Elena Gilbert Appreciation Week: Post 1

Sep 15, 2012 01:46

I wrote this post a good while before s3 finale, so if it seems like I'm omitting some facts, that would be because they didn't exist yet :).

1. This is a story about a girl who isn't perfect.

Warning: This is an appreciation post. As in: I actually like Elena. You have been warned. Also, I might not be up to long or deep discussions this time. I'm insanely busy, not to mention stressed and freaking out. And I'll soon be offline again, hopefully for no more than a few days.

Generaly speaking, Elena Gilbert is a nice person.

She is kind, likeable, and generally a good girl (which doesn't equal being “The Good Girl”). Like most people, she simply makes an effort to be a decent person. Nothing special, really. When we first see her, we generally get an impression that it would be fun to know her.

But we also know that she's the protagonist. So we start having expectations.

Because, normally, in this kind of narrative, The Good Girl (like Elena), sets up a moral standard for the show. She makes good decisions. She calls people out on things. She does the right thing, no matter how hard it is. She is there to guide the viewer, she is the moral compass of the show; we know she's a safe role model. We know those narratives, because we see them everywhere around. And, subconsciously, we expect Elena to follow the pattern.

She doesn't.

Because of that, she gets a lot of mockery in fandom. Elena is so dumb that she befriends and/or beds serial killers as if she didn't know any better. She forgives Damon because she wants to bone him. She forgets too soon. Stupid, stupid Elena. If only you took some time to wander aimlessly around TVD fandom, I bet you've seen statements like that. Basically, people hate Elena because she fails at fullfilling the traditional narrative pattern for a female protagonist, and during the first few episodes it seemed like she wouldn't. She raised expectations, didn't meet them... and, by doing so, she earned my undying love.

Elena isn't a hero. She isn't a warrior. She doesn't have any mission. Elena was never supposed to save the world. She isn't Buffy 2.0.

(Let me take a brief detour. I genuinely respect and love Buffy, who is a well-written, three-dimensional character, and, therefore, is too complex to be a shiny beacon of morality for seven long seasons. But she is the slayer. The very premise of the show says that she's the lonely hero who saves the world from the forces of evil. TVD has no such premise. We expect Elena and Buffy to be at least a bit similar, because BtVS established a pattern for a vampire show, but in fact those two characters have very little in common. It's Buffy's job to be the moral compass of her show, even if she sometimes fails at doing it. Elena, on the other hand, hasn't even stood next to a moral compass.)

So when I say that Elena isn't perfect, it's not only about the fact that she is three-dimensional, and, therefore, has flaws. What I mean is that Elena Gilbert isn't supposed to be perfect. It's not her goal. Her story has nothing to do with morality. Because her story is about growing up, and growing up doesn't imply becoming your best self. Growing up is about shaping yourself in a way you choose, and not necessarily in a way that is the best for you.

And that's what Elena does: she makes choices, all the time. Sometimes she makes the worst choices. Cruel. Selfish. Disrespectful. Suddenly it turns out Elena isn't so much fun to be around. She is stubborn like hell. She slaps first, asks questions later. She thinks she knows best. She goes behind people's back. She says unbelievably cruel things when someone pisses her off. She doesn't give a shit about collateral damage when her loved ones are in danger. That's Elena for you, and she isn't getting any better.

And, by the way, she still is quite a nice girl.

It's kind of hard to wrap one's head around this. There are female characters who are allowed to be as bitchy and terrible as they choose. Katherine tells Damon she's never loved him in a deliberately cruel way -- no big. Elena says “Maybe that's the problem” when Damon yells that he loves her -- half of the fandom cuts a bitch for a month. Why? Because we expect Katherine to do things like that. She's a villain. We've known that from Day One, so now we can enjoy her unapologetic badassery. But Elena? We don't know where to place her. She still is The Good Girl. But she does bad things, and they aren't marked as mistakes. They just... are.

Elena has Damon compel Jeremy, and then she simply moves on. No terrible consequences, no existential crisis. She is a bit conflicted about it, she feels a little guilty, but she never sends any simple, straightforward message about morality. Does this mean that the writers are telling us that it's okay to violate someone's free will if we do it because we love them so much? No.

Elena is forging her identity right now. She is in transition into a grown-up. And becoming a grown-up is not a process of perfecting one's teenage self. It is a process in which we lose some of our teenage ideas and beliefs, because they prove unrealistic. And yes, sometimes it means lowering your moral standards, because it turns out that the ones you used to believe in are impossible to meet. Sometimes you have to make a choice in situation in which there is no good choice. Sometimes you do something terrible just because you're dumb and weak. It happens. It doesn't make you a villain, because in real life? There's no such things as a villain.

So Elena isn't perfect, and she doesn't have to apologize for it. It's not her job to make everyone happy. It's not her job to set an example. It's her job to tell a complex, honest story, and she does that.

Elena is aware of her flaws (well, of most of them), and she tries to make it work. She's facing a very realistic dilema: she wants to be a good person, but she started noticing that the lines are getting blurry, and it's not that easy to tell right from wrong anymore. She isn't becoming a villain (there's no such things as a villain). Have you noticed how she keeps repeating the same question over and over again? “What does it say about me?”. And everyone keeps answering: “It makes you human”. Because Elena isn't about teaching us who we should be. She's about showing us who we are and what we do. It's presenting a picture, not setting a norm. Show, not tell. Because people who created Elena Gilbert treat their viewers like intelligent beings who don't need to be patronized. The writers aren't teaching a lesson, they're sharing an experience. It's not a universal experience, of course. It would be stupid to assume that everyone can relate to Elena. People grow up in different ways, and Elena is just one of many possibilities. I don't know how many people actually can relate. 5%? 50%? You tell me. I know I can, and that's good enough for me.

Yes, this not writing about narratives and stuff is going SO WELL. Typical.

meta, fandom: the vampire diaries, elena gilbert is amazing, elena gilbert appreciation week

Previous post Next post