"Mister, I'll make a man out of you" (Damon Salvatore and gender performance)

Jul 01, 2012 14:23

(I'm not here. Just posting this quickly, because vergoldung wanted to read this meta before she goes on hiatus, and then I'm running away again. I'm so laaaaaaate!)

bellonablack requested a meta about how Damon's and Stefan's background influences gender roles they perform. That's not exactly what I'm going to do. It's not a Brothers post, it's a Damon post, because I believe Stefan's background doesn't influence his gender performance at all.

Ridiculous as it may sound, I think that Stefan is a perfectly adjusted vampire. Of course, when it comes to small issues of bloodlust and mass murder, he's a total trainwreck, but he's amazing at adjusting to changing times. He lives with people. He goes to school. He always has a perfect story made up about himself. Stefan chooses a role, and then he plays it until it comes out of fashion. Remember how present-day Stefan hates parties and dances? And how the 1920s Stefan didn't have that problem at all? He is whoever he needs to be, a perfect chameleon. He chooses what kind of guy he wants to be in this decade, and then he becomes him.

With Damon, the case is quite different.

Warnings: My history books aren't unpacked yet, and I wrote this post without internet access, so I've done much less research than I'm comfortable with. Basically, when it comes to details, I'm relying on my hunches, so if there are any mistakes, I apologize. By all means, prove me wrong. I'm talking about Spike's flashbacks from BtVS 5x07 Fool For Love, but I'm trying to be as general and brief as I can. This is still a Damon post. Also, my brain was not available while I was writing this post. It was replaced by coffee and chocolate cookies.

"Mister, I'll make a man out of you" (Damon Salvatore and gender performance)

We all know that the appeal of so called Bad Boys is that their gender performance is a mixture of masculine and feminine traits. Basically, there's a leather jacket and a fancy car on the outside, but totally a girl on the inside (if you don't know that yet, there's a post by pocochina that will change your life). So, we have that covered. Let's talk about what makes Damon different from other Bad Boys.

Being a Spike fan taught me to associate the Bad Boy gender performance with rebellion. Those guys hate the social background they come from. They rebel against it, rebellion makes them liminal, liminality makes them feminine. Spike is the perfect example. He does everything to become anti-William, changes his name, his accent, his physical appearance. He explicitly refers to being turned as to being delivered from meritocracy. Bad Boys rebel, that's why we love them. But then I started thinking. Not all of them rebel. Damon doesn't do anything like that at all.

It seems to be a general opinion in fandom that Damon was the rebellious son, the one who went against the social expectations, the abolitionist, the idealist. Now, the “idealist” part is hard to argue with. Damon is the boy who read too much, the one who believed in true love and wanted to sacrifice everything to be with the woman of his dreams. But the rest? Come on. What does canon give us? A boy who can easily handle a big social gathering, a Confederate soldier for crying out loud. True, he deserted, and we're told it was a matter of principle, but we learn that from Stefan who's trying to appease Giuseppe, so I'm not buying it. It's 1864, the war started in 1861. We don't know when Damon joined the army, but we know that he was a rich, sensitive, overly emotional boy who got thrown into a middle of a bloodbath. That's enough trauma to make him want to run away. If he was such an abolitionist, he wouldn't have joined the army in the first place, he would've tried to desert before they even got him a grey uniform, but that's not what happened. Damon is not a social idealist. He shows no signs of discomfort when it comes to his father's wealth built on slave labor. His great act of social rebellion is actually an act of a romantic guy who tries to bury his PTSD under epic love (it's all discussed in greater detail in this post). Damon was perfectly comfortable with his nice, little Southern life, and as much as we would like to make him more likeable by making him an abolitionist, it's highly unlikely. I doubt he was consciously cruel, but he was so self-centered he barely noticed that there were any social issues going on around him.

And that's the key to understanding Damon's gender performance. He doesn't go against the antebellum idea of masculinity, because he doesn't care enough to even pay attention to the antebellum idea of masculinity. Damon is not focused on abstracts, and he's not focused on society. Damon is focused on Damon. He keeps the bits that suit him: his social privilege, as much of his wealth as he can, his manners and charm. He keeps his bookishness and cultural knowledge, which, in his social group, weren't feminine traits at all. He is overly emotional and love-obsessed, which wasn't a typically masculine trait, but wasn't that girly either (Byron was a dude, you know). Generally speaking, what we see as feminine emotionality, Damon's contemporaries would see as a minor quirk, more like an obsession with the past than being girly.

There are things he does that go against the idea of masculinity. He refuses to accept male role models (his father, his superior officers etc). Instead, he let Katherine and Sage to teach him how to be a man, and he still follows their advice, he uses his sexuality as a weapon, he manipulates, plots, keeps secrets. He's a Southern gentlemen who learned survival techniques from a femme fatale, the weirdest mixture ever. So what's the pattern in his gender performance? How does he choose traits?

He chooses whatever works best in current circumstances. Damon doesn't rebel against the 19th century masculinity, but he doesn't have any particular reason to cling to it as well. As far as Southern gentlemen go, he was a bit of a failure (not a disaster, but not as good as his brother), so he has no problem with letting go of some of the traits. He doesn't rebel against the 21st century masculinity, because he found a way to benefit from it. Damon might have shitty luck when it comes to love, and he might get beaten up by supernatural beings more often than other people, but socially speaking, he's not an underdog. He figured it out. Unlike Stefan, he's not capable of choosing one coherent role to play and sticking to it. He has to take his personality into account, and he's not that good at fitting into patterns, he's never been. Being a patchwork of various gender performances is the best survival technique for him, so he became a patchwork. Damon is far too practical to be rebellious. He has to be smart. Like Katherine.

note to self: less talk, meta, damon omg damon, fandom: the vampire diaries, fictional vampires ruin my life, yes i'm always like that, i honestly don't know

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