When I think of modern feminist narratives, one of the first things that comes to mind is:
The Vampire Diaries
You’re probably thinking, “What is she talking about? Look at those sexualized women on the poster. How can this show possible promote healthy self esteem?”
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time describing the plot or story lines, as most of the interesting bullet points would be major spoilers.
Instead, I want to discuss some of the running themes that keep bringing me back despite the cheesiness and, no, I’m not just talking about Ian Somerhalder running around shirtless (although, to be honest, that doesn’t hurt a bit).
Elena Gilbert is one of the more interesting characters on television today. Yes, she spends some of her time mooning after the vampire brothers at the heart of the show, but who wouldn’t?
Here’s what’s awesome about Elena:
- She figures out her new boyfriend is a vampire in 5 episodes. Her response is essentially, “What now?”
- She takes time off from dealing with her boyfriend’s supernatural angst to take care of her brother.
- She refuses to be left out of plans meant to “protect” or “save” her. When the boys do try to go behind her back, things inevitably take a turn for the worst.
- She is strong without being mean.
Yes, the show uses a doppelganger (same face, different person) to make the point hit home sometimes but Nina Dobrev, who plays both Elena and Katherine, does an excellent job of showing us the difference between the person who loses herself in the race for survival and the one who sticks to her guns.
Some of my favorite scenes are the ones with Elena and Katherine (with some special effects assistance) facing off about the best way to proceed. I also love when Elena listens, not so patiently, to the boys discuss her welfare as though she isn’t in the room before ignoring their protective condescension and acting on her own.
She gets into a lot of trouble and requires saving occasionally but, just as often, she saves herself.
Oh, Caroline. I did not know how much I needed you until you appeared on my tv.
Caroline is, hands down, my favorite character on this show. For much of the first season, she was the easy target, the victim. She slept with the bad boy and suffered the (tv required) consequences. Then season two aired, and Caroline came into her own.
Caroline is a control freak, sometimes emotionally needy, and nearly always sure of her convictions. When her life changes suddenly and her boyfriend can no longer deal, she is disappointed but she moves on. When the situation calls for a badass mean-girl, Caroline is happy to oblige. When her friends are hurting, Caroline is always there.
When Elena’s drama spills over and causes tragedy for other characters, Caroline is there to make sure Elena gives them space.
She is strong, she is completely in control of her sexuality, and she is not afraid to ask for help when she needs it. If you don’t accept her for who she is, move along. Caroline doesn’t have time for your nonsense.
And here is the theme that elevates this show beyond any of the other supernatural or paranormal nonsense out there: it continually emphasizes the need for friendship and support among women.
Boys come, boys go, boys slaughter small towns and come back with their tails between their legs. Friends are there for you when you need them. Bonnie, Caroline, and Elena have their individual struggles and tragedies, but they always come back to one another. It isn’t always an easy friendship, but that’s part of what makes it unique. They have real issues with each other’s decisions and lives but they work through those issues because their friendship is more important.
The Vampire Diaries is not a perfect show, and sometimes this theme lapses for a while, but in the newest episodes even the current villainess makes a friend. Rebecca, bitter vampire with a whole archive of mother and brother issues, spends a while chasing after some of the show’s boys but is much happier when she starts to bond with the new girl in school.
While we’re on the subject of friendship, I would be remiss not to point out one of the strongest relationships on the show: Ian Somerhalder’s brooding Damon and Alaric, who starts off as the high school history teacher with a past. Very different men, they initially bond over fighting the same evil and not having anyone else to talk to. Drinking buddies, fighting buddies, and eventually best friends, they have a relationship that is rocky but real.
It might seem strange to talk about real relationships on a show where most of the cast is no longer human, but it’s a valid point. One of the major benefits of genre fiction is the ability to explore human emotions at a supernaturally heightened level. Cop shows and hospital shows are popular for the same reasons. We learn who people truly are in crisis situations.
So, if you want to see strong, independent women on televisions (with the added bonus of shirtless male beauty) give The Vampire Diaries a try. I doubt you’ll regret it.