Dear Writers: Monogamy is Boring

Ok, not entirely. But hear me out.

I’ve been watching Scandal on Netflix. Binge watching season four. Without giving away any real spoilers, one of the chief issues dealt with by Olivia Pope in the show is how to choose between Guy #1 and Guy #2. No matter what else is going on in the show, the pressure to make That Choice is omnipresent. When she is on the phone with one guy, you wonder why she didn’t call the other guy.

At one point during this past season she announced that she wasn’t going to chose. She was going to be free. She was going to dance. And Guy #2, who was there with her at the time, could either dance with her or get the hell off her dance floor.

I admired her in that moment. Of course, with three seasons already under my belt, I knew that her refusal to make a choice wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t. Within a few episodes we were back in Choice territory.

I have a couple of feelings about this. The chief feeling among them is that I’m sick and tired of that story arch of That Choice between one partner or another being used over and over again. It’s played out. I am no longer invested in it. I do not give a single solitary fuck which person’s genitals you decide to play with forever, Protaganist. There is nothing less interesting to me than That Choice. I think that limiting characters to monogamous relationships makes it so that choosing on partner as opposed to another is almost inevitable. I could list a gagillion shows and books and movies that do just that. But instead, I’m going to talk about one that doesn’t.

Lately I’ve been watching Wentworth. I talked about it in a blog entry last month. One of the things I have realized that has been so refreshing in that show is the sparsity of romance. Franky Doyle fucks a couple of people, yes. There is sex in the show. There is even a mini love story between an inmate and another person. But there is not, among the main characters, a distracting and overwhelming story arch involving That Choice between one person and another. And the lack of that particular trope is glorious. It is entirely freeing to see characters passing across the screen with motivations almost entirely separated from those of romantic love.

And honestly, who needs more of that story line, anyway? I’ll give you the run down. It goes something like this:

Oh, I have to Choose. I’ll Choose this person.

Oh no! It didn’t work out! I wonder if I can still have my Fallback person?

Oh no! Fallback doesn’t want me! And now I’m sad and my life is over because romance is the Only Thing That Matters and the people I want to fuck won’t talk to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

*cries forever*

Fucking. Yawn.

Another aspect of That Choice is the tired leaning upon of monogamy as the only form of romantic attachment.

It should be said that yes, I am monogamous. I have also had non-monogamous relationships. Monogamy works better for me. But how amazing would it be to see a triad play out on screen? A relationship that contained more than the usual two people looking to each other at the exclusion of all else? Even if it wasn’t a major plot point, it would be delightful to see different relationship models play out on television.

Of course, being in a non-monogamous situation would be pretty novel. As a major point of plot, it would bring up all kinds of interesting conversations and situations for the characters to work through. If they live in a small town, things could get interesting when people wind up becoming interested in the partners of other people they are close with. Clear and honest conversation could be a serious thing that characters need to learn and exhibit. I mean, the topics and plot lines that open up are endless. For me as a viewer, the idea of this gets me excited. Because honestly? I am tired of being able to predict all of a character’s choices from the jump based on some writer’s use of Every Trope That Ever Was.

As a writer… the possibilities for my characters that arise simply from me opening their relationships interesting ways excites me more than words can really express.

But Hollywood? TV people? Get on this shit. Because the stories that surround monogamy and the choices that surround it really aren’t interesting anymore.

Wentworth v. Orange is the New Black

Four months ago Frankie and I went to XenaCon. It is by far the gayest thing I have ever done aside from having sex and intimate relationships with women.

We had a great time. The actors who came were all sweet and kind and welcoming. Some of the Xenites had huge sticks up their asses, but we mostly ignored them in favor of finding a few cool humans to spend our weekend with.

That weekend was when I first heard the name “Wentworth.” Danielle Cormack was in attendance speaking about her role as Ephiny on Xena. When the time came to ask her a question, one of the first ones was from a Aussie woman who wanted to know what was coming down the road for Bea in the next season.

I wish I had realized how amazing Wentworth was before I went to that con. I would have had so many questions for Danielle.

In the time since XenaCon I have started and finished watching Orange is the New Black and enjoyed it immensely. But I have to say that I’m glad I watched it before I dove into Wentworth. Let it be known at this point that I am going to describe my reactions to these two shoes without a single spoiler. Because I am cool with you all like that.

I love OITNB. That said, there is something about it that feels cartoony to me. It could be the buffoonery of the guards. There isn’t a single guard or boss on that show that I take seriously. Even the villainous ones seem like villain parodies rather than actual bad guys.

On the other hand, Wentworth feels more authentic than OITNB in a lot of ways. The guards aren’t a joke, for one. They do their jobs and, when they don’t, their choice to break the rules seems much more believable to me as a viewer. Even their relationships make more sense. The mistakes and choices that they make have more impact because their connections to other characters seem really informed by their personal identities, rather than being flash-in-the-pan shock material, which OITNB delivers in spades.

Another thing that makes OITNB feel cartoony is the unrealistic hotness of some of the actresses. Not that I don’t appreciate it, mind. Because I do. But I think that hotness is an unfortunate symptom of the American television system. There are a few stellar actors on that show that don’t fall into the stereotypical box of sexiness, but they are more than balanced out by the parade of eye candy that is the rest of the women.

On the subject of hotness, the women in Wentworth are much more believable. There are a few stunningly attractive people, namely Franky Doyle. But Franky’s sexiness is explained by her position as a reality TV star on the outside. The rest of the women look like friends or people you know in your life, rather than unattainable Beautiful People. Again, this is probably due at least in part to the differences inherent in the Australian television market as compared to TV in the U.S., so it’s a somewhat unfair comparison to make, but the difference is there and it makes a difference in how I view both shows, so it needs to be said.

The content of Wentworth is also much darker. They go to more nuanced places regarding addiction as well as women’s lives both inside and outside of prison. Rape isn’t a persistent theme, thankfully, but on the occasion where it has been brought up, the consequences of and reactions to it feel very real as they are described and lived out by the people in the show.

On the whole, they are both good shows and I enjoy them immensely. But OITNB feels like junk food to me after having watched Wentworth, which feels like a hearty meal.

GoT Spoiler Alert: Rape

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I would call it a spoiler alert if we didn’t all know that it was coming. It’s not so much a spoiler alert as it is a given. Which is depressing.

I should preface what follows by saying that I did not watch the recent Game of Thrones episode wherein yet another decent character gets raped. I didn’t watch it for the same reason that I have not watched the show so far: because I have already done enough harm to my psyche by reading the books. Why on earth would I want to watch again the unsatisfying non-conclusion of hours of torture and severing of limbs and heads and moral compasses? At least a book doesn’t let me hear every excruciating detail of what is being described to me.

It was around the time when Reek came on the scene that I had to put down George RR Martin’s endlessly tormented series and never pick it up again. I did this for several reasons. First of all, after reading four books in the series, I was starting to get really irritated by the torture that was going on, both emotional and physical. Second of all, the description of what was happening to that poor man was egregious and overwhelming in so many ways. It was easily the worst thing that I had read in the series. And finally, and most importantly, I knew there wasn’t going to be any pay off.

Now I know what you’re thinking, we don’t always need a Hollywood Ending where the Hero gets revenge on the Dude Who Wronged Him. And I agree with you. And denying the hero that chance is fine. It’s good, even. Challenging the easy outcome in works of fiction is a really good, powerful thing to do. My problem with GRRM is that he has written over 5,000 pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, and the chief theme seems to be that the bad guys are going to just kill and fuck up everything that you like with no discernible consequences. I mean, yea, they might kinda be worse people afterward? But they still have money and power and they still keep using it to destroy everything that you love. And after 5,000 pages, that tactic is draining, disheartening, and honestly makes me never want to read a word written by the man ever again.

Needless to say, the combination of GRRM and rape-happy HBO did not leave me thrilled at the prospect of the television series. I watched the first episode or two because I, like many people, could not resist the lure of the lush fantasy world I had invested so much time in being projected on a screen so that I could really see it. I will also admit to being drawn to garbage television, because that is a very real thing in my life.

Needless to say, I was not surprised in the least when they decided to rape Sansa in the show. I mean, how else were they going to make sure that she suffered? Having her father beheaded in front of her and his head paraded around by her sadistic and insane fiance wasn’t bad enough, clearly. Neither was being publicly beaten and humiliated by that fiance. Or being accused of murdering that same dude (which, to be fair, I totally would have actually done). Or having her uncle creep on her. Or being nearly thrown to her death by her insane aunt. Nope. A real strong female character is made strong by the introduction of a man’s penis forcibly inside her. Nothing more, nothing less.

The problem that I have with rape as a plot device is that it feeds into this idea that women need to suffer a specific type of trauma in order to become heroines. They cannot be considered serious contenders unless they have been broken and dehumanized by other characters first, which is, to me, totally unacceptable.

On top of this entire pile of issues with rape as a plot device, the idea that a woman has to be changed into the best version of herself after being brutally violated by a man lights my blood on fire. Like oh, wait, she can’t have just gone through some serious shit, she needs to have a dick inside her before she really decides to play the game. It all goes hand in hand with the idea that women are somehow fundamentally changed – and by “changed,” I mean “devalued” – when they lose their virginity. Which is, of course, horse shit of the highest order.

And if rape isn’t being used in order to destroy a woman enough so that she can be justified in her role as a cut throat contender for The Big Plot Thing of a given story, it’s being used in order to motivate a male character to kill other men so that he can be a contender for The Big Plot Thing. So women are either raped into being cutthroat contenders, or raped as a plot device to anger men enough into making change happen.

Good. Great. Glad we covered all of that. And you wonder why we need feminism.

TL; DR: Rape as a plot device is lazy, played out, sensationalist, ratings-hungry bullshit.

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