spoilers

On Emotional Martyrs

The other day I was dragged, against my better judgment, to see Me Before You. I had seen the previews, I knew the basic storyline, I knew how it ended. I should preface this: I don’t like emotional movies. I hated Dear John; Her was one of the dumbest things I’ve given my time to; I thought Seven Pounds was boring. I don’t like movies that have the sole intention of manipulating my emotions. And I hate, I hate, emotional martyrs.

So, enter Me Before You. Here’s the trailer, if you somehow haven’t seen it yet:

Girl cares for boy, boy falls in love with girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy says, “I’m not good for you.” I agreed to see the movie because Sam Clafin is incredibly attractive. And my friend didn’t want to go alone. But I knew it was going to piss me off.

I understand the idea of wanting to protect someone, of caring for them so much that you want to do what’s best for them. “I don’t want you to miss all the things that someone else could give you.” That’s what he says. And it’s sweet, right? He wants her to be happy, to live life to the fullest. And he doesn’t think she can do that with him.

But.

Who says he gets to decide what’s best for her? She is a fully rational adult who can make her own decisions and if she wants to be with him then gosh darn it why can’t he just appreciate that instead of making them both miserable??

After seeing the movie, I realize that this isn’t the case and he’s not just an emotional martyr, but it’s a common enough trope in fiction that I figured I could address it. Edward Cullen tries this in the second Twilight book, leading to one of the worst and most dizzying scenes in cinematic history.

In fact, it’s a common thing in paranormal romance, for obvious reasons. Though, as I’ve already talked about paranormal romance, we’ll move away from that to more damaging (and popular) examples.

Rogue, from the X-Men movies, is a great example of an emotional martyr. She accidentally sends her boyfriend into a coma, so she runs away from home without a word. Then, she continues to run for the next three movies, often moving the plot forward with her stupidity and inability to face conflict or work through her problems.

Love me. But don’t.

In The Proposal, Sandra Bullock grows a conscience because of love, ruins everything, wastes the family’s money, and runs the chance of sending them both to jail. Because of love.

Remus Lupin, in the Harry Potter series, tries multiple times to end his relationship with Tonks for her sake, even leaving her and their unborn child. All in the name of nobility and “it’s for the better.”

Even Aragorn, from The Lord of the Rings, strong, balanced, lovely human that he is, falls prey to this mindset. “You cannot give me this,” he says to Arwen as she hands him the Evenstar (in the films) and thus would give up her immortality in order to be with him. Cannot. She cannot give it to him. Come on, kid, really? Arwen, lovely badass that she is, however, comes back with the perfect response: “It is mine to give to whom I will. Like my heart.” So he’s saved from becoming too much of a dweeb.

And then there’s Tony Stark.

I didn’t hate this type of character nearly as much before I met a few. In fact, I thought it was sweet. I mean, they’re all doing it to protect the ones they love; they’re all characters with a strong sense of right and wrong and a deep and abiding care for people. They’re unselfish and very generous. They’re good people. But oh my gosh are they annoying.

It was only recently that I realized what bothered me so much about them. They’re always convinced that they’re right, that they know best. But here’s the thing: THEY DON’T. Because not only are they hurting themselves by leaving or hiding things or whatever self-sacrificing thing they’re doing, they’re hurting every single person who loves them, often more than would befall the loved ones had they stuck around or done the hard thing.

If you want to protect me, that’s fine. I enjoy being protected, even being coddled occasionally. But you are not stronger than me, nor are you more able to handle things. In fact, we’re going to be strongest together. So don’t lie to me in the name of love. Don’t leave me with an “it’s better this way,” and no other reasons. If you think some objective piece of information will hurt me, then tell me with a cup of tea and a hug. If you think one of your opinions of me will hurt me, then tell me and we’ll either work through it or this relationship isn’t worth having. Don’t keep everything to yourself and then play the martyr. It’s annoying.

Emotional martyrs aren’t sweet, they’re cowardly. They’re plagued with a harmful mixture of pride and insecurity, and the worst part is that they’re fully convinced they’re doing the right thing. Their moral compass points directly at “run” and thus all problems are avoided.

I am a firm believer that most problems in both films and real life can be solved–or at least made better–with communication. So communicate. Don’t keep all insecurities and doubts to yourself until they implode. Don’t assume you always know best. And don’t run because you don’t see any better options. There are usually better options.

And filmmakers, writers: Please stop writing emotional martyrs as the sweet ones, the ones we’re supposed to love. It’s starting to sicken me. And it’s perpetuating a “fix the broken” mindset that’s unhealthy for everyone involved.

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I Don’t Throw Many Books Across the Room

Since I named my blog Coffee and Literary Rage, I figured it was about time for me to actually add some literary rage.  Last night I was browsing the online library (for those of you who don’t know what that is, see if your library has an e-media option–it’s wonderful) and I came across a book called Taking Chances by Molly McAdams.  I read the back, and it seemed innocuous enough.  Sheltered girl goes to college, boys fall in love with her, she falls in love back; new experiences, love triangle, teenage drama.  It sounded like just the light read I was looking for before bed.  Boy, was I wrong.

**SPOILERS**

It started out pretty good.  It wasn’t the best written (the online version was missing a plethora of commas; I hope the actual book isn’t like that), but it was interesting and kept my attention.  Sheltered girl with daddy issues goes to college and falls in love with two different boys.  Simple enough.  It took a turn for the weird when she decided to sleep with the one she wasn’t dating, and got pregnant.  I mean, I can’t say I didn’t see it coming.  He says, “oh, I don’t have a condom,” she says, “I don’t care,” and since there was a good two-thirds of the book still to go, obviously she would get pregnant.

So she makes her peace with that, breaks up with the guy she’s dating (who she hasn’t slept with), tells her “adoptive parents” (who also happened to be the parents of the baby daddy) who of course are super supportive, and eventually gets in a relationship with the baby daddy.  It’s all going beautifully.  But then he (the baby daddy) goes to a party, supposedly sleeps with another girl, gets in a fight with the pregnant main character, gets in a car wreck, and freaking DIES.

After that, I skipped to the end and then returned the book.  I couldn’t finish it.  There were so many problems with it.  We can start with the main problem: killing off the baby daddy was a cheap shot by the author.  It, in my opinion, was a lazy way to make the love triangle work out.  “Oh, she can’t have both of them, just kill one.”  That is not okay, especially outside of a fantasy world where people are dying left and right.  It’s one thing when George R.R. Martin kills off a favorite character–you expect it from him.  Westeros is a dangerous place.  It’s another when everybody is relatively happy in the real world, so to create drama, you wrap your main character around a semi-truck.  I’m also just mad that she killed my favorite character–the only one who showed any serious character development.  I know I didn’t finish the book, so I can’t say that that’s the only character development in the book; I’m sure they all developed a lot after he died.  HOWEVER, it was the only character development up to that point, other than the initial (and somewhat predictable) sheltered girl to party girl transformation.

Okay, now back into the world of the book.  I have a problem with the realistic-ness of the characters.  First, and smallest, there is a very small chance that a girl who has never owned make-up is suddenly able to do her own well enough for every guy she sees to swoon over her.  Second, it’s highly unlikely that so many guys would get so protective of her in such a short time.  I can understand just wanting to sleep with her or date her or whatever, but for friends to physically fight each other over her the first week they know her?  Not likely.  Third, and skipping way ahead here, the fight between the pregnant main character and her boyfriend was totally unfounded.  It’s rather contrary to her character, in my opinion.  Now I know she’s whiny and hormonal, so I get that they would fight.  But hear me out.  Since her father was a general (or something along those lines), she was basically raised by a bunch of Marines who all viewed her as a little sister and taught her how to take care of herself.  At her first party, her Marine best friend texted her warning her not to set her drink down or accept an open one.  If I remember correctly, she responded something along the lines of “I know, you guys taught me well.”  SO, when her boyfriend comes home claiming that he doesn’t remember anything about the night with the other girl and that he would never cheat, especially after the girl he supposedly spent the night with was known by the main character to be sketchy, she should have believed him.  I have never been to a party, and I knew he was drugged.  I mean, I know it’s a little different, since I’m just reading the story, but the main character knew him.  They had been together for months.  He was her roommate’s brother.  She should have known better than to just dismiss him.  And then he goes and dies.  That was the main thing that made me stop reading.  I could understand her actions and decisions up to that point.  I didn’t agree with them, and I thought she was kind of dumb, but I understood.  But when she just broke up with him without even listening to him, especially after having more street smarts than your average sheltered-turned-party girl, I couldn’t do it.  I quit.  I no longer liked her and didn’t really care what happened to her.  I was curious about the ending, of course, so I read it and knew how it all turned out (I’m happy she made up with her father), but I didn’t really care how any of the characters got there.

Okay, after ranting all of that, I suppose I should say something good about the book.  It held my interest, up to the halfway point when everything broke down, and I liked the characters.  I especially liked the one who died.  But even the ones I didn’t like, I liked how they were written.  The emotions were there, so kudos, Molly, on that.  Sorry I couldn’t finish it.  Although after figuratively throwing the book across the room (the computer version of that–closing the tab violently and immediately returning it), I looked up some reviews.  Apparently a significant number of other people quit in the same place I did.  It generally either got one star or five.  There were very few in between.  Although, fun fact, it made it to number one on a list of ‘books that piss you off.’  Appropriate.

But don’t even get me started on the Divergent trilogy.

A Rule-Following Rebel With a Cause

I just watched Footloose for the first time (I know, I’m a thorn in the side of eighties movie lovers everywhere), and I approve.  Wholeheartedly.  Not just because it’s an eighties movie with good music, but because I think it has a good message.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really care if people think dancing is a sin or not.  That’s not the point.  The point is Kevin Bacon is a wonderful example of how to do rebellion right.

The plot, for those of you who don’t know, is that a preacher in a small town has outlawed dancing.  A new kid (Kevin Bacon) comes in and, thinking the strict rules are stupid, decides he wants to throw a dance for the seniors at the town’s high school.  Along the way he picks up the preacher’s daughter, too, obviously.  But he doesn’t just go, “Hey.  This law is stupid.  Let’s go dance.” all the while sticking it to the man.  No.  First, he tells the preacher’s daughter that this is his fight with the town, not one person, and she can’t turn it into a screw you to her father.  Second, he takes his idea for a dance before the town council, backs it up with reason and logic, and, when he’s shut down, he doesn’t throw a fit, doesn’t decide then to stick it to the man, he comes up with a plan B.  He then takes that plan B to the preacher, speaks to him respectfully, and asks him to change his mind.  He even asks the preacher if he can take the daughter to the prom before he asks her.  (Sure, there was no question she would go with him anyway, but it’s the thought that counts.)

Footloose is not a movie preaching kids are right, adults are wrong, or religious people are screwed up and prejudiced and the teenagers who know everything have every right to prove that they know everything.  (Okay, it’s teaching that a little–they can’t all be perfect.)  But it’s advocating going about that proof, that rebellion, with respect, and by more or less following the rules until you can get the rules changed.  I think teenagers everywhere–or people everywhere, really–should take a lesson from this.  Don’t just throw a fit to get what you want.  Don’t go behind the authority’s back.  Don’t stick it to the man with childish rebellion.  If you want something, go for it.  But follow the proper protocol to get it.  Everyone’s happier that way.

It also has a pretty good message about judging and how you should not do it, but that didn’t seem as important to me as the whole rule-following thing.  People have heard it before and don’t listen.  Anyway, you should watch this movie.  It’s on Netflix, so you don’t really have an excuse not to watch it.