Monday, September 26, 2011

The Problem of Chuck Bass

There's an issue that has been cropping up more and more recently when I discuss TV: the blurring distinction between liking a character or plotline as a fictional device and actually liking or approving of them as though they were real people or situations. When I say I like something on TV, I almost always mean it in the former section, and often get shocked and appalled reactions. "But he's an awful person!" No, he's an awful fictional character, and there's a difference.

This sort of discussion most often comes up in regard to Chuck Bass, and since Gossip Girl comes back tonight, I thought it was a good time to talk about it. (Most of the exact arguments about Chuck also happen about Damon Salvatore of The Vampire Diaries, so you can pretty much assume everything I'm saying goes for both of them, with some obvious differences, i.e. Damon's penchant for killing everyone.) Chuck is one of my favorite characters. He lies and cheats and tries to run the world and also makes grand gestures for his friends and can be the most vulnerable person imaginable. He's incredibly complex, and that's why he's my favorite: by "favorite" I usually mean "most interesting," and by "most interesting" I usually mean "most complex." There are girls who say they want to date Chuck or Damon, and that's disturbing, but it's completely possible to like them as characters without liking them as people.

Similarly, the issue of Chuck and Blair's relationship is a divisive one among Gossip Girl fans: some think it's an epic love story and want more of it, and others think it's abusive and should be shunned by all fans. But here, again, we're conflating finding something interesting as a plot with approving of it on an ethical level. It makes no sense to me to say that abusive relationships shouldn't be shown on TV. (And, um, if we make that rule, what about all the murder-based shows?) If Blair were my friend, I would do everything I could to keep her the heck away from him. You know, if they were real people. But they're not, and I think there's definitely a place on TV for compelling portrayals of both the attractions and dangers of abusive relationships.*

At heart, this probably just comes down to people watching TV in different ways and for different reasons. I was just discussing a different show with a friend, and she said she didn't like a certain thing that happened. I was shocked until she told me it was because she thought the main character had made a bad decision. Oh! Yes, I completely agreed that the character had done something wrong; I was just excited because I thought it would lead to interesting conflict on the show. Neither of us were right or wrong, and we weren't even necessarily disagreeing, just talking about different things. So when you discuss TV this season, make sure people know what you're saying when you say the word "like."

* There's some question as to whether the people who write the show see the relationship as abusive, and I agree that that could raise some additional issues, but I still don't think it would necessarily make this an awful story to put on TV.