Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lady's Choice: Vampire Diaries Versus Glee

The core cast of Vampire Diaries, my guilty TV pleasure, despite these horrible and objectifying poses. Image source.

I've already confessed to my morbid fascination with Glee, a fascination so strong that I've even watching The Glee Project, simply because I'm riveted by the way Glee's writers and producers attempt to represent themselves. But I also have a guilty TV pleasure, a show I actually enjoy watching, even though it's about as good for me as a bag of Twizzlers: Vampire Diaries. Actually, the first time I watched Vampire Diaries was also the only time I've ordered pizza in about four or five years, so I'll forever associate it with heavenly junk food.

Given that Glee sets itself up on a soapbox every week, while Vampire Diaries is about a girl's love triangle with two serial killers, you'd kinda expect Glee to be a tad more progressive. But a couple weeks ago both shows had their season finales, and there was a striking difference in how the shows approached women, their decisions, and the role that their boyfriends play in major life decisions. I've stalled posting to give everyone a chance to watch, so be forewarned - this post will contain a lot of spoilers.

In Glee, the season finale was just as saccharin as you would anticipate: after all, the majority of the regular cast is "graduating," and many of them really are leaving the show next year. So there are some tearful farewell songs and yearning gazes between couples and almost-couples. And of course there are a number of unrealistically-late rejection and acceptance letters, allowing all the seniors to decide their future plans during graduation week. Along the way we get the typical and offensive stereotypes about gay men and lesbian women (which still strikes me as strange, given how many of the show's writers and producers are themselves gay).

But there are two really disturbing things: the first comes out when Quinn decides that she wants to spend her last week of high school giving back by helping Puck pass the one test that will allow him to graduate. How does she help him? She gives him a pep talk and kisses him. Seriously? That's the way that a woman who's recently been accepted to Yale and has overcome the emotional trauma of teen pregnancy, giving up her child for adoption, and temporary partial paralysis finds meaning and helps a friend see his potential? A kiss? To the very guy who took advantage of her sophomore insecurity and got her pregnant? Well then.

And it gets worse. The show is of course scrambling to find a way to keep their stars around, without having all of them stay back a year. And one of the best ways to keep the tension going is to avoid having both of the major couples get married within a few episodes. Besides, as much as Glee likes to support every lifestyle choice out there, teen marriage is where the show draws the line. So, how do they extend the Rachel-Fynn drama? By taking away Rachel's choice for her own future.

The show builds up to the wedding being postponed, by Fynn accusing Rachel of not really wanting to get married. Everything gets complicated when Rachel is the only one of the New York-hopeful trio (Fynn, Rachel, and Kurt) to get into her program of choice. Rachel decides to defer for a year and help them work on their applications, but on the way to the wedding, Fynn reveals that he's not really taking her to the wedding: no, he has tricked her and is instead dropping her off at a train station, where her supposed-friends are waiting to see her off. And her supposedly-supportive parents are in on the trick, waiting for her in NY, where they'll look at dorms together. Fynn has decided for her that she will go directly to school, and he has joined the army without telling her about it, news he's breaking to her on the day that was going to be their wedding. This is supposed to be healthy romantic behavior?

Meanwhile Vampire Diaries confronts the major difference between Stefan and Damen: Stefan lets Elena make her own decisions, while Damen will do whatever seems best for her. Damen is a lot like Fynn in that regard. It's clear that this issue will come into play by the end of the episode, as foreshadowed by a conversation between the brothers: Stefan says that Elena would never forgive him if someone she loved died because he ignored her decision and protected her at the expense of someone she loved. Damen says that that's the difference between the brothers: he'd keep her safe and let her hate him. When a sneaky plot twist forces Elena to choose between saying goodbye to just one brother, before they potentially die, she chooses Stefan.

And the result of that decision? She gets into a car accident that is a clear parallel to the one where her parents died. And in the same way that her father sacrificed himself by getting Stefan to save Elena first, Elena sacrifices her own life, by telling Stefan to save her friend first. Unlike Damen, Stefan is willing to do as Elena instructs. And unlike the many times that she has risked her life and survived, this time she dies. The result, if the ending's implication is to be trusted, is that Elena becomes a vampire.

On the one hand, I could argue that there's a problem with seeing Elena's choice result in her death, but she has made her own decision many times without dying, and this was the whole point - Elena had to be allowed her own decisions, even if those decisions put her life at risk. Seeing Death finally call Elena's bluff adds credence to Stefan's willingness to support her decisions. So yes, Vampire Diaries is a very problematic show - it's a love triangle between a teenager and two much-older murderers.

So what does it say about Glee, that even a show as messed up as Vampire Diaries recognizes the problems that come from boyfriends who make their girlfriends' decisions for them?