involves Elena caught between the two Salvatore brothers, both of whom routinely make decisions for Elena, whether she voices disagreement or not. Out of love, of course!

The Vampire Diaries seems to say that so long as men are around to streamline the decision making process, a woman’s agency isn’t necessary. And it certainly isn’t necessary when that agency gets in the way of the plot or sexual gratification of men.

Nina Dobrev, who plays Elena Gilbert (and her doppelganger, Katherine Pierce), once said in an interview that Elena would be better off leaving Mystic Falls and the Salvatore brothers.

post grad

I couldn’t agree more. The Vampire Diaries already has one spin-off, The Originals. How about another called —

Post Grad: where the girls leave Mystic Falls (and TVD’s writers) behind.

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