five (of the many, many) ways people get S9 wrong

Nov 10, 2013 13:35

Here are five frequent criticisms of the Ezekiel storyline that, as of episode 9x5 (I reserve the right to change this opinion when we get the whole picture, though I don’t think I’ll have to), are at best bullshit and are, in many cases, extremely disturbing.

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about people who just don't like part or all of S9. I don't really get it, but SOME PEOPLE JUGGLE GEESE. What I'm talking about is the assumption that certain statements about the show are logical, objective observations of technical quality or accuracy. There's a lot of second-person here, but it's a general-you kind of thing (unless, yanno, the shoe fits); my real audience for this is (a) people who don't know how to articulate what S9 is doing to their perception of the characters and the show and (b) people who are feeling browbeaten out of their perceptions of the road so far.

(1) “THE RITURRRZZZ are making Sam stupid, or otherwise he would have caught on by now!”

Logical objections:

(a) Story-wise, I think people are imputing all of the information we the audience have to Sam. We have seen Zeke press pause on Sam’s conscious thought-processes, but the only times he’s done so for more than 30 seconds or so, Sam has been out for significantly longer. He lives a life where he gets knocked unconscious a lot - and even if he was totally healed from the trials, which we have no way of knowing whether he is, he’s unlikely to be on his game psychologically so soon after the emotional crucible of those last few episodes of S8, and so he has a ready explanation for the times he’s out longer than he expected. In the last episode, people were pissed that Sam woke up covered in blood - but he doesn’t seem to know that he was wounded, and remember, he was unconscious. For all he knows, he was a little too near Dean and the chef during a fight to the death. It’s not that much of a leap for someone who doesn’t consciously know anything sketchy is going on to just figure that it’s not his blood and move on with life.

Basically, we’re expecting him to go on clues such as Dean is doing a little too well on his own. But doesn’t Sam, along with THE RITURRRZZZ, get yelled at when Sam second-guesses Dean on even the smallest thing? And now he’s supposed to turn on a dime and disbelieve Dean on something huge and, frankly, wildly improbable? Writing this off is choosing to miss a large part of the point. The unthinking fealty that Dean, along with much of the fandom, seems to expect from Sam is extraordinarily unhealthy. It requires Sam to stifle his own identity and wildly pervert his perception of reality. The point of the story is that Sam trusts Dean. And if you’re thinking “but Sam’s trust of Dean is mind-bogglingly irrational,” well, WHOOMP, THERE IT IS.

(b) Characterization: It’d be glib to leave it at “the smart ones are always easier to con,” so I’ll remind folks that Sam, as evidenced and reinforced by a long history of gaslighting, is a good deal more susceptible to manipulation than most people, and pretty much everyone is susceptible to a frightening extent.

Look, I don’t have an objection to people not enjoying this story. It’s frustrating to watch Sam be in the dark like this. I get that. What I don’t think is appropriate is to decide that storytelling which provokes a strong emotional reaction MUST BE technically deficient.

Moral objection: Nobody gets gaslit because they are STUPID. Nobody is TOO SMART to experience abuse.

I am sorely tempted to leave it there. This isn’t a statement that should need additional commentary. But apparently it does, and of course I am a veritable wellspring of benevolence and patience, so I’ll explain what I think the problem is here.*
(i) People seem not to understand what gaslighting is.

Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity.[1] Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. (wiki)

The WHOLE POINT is to strip someone of their ability to trust their rational mind. So, yeah, it's hard to make sense out of. I recommend The Yellow Wallpaper generally to everyone who likes to read horror, which since we’re all talking about a horror show here I assume is pretty much everyone, but I especially recommend it if you’re someone who (a) loves this storyline and can’t get enough of it or (b) doesn’t get this storyline because you can’t get into Sam’s limited POV.

(ii) Moreover, people seem to be under the impression that the only type of gaslighting is the planned, concerted, pointless-except-for-the-sadism effort seen in the play for which the phenomenon is named. Now, it’s true that gaslighting is volitional, and that there’s not a good enough reason to pit someone against their own lyin’ eyes. But it does us no good to pretend that the only people who do bad things are The Worst People who are readily identifiable and who only engage in The Worst Possible degree of those bad things for no other motivation than that they are The Worst.

*By “problem” I mean the stumbling block for the folks who really are coming up against something new and uncomfortable in this storyline. Ofc there is no reasoning with hardline abuse denialists and I’m not interested in trying.

(2) “THE RITURRRZZZ are just going to forget about it! Like they forgot about Lisa and Amy!”

Logical objection: I have slightly more sympathy for this concern, because it is really hard to execute this type of storyline responsibly. But in terms of whether or not the issue here is acknowledged, I'll note that this complaint references three major incidents of Dean seriously violating other people’s autonomy in less than three and a half seasons. I count the reensoulment, given the specific sequence of events in which it happened, as another such violation, which brings the count to four times in four seasons. That is a massive, long-running pattern, which is the OPPOSITE of forgetting about it.

Moral objection: What I think is really at play here is an expression of the Just World Hypothesis, that if a bad thing happens it is caught and the perpetrator experiences punishment, and therefore if someone commits an action and experiences no sanction, then The Universe (as personified when talking about fiction, THE RITURRRZZZ) condones this behavior as moral or irrelevant. THIS IS SO DANGEROUS. Abusive behavior goes unpunished, uninterrupted, and even unacknowledged most of the time. Do I want Dean to experience punitive fallout for his behavior? Of course, particularly seeing as he is the kind of perennial pre-adolescent who is unwilling to behave himself when not under credible threat of detention. Is that a necessary component of a compelling, well-told story? Or even a socially responsible one? Emphatically not; in fact, I believe the overwhelming modern American cultural predilection toward stories where Evildoers Pay is trite (because it’s always done) and harmful (because it reinforces the Just World Fallacy).

(3) “THE RITURRRZZZ are bringing it up in every episode, HOW BORING AND ANNOYING!”

Given that when THE RITURRRZZZ don’t pound the audience over the head with something in every episode (a la Hallucifer) they get hit with a wall of crying about how THEY FORGOT ABOUT THE THING! Even if the thing was actually all the more moving and believable for its subtlety because people who are going through the analogous real-world situations frequently internalize as much as possible and fray at the edges and just generally aren’t particularly entertaining, we said fuck it, they should’ve made that tradeoff and beaten us over the head with it in every episode. (I, um. May have a slight thing about the whole Hallucifer situation.)

So yeah. Fandom’s objection isn’t about hearing about the lie of the season too much or too little. It is that they don’t want to see this pattern of really destabilizing lies coming from Dean, because it means Dean has hoodwinked them into believing he’s a good guy who does the things he does in order to protect people, instead of a seriously messed-up asshole who does many (probably most) of the things he does in order to control people and uses protectiveness as a justification for his behavior. Guys, it’s okay. Dean has a lot of people fooled. Dean has Sam fooled. Most of the time, Dean has Dean fooled. You’re not stupid for having trusted Dean, any more than Sam is. But if you’re having a hard time accepting it, put yourself in Sam’s shoes.

It’s really okay not to like the storyline. It’s okay to prefer a fanon version of Dean. It’s not okay to insist that THE RITURRRZZZ, along with everyone who gets and/or likes what seems to be going on here, are WRONG for NOT seeing your fanon Dean.

(4) “THE RITURRRZZZ didn’t NEED to STRIP CAS OF HIS GRACE if they’re just going to have Zeke around to get the boys out of tough spots, instead of Cas.”

So the show has made it as clear as can be that Castiel’s part in the narrative is about more than being a get-out-of-hell free card and….we don’t like that? Go away now.


Logical objection: See above re: the pattern with Lisa and Amy. It’s flatly untrue that this isn’t something Dean would do.

This is a problem that goes back a long, long way with Dean, and I’d argue the Zeke situation is a fantastic exploration of how Dean’s tendency to manipulate other people’s realities began and evolved. Dean’s mindset that leads to his continued lies about Ezekiel reach back into one of the earliest flashbacks we see into their timeline, in A Very Supernatural Christmas (not for nothing, the current showrunner’s first solo credit on the show), when we see definitively that John roped Dean into lying about the existence of monsters. There really are things that go bump in the night, and John, through the cutest little accomplice in all the land, told Sam there was nothing to see here. This whole problem started in a way that really wasn’t Dean’s fault, nobody could blame him, he was a small child - just as his behavior in the S9 premiere was very troubling but was IMO…not good by any stretch, but defensible. But as Dean grew in his moral and psychological autonomy, his behavior became worse rather than better: one might understand his choice to lie to Sam for months on end about the “save him or kill him” conversation as being borne out of grief, but it was absolutely deplorable. Doing Ruby’s work for her throughout S3/4 in convincing Sam he was not the human being Sam knew himself to be might’ve been explained by his fear before and trauma after hell, but he explicitly says that he knows taking out his pain on other people is wrong. And even Dean clearly knew his behavior about Amy was wrong.

This is a pattern. Patterns are hard to break. It is not Dean’s fault that this pattern started, but it is his fault he perpetuates it. If you say can’t accept this characterization because it is irreconcilable with your beloved Dean, I don’t believe you really do like Dean all that much, since you haven’t been paying attention to him for 7+ seasons now.

Morally, though: I’m really not here for “this can’t be happening, he would never do that, HE’S SUCH A GOOD GUY.” That one, I’m not going to dignify with an explanation.

So yeah. This frustrates the hell out of me. I had a hard time deciding whether I was actually going to do a whole thing about how people are WRONG about SUPERNATURAL on the INTERNET because, you know, this just in. But, at the risk of being too cute (nb: I am always too damn cute), I want to contextualize this. We’re watching a season about Dean telling Sam not to pay attention to what Sam is seeing and understanding, because he doesn’t want Sam to know something about their reality. And a critical mass of fandom is just blatantly doing everything possible to get in the way of other people seeing what’s in front of their eyes and connecting the damn dots, flinging around all kinds of “objective” assertions that don’t really hold up as hard truth under even a little bit of scrutiny and are usually very troubling.

(Seriously, if you are in good faith having a difficult time wrapping your brain around how this storyline has shaped up in the past five episodes, I will answer as many questions as I can for as long as I can. If you do understand and don’t like it…(a) just SAY THAT and (b) do it on any other post in the world.)

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spn: sammay!, supernatural, lawl internet, the riturrrrzzzz, spn: dean what even, abuse, gaslighting

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