The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

The Dreaded C-Word

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Dear Kathryn,

We’ve talked a lot about how these vampire narratives portray women’s choices, and last night’s episode offered a pretty brilliant portrayal of this dynamic. To break the sire bond, Damon has to convince Elena that his happiness depends on her being released from him…only then will she have free will to choose between the brothers. Now, I’m a bit murky on the details here – if the bond can’t be broken, then won’t Damon sending her away result in a negation of choice precisely because she would never be able to choose him? Setting that aside, though, I was intrigued by the presumption shared among all our characters that our basic state is one of free will. This is a collection of supernatural kids, all bound in some way to supernaturally heightened desires, needs, and compulsions. How can any of them believe their choices or their will are ever totally free?!

This type of problem was perfectly illustrated in the Tyler storyline – and here I found some fascinating gender and race dynamics at play. I wondered in the bar why not one person intervened when Tyler seemingly attacked a woman! No one else in the bar knows that they are essentially physical equals. Surely to everyone else it looked like a hothead guy attacking his girlfriend! Tyler’s a really nice guy, and so werewolf dynamics aside, it was pretty shocking to see him sticking his hand inside a woman’s chest to rip out her heart if she wouldn’t submit. The first hybrid then to get on his knees was the one black hybrid. Now, I’m sure this decision on the part of the producers, directors, writers, whoever, was random – perhaps they didn’t even consciously realize they were putting the black guy on his knees first. Perhaps they thought, ‘oh, we’ve only got one black guy in this scene. We should probably give him a bigger role. Let’s have him be the one who makes poignant eye contact and gets down on his knees first.” Whatever the process that led to the moment, though, we have a white (?) guy yelling “SUBMIT!” and then a woman and a black man dropping to their knees. The image is problematic at best!

But what we also have, philosophically at least, is an image of freedom arising only from complete submission – and I would submit that this is not radical free will at all! At least not in the way these kids are imagining it. Both the Elena siring storyline and the Klaus/Tyler-siring/wolfy submission storylines reveal that our choices are always bound by multiple factors – that we can never make a decision from a neutral zone.

You might be able to see where I’m going with this…basically I’m using a little philosophical analysis to justify my desire for Elena to stay with Damon! Seriously, people – the situation we now have is one in which a radically free choice is impossible (as, we might say, it always was – even when we’re not bound by supernatural species, we’re always bound by whatever our cultural conditions may be, for example). Whether she chooses Stefan or Damon, Elena is losing some part of her joy and her self. So why not just stick with Damon? Why insist that she’s not really who she is anymore now that who she is is radically heightened? Why not instead understand her to be a hyper-version of her self?

I guess in the end I’m asking which you think is worse, denying your desire or being bound by it?

I can’t sign off without noting that a) the New Orleans witch needed 12 human sacrifices to get access to “expression” magic and b) creepy professor guy now has 12 hybrids ready to go and is teaching Bonnie “expression” magic. So just what is this new beginning he anticipates?!

loved the Team Stefan reference…poor Twilight gets mocked EVERY week!
Natalie

———

Dear Natalie,

I am sorry to be so late to the game, but I had to jump in. I agree completely that the desire for completely free will is an illusion and it is going to be interesting to see how these characters figure that out (or if they do). But then, aren’t Damon and Elena kind of doing this? The episode ended with them making out again, so it is not clear at all that Damon is going to try to send Elena away. And her persuasive pleading – “doesn’t this feel natural?” – as she comes on to Damon suggests that she is completely fine with a little bit of bondage of the will. For me, the “am I really free?” debate hung around the distinction between emotions and actions that Tyler introduces. Tyler tells Elena that a sire bond does not affect feelings, only action. Whatever you feel for your sire before you are turned remains, in a heightened way. This is basically what Stefan had been telling Elena all along about her feelings for Damon: they are really her feelings, just magnified by her vampire turn. Apparently, the sire bond just amplifies those feelings more. If Elena’s feelings are really her own, even if they are being heightened, then she experiences herself as free in her new found love of Damon. The fascinating thing, to me, about pinning freedom on feelings is that feeling are obviously not a purely free thing. They are the product of all kinds of other influences and experiences – fundamentally, feelings change.

Isn’t this the whole debate Caroline is having with Elena? That her true self is meant to be with Stefan, but her feelings are getting in the way? That she is being manipulated by Damon’s charms and by her own uncertainty and by weird vampire hormones and ultimately by the sire bond and her feelings aren’t real. Stefan himself admits that it was only the contingent fact of his own ripper craziness that drove Elena to Damon originally. In other words, all kinds of things happen in Elena’s life – by her own agency and others – that generate new feelings, that change her feelings. Stefan and Caroline want to believe there is an “original Elena” whose feelings for Stefan were pure and true and real – they desperately want to get back to that Elena (and Damon mocks him for wanting Elena returned to her “Team Stefan factory settings”). For the last few weeks Elena has been right there with them. But as she gives herself over to her feelings for Damon, she also seems to be accepting the possibility that there is no “original Elena” – just an Elena who changes and adapts to the circumstances around her and the reality of her own life. It is a cliche of adolescence that we define ourselves by our feelings – “you don’t know what I feel!” “I don’t care what you think, this is how I feel!” – but it is also interesting to think about how feelings can give us insight into how our lives are caught up in other lives and shaped by factors and forces and circumstances outside our control.

Um, and yes, I am basically going to great lengths, just like you, to justify my desire for Elena and Damon to stay together. Elena has been a total wet blanket since she became a vampire, but with Damon, there is the potential for some real personality again. I have to admit, I’m with Damon: I’ve never seen her so alive.

My prediction for the mid-season finale this week: we get a glimpse of Shane’s master plan and Elena and Damon have sex again!

K

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