Unfortunately this is not a concept that seems to resonate with an audience that’s been culturally trained to idolize unhealthy relationships. We just got a new sexy remake of Wuthering Heights with Michael Hugedick Fassbender a couple years ago and and I’ve had multiple young girls seriously tell me Edward Cullen is their ideal boyfriend.
SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING BEFORE ALL THESE KIDS END UP IN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS WHILE LOOKING FOR ALL-CONSUMING STORYBOOK PASSIONEDIT: it was jane eyre actually I think I got so riled I crossed my Brontes.
occasionally I get alarmed about this, but then I remember that I learned about Love and Adult Relationships from the healthy and balanced relationships portrayed in:
THE PROUD BREED, by Celeste “totally obviously her real name” de Blasis
And the Clan of the Cave Bear books.
WHITNEY MY LOVE, just look at that motherfucking cover! It’s full of terrible rape scenes where the dialogue is literally like this:
Whitney: OW! THAT HURTS! STOP IT!
the ACTUAL HERO OF THE BOOK: SHUT UP, SLUT!!!! I’M SO MAD AND JELLUS RIGHT NOW! SHUT UP!
[These characters end the book passionately in love for years to come.]
it should be noted that even at 12 I was like, wow, that’s…hmmmmm, and preferred the OTHER Judith McNaught books, where the rape scenes went like this:
Heroine: STOP IT, I DON’T WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH YOU, STOP IT!!!
Hero: I’M MAD AND JELLUS!!!
Heroine: OKAY, BUT LET’S TALK IT OUT! NO! STOP IT!!!!!
Hero: SHUT UP, I’M GOING DOWN ON YOU NOW!! WE’RE DOING IT! YOU LIKE IT!!!
Heroine: I hate you right now, but wow, that feels really good, okay, FINE.
I read The Fountainhead for the sex scenes.
Also like literally every Amanda Quick novel, especially that one where the hero ravished the heroine in his library on top of a giant gold pillow while she held onto a piece of silk that was looped around a chair leg FAN MY BROW GOODBYE FOREVER THE WORST THING ABOUT ADULT LIFE IS HOW YOU ONLY SOMETIMES GET RAVISHED ON A GOLDEN PILLOW ON THE FLOOR OF A LIBRARY, FUCK YOU, BOOKS.
LOOK, the library of my mom’s bedside table had a very select, exclusive collection of fine 80s romance novels, some of which were set in the old west, while others were set in England, and still OTHERS in Scotland, and pretty much all of them featured seriously gross disgusting models for romance and love and YET I have had a very fine and emotionally healthy adult romantic life (you’ll have to take my word for this) and, yes, obviously I keep writing stories where the warnings are, like, VIOLENT GRAPHIC SEXUAL RAPE VIOLENCE, but I’m okay with it, by and large.
ALSO LIKE DOES ANYONE REMEMBER THAT ROMANCE NOVEL where Derek Hale was the frigid town bachelor who lived alone since the tragic loss of his entire family in a house fire, and he was always dutifully taking care of the sick and elderly and chopping wood and such because everyone knew he didn’t have a family or anyone to really take care of, he probably liked it, all alone in that big house, and THEN THERE WAS A TRAIN ROBBERY!!!
A TRAIN ROBBERY!!!
And both the disgusting train bandit AND the heroic stranger who saved everyone and foiled the robbery were SHOT, and they needed someone to put them up while they waited for the lawmen from the capital to come lock them up, so Derek Hale sort of ended up doing it, resentfully, except that the lawman, whose name was Deucalion, was handsome, and paid him the nicest compliments about his cooking, and sort of—awakened some hope in him, but he was always being interrupted by the TRAIN BANDIT, who was handcuffed to the bed in the front room and who had a deep wound on his chest that Derek had to change the dressings on, and thereby unbutton his shirt and touch his skin, and every time he did it, the bandit, whose name turned out to be Stiles—a ridiculous name, a stupid fake train robber name—was always looking at him, and making stupid jokes and sometimes Derek laughed by mistake and then castigated himself when he was alone, because the man was an unrepentant criminal, and sometimes the way he thanked Derek for taking care of him, his eyes quiet and sincere, made Derek feel hot and confused inside, and like there probably really was something wrong with him, because Deucalion never made him feel that way at all, even when he kissed his cheek.
THIS WAS A REAL BOOK EVERYONE. IT WAS AMAZING. IN THE MIDDLE THE HEROINE SECRETLY SHAVED THE BANDIT’S MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE WAS ASLEEP AND SHE HATED IT AND HE WAS SO HANDSOME UNDERNEATH. SOOOOOOOOO HANDSOME!!!! AND THEN HE WOKE UP AND WAS VERY ANGRY AT HER.
ANYHOW, IN A SHOCKING TWIST: Deucalion turns out to have been the cowardly bank robber, and Stiles turns out to be the undercover lawman who foiled the robbery, and Derek is confused and angry about all the lying and then Stiles has to go take Deucalion to JUSTICE, and he doesn’t make any promises, and then Derek ends up engaged to some bland, who-cares person and when Stiles comes back, it turns out he is also an award winning photographer who takes these wedding pictures of Derek in a rocking chair, and Derek is dreadfully uncomfortable about it and insists that he doesn’t love Stiles because of course he loves bland who-cares person, and Stiles is all, that’s fine, let me just take this picture of you, then, and then they end up fucking in the rocking chair and Derek admits that he does love Stiles, he DOES, he DOES, and my point is, I guess I’m the product of a barrage of irresponsibly stupid stories which I consumed more of less uncritically at the time, and who knows what could have happened? Would I still be trying to write yet another story about Derek Hale’s date rape fantasies? I mean, probably not.
Frivolous trash sex books have brought a lot of magic and color and laughter into my life, though.
REALLY what I’m saying is: People make poor choices about relationships every day, readers and non-readers alike, and there’s usually a little more going on there than some books they read.
[In the meantime, by the way I also read a LOT of quality literature, you know what I mean, Saul Bellow, John Updike, Robert Penn Warren. Some of these books even had women IN them, saying a line or two. Usually the women were props or convenient holes for putting penises in, or, much worse, from the perspective of the text, holes that were inconvenient for putting penises in. We are raised to adulthood in a veritable ocean of books by clueless jerks where every woman character is a piece of scenery (keep in minds, these are the books we’re told are really GOOD and VALUABLE—no one ever tries to claim a book where the woman’s a main character who leads an exciting but sometimes ill-advised life with a lot of hot sex with dudes who can’t get enough of her is of any value whatsoever.]
So: Let’s trust our young women. They’re figuring it out, like anyone else. They’re thinking people, even if Saul Bellow didn’t think so. I have great faith in them.
I realize that after helenish's commentary on this my addition might be overkill, but I wanted to mention as an old fandom lady who sees a LOT of people saying [X] kind of story is bad/out of character: yes. Yes it is.
Confession time: I love stories where Stiles is Pack Mom, and I love stories where Scott is a big jerk and Stiles feels abandoned and forgotten and Derek swoops in and loves him. That isn’t because I think Stiles is ever likely to become a werewolf housewife figure, or because I think it is even possible for Scott to not love Stiles fiercely. OF COURSE these things are out of character. But THAT ISN’T THE POINT OF THESE STORIES.
Part of fan culture is finding ways to tell our own stories at a remove, our own hurts and desires and doubts at a remove. If characters experience our deepest fears for us, then for me, reading a story like that can function as an exorcism of sorts. If a fictional character experiences a worst case scenario containing all of my most deep-seated fears, then I can breathe easier. I don’t know why that is, but I know it’s been true since I first started reading fanfiction.
And both of those tropes I mentioned, which are so immensely out of character, are almost always about:
-not being good enough
-being left behind
-the terror that everyone you love will forget about you
-or worse, figure out how useless you are
-everyone else discovering their gifts and strengths and beauty while you remain, abandoned and still struggling
-feeling immensely and painfully human while everyone else seems to get everything they want
When I read a Stiles Pack Mom story where he takes care of everyone and tries to feel important however he can BUT THEN EVERYONE FORGETS HIS BIRTHDAY AND HE REALIZES NO ONE LOVES HIM (but then Derek does probably), I don’t actualy care much about the happy ending where Derek makes it all better. The visceral pleasure I get from reading a story where a character endures my worst fears is INDESCRIBABLE. My skin actually goes hot and cold with vicarious misery/joy. When I read a story where Scott says Stiles is out of the pack, I can feel my skin flush and my chest tighten, because Stiles is living my nightmare and fanfic is allowing me to OUTSOURCE MY NEUROSES. I’m not reading that story because I think “man, this is just like an episode of the show! This author totally GETS these characters!” I’m reading it because fanfic can serve more purposes than mimesis. Its functions are legion.
I totally get why people hate stories like this, because they ARE OOC, but they are also super important to me, just like stories about Rodney McKay being tortured with citrus were super important to me in my SGA days. They do something for me, and verisimilitude is completely irrelevant. I assume that the story tropes I myself hate are doing something similar for someone else. Relatedly: every story about Derek Hale feeling abandoned and alone and unloveable and despised is also doing these for me, but those stories are basically 100% IN-character, so people are less likely to dislike them.
(Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I rolled my eyes at Moffat’s claim that the ladies love Sherlock because we all dream we’ll be the magic vagina to persuade him to fall in love. When I read fanfiction, I AM BOTH OF THE CHARACTERS, and characters getting together soothes me in two directions, because it feels like to two extensions of myself are being narratively accepted despite their flaws. I don’t want Sherlock to love me. I want, in the guise of inhabiting Sherlock’s mind, to feel loved myself. And since I’m way more into Derek Hale’s broken heart these days, that goes triple for him. More than that.)
In other words, I agree with almost everyone. I agree with halffizzbin that these narratives are often destructive when they are viewed as aspirational, and it is upsetting when people read them that way. I agree with helenish that we can’t assume readers view texts as mere how-to guides, especially in a culture that still portrays women (and ESPECIALLY young women) as impressionable blank slates who cannot be trusted as arbiters of their own experiences. I agree that a lot of fanfiction is unfair to Scott as a narrative device.
The only person I disagree with is Moffat, who is offensively wrong about almost everything in fan culture. I guess I also disagree with people who think the stories they dislike SHOULD NOT EXIST, because dude, sometimes I really need them.
Also I think I have a spare copy of Radway’s Reading the Romance, if any of you want to read an academic GWS classic on this very topic.