Fidelity Is a Virtue, If It’s OTP

I’m plodding my way through the second season of Alias, after having watched the third and forth seasons initially, and something occurred to me:

Michael Vaughn is pathologically incapable of being faithful – emotionally and/or physically. Unless, of course, he’s with Syd; then he epitomises the word. But when he’s not, then he wants to be with her – or he just gives up all pretence at fidelity and cheats on whoever he’s with to be with our heroine.

Conclusion? Fidelity is a virtue, if it’s OTP (the show’s ‘One True Pairing’). When it’s not, it’s just a hindrance to the OTP.

When we first meet him, he’s in what we assume to be a long-term relationship. Despite this, he and Sydney exchange longing looks and an inappropriate emotional intimacy – both for the fact he’s in a relationship and he’s her handler, who needs to have a clear vision regarding her – possibly as a way of justifying their (mainly his) behaviour. Yes, he may be cheating emotionally, but not physically, and that’s what counts, right?

Rubbish. Brigitte Bardot once said something like “˜it is better to be unfaithful than to be faithful and wish you weren’t’; in other words, if you want to cheat, then cheat, but don’t long to be with someone and restrain yourself just so you can sit on your moral high horse and say you didn’t cheat. Emotional infidelity is as least as bad as physical infidelity, and somewhat worse, because it allows people to convince themselves that nothing’s happening and therefore, nothing’s wrong.

Eventually – after the girlfriend is off the scene – Vaughn and Syd jump into bed. The message? It’s OK to string along your current girlfriend in whom you’ve lost interest, until you find some other excuse to dump her and be with the woman you REALLY want.

Cut to season three. Sydney has disappeared for two years, and in the interim Michael has married. Syd is back on the scene for a month or two before the longing begins again. This time, Michael cheats with abandon. The writers tried to soften this little indiscretion by having Lauren cheat first – with Sark, no less. But Vaughn doesn’t know this at the time. He cheats on Lauren thinking she’s been faithful, then tries to “˜backdate’ his conscience and justify his own fidelities with the fact she was cheating at the time, too – he just didn’t know it at the time to justify it then.

The message? It’s OK to cheat on wifey with OTP because, well, wifey did something to deserve your infidelities. You may not know what it is, but she did it.

I shudder to think how many men must pick up on storylines like this and use the same logic to justify their own infidelities.


  1. Michael says

    I suspect it would probably help if we could just get past our archaic values about fidelity and just be honest with each other about what we want out of relationships. Assuming that fidelity is automatic hurts more relationships because we’re conditioned to think that fidelity is not optional. In fact it can work if we make honest, conscious choices about our relationships and sexuality that doesn’t have to involve monogamy.

  2. scarlett says

    I agree absolutely, we have very archaic values about fidelity. But what annoyed me about this storyline was that Vaughn’s values chopped and changed; basically, he was the epitome of the word when he was with Syd, but varied between longing looks and thrashing around in bed when he was with another woman but WANTED to be with Syd. If TPTB had ever addressed that maybe Vaughn didn’t value physical fidelity high on his list on priorities, I would have bought it. It was that it was only high on his list of priorities when he was with Syd that I didn’t.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Just adding my “amen”. It’s the deception and betrayal aspect of cheating that really hurts. I posted a while back about the “new monogamy”, some press soundbyte term for a trend in which couples are marrying, but they’re allowed to sleep around under certain rules they’ve established. Maybe this will gradually wake people up to realize monogamy is not the only option, so they’d better make sure they have a partner with compatible goals to theirs – whatever their goals may be.

    And not everyone defines “cheating” the same way. Some people really don’t mind their mate sleeping around, but if their mate developed feelings for someone else, they’d be crushed. Other people feel the opposite. There’s a real spectrum out there. The mainstream answers aren’t for everyone.

  4. Jose says

    You’re going to get the impression that I don’t like your blog posts (I do btw) because I’m going to take issue with just about everything you’ve just said. With that out of the way I’m not certain how influential a TV show is when it comes to promoting infidelity in its viewers myself. If they were then you save your harshest criticism for daytime soap operas.

    And why single out men? We don’t have a monolopoly (or even a majority share) when it comes to infidelity. Our biggest failing is not being able to keep it a secret.

    I’m afraid I’m going to disagree on the physical vs emotional infidelity thing as well. If you’re in a relationship long enough you’ll eventually hit a bad patch and there will come a time when you’re seriously tempted by someone exciting and new. That’s only natural and it doesn’t make you a bad person. A girlfriend once told me that commitment starts the moment you want to leave (mind you she said that to me after I dumped her). There’s something to be said for having the character to avoid that temptation.

  5. scarlett says

    Disagree away, just do it respectfully :p

    I certainly think that if you see X phenomenon a lot in the media, people think that’s actually how people think in real life. The acceptability of men dating/marrying much younger women is an example of this – in TV and film they seem delightfully happy so why shouldn’t men be entitled to a much younger woman? Same with average joes married to stunners – if THEY can have such beautiful wives, why should WE settle for Plain Janes?

    It concerns me that people (namely men) might see a scenario in which the only justification a man needs to cheat is that the woman he’s cheating WITH is the True Love, and whoever he’s cheating ON, well, something’s wrong with her that drove him to cheat so it doesn’t count – that fidelity only matters when it concerns your True Love.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    With that out of the way I’m not certain how influential a TV show is when it comes to promoting infidelity in its viewers myself.

    It’s impossible to prove, either way. However, for me it’s less about whether TV really does influence behavior, or whether that’s the goal of the people making it, and their motivation for (I believe) skewing marketing research to show that only male viewers count, and that male viewers want to see the sort of stuff we post about here.

    In the TV courses I took in college, we were taught that one of the reasons the government regulates broadcast TV and radio (but not print and other media) is that the they believed TV shows set “standards” and “norms” for viewiers. This was strongly believed in the 50’s, when women weren’t happily leaving the job market to their husbands who’d returned from WWII. The FCC manipulated networks into promoting the Donna Reed style family to get things back to what the government felt should be normal.

    Things did get back to that particular “normal”, and the norm didn’t change until the 80’s or later, as women re-entered the workforce en masse. Did it work? Who can say? Did the government think it worked? They continue to influence TV censorship and content, such as that you couldn’t show a man getting kicked in the crotch but you could show a woman being raped. My guess is they think it works.

    And why single out men? We don’t have a monolopoly (or even a majority share) when it comes to infidelity.

    You might like my article tomorrow, then. :) Not to nitpick, but last I heard male marital cheaters are about 55% and female 45%. Has that changed?

  7. Jose says

    Re: Percentage of cheaters.

    I’ve heard a variety of different figures re Infidelity. Some have men cheating more than women and others show the reverse (mind you this is probably from a variety of different countries as I’ve lived in the USA/Canada and the UK). Either way I have never seen more than a 10% difference either way.

    And my own subjective experience is that no one gender really cheats more than the other.

    With respect to television influencing our behaviour and attitudes I suspect the impact is very minimal if it exsists at all. And when it comes to sexual behavour it would matter even less. Television is self selecting anways, if you don’t enjoy/agree with the attitudes displayed on a certain show you’d probably be more inclined to change the channel than to change your personality.

    On an tangental note I got into a fight about a year back for the first time in my adult life. Despite having seen tens of thousands of acts of simulated violence in my life and two decades of video game violence I felt naseous afterwards. I may be desentized to cathode ray violence but that hasn’t translated to the flesh and blood variety one bit. I suspect my sexuality remains similarly unaffected.

  8. SunlessNick says

    It never ceases to amaze me how Alias can get everything else so right, but fall down so badly when it comes to Vaughn.

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    I suspect the cheating thing is equal enough to call it even, in any case.

    On an tangental note I got into a fight about a year back for the first time in my adult life. Despite having seen tens of thousands of acts of simulated violence in my life and two decades of video game violence I felt naseous afterwards. I may be desentized to cathode ray violence but that hasn’t translated to the flesh and blood variety one bit. I suspect my sexuality remains similarly unaffected.

    I responded to you in more detail the thread where you brought this up earlier. But I’ll add a bit here so as not to just repeat myself. I don’t think the fact that you and I and many others are impervious to programming rules out the possibility it’s effective on others. Anyone who comes to this site is likely to be an independent thinker, dissatisfied with the status quo.

    What about people who want desperately to be part of the status quo? Where do they get their cues on how to act? I’ve lived in regions where people made sure to watch the same shows as their friends, so they’d know how to act like they “fit in” with the “in crowd”. These regions (Southeast and other rural parts of the US) make up a huge percentage of Neilssen-box wielding viewship.

    I’ve had potential dates/boyfriends lose me by insisting I was lying about my non-girly tendencies, because all the women on TV share those tendencies, so why was I trying to “pretend” otherwise?

    You have to want to be impressionable to be impressionable – but there are people out there who really want to be impressionable.

  10. Mecha says

    The issue is that there are some things which do not get socialized well in other ways, and how such things are presented. For instance, in many cases real violence is not glorified (although sometimes it is) and teachers, parents, TV, and more all sorta hint, ‘hey, violence is real, but it’s bad.’ As does the fact that it obviously physically hurts to be subject to violence: anyone can make that connection. Which is why one does not expect kids to play videogames and then go shoot up a house if the kids are sane, and the people we’re talking about are sane.

    On the other hand. Social mores to sexuality are almost universally aligned along the hetero-normative christian mindset in the US. Fidelity, straight, etc. And looks. Dear god, looks. Most of the women characters you see in entertainment are pretty. Most of the men you see are casually sexist to some degree, whether it’s the ‘protect the women’ sexism or the ‘crude joke’ sexism or any number of other well ingrained societal things that just ‘are’ between men and women. And it crosses to news. News about the pretty women who play pretty characters getting lots of attention reinforces the shows.

    The message of Dance: Ten, Looks: Three is _internalized_ in our society: good looking people (women) win, talent is never enough. (Money > talent too, but that’s usually the ‘male’ side of things.) And what is good looking? As thin as (im)possible, but with large breasts. What are people supposed to think? The socialization that looks _don’t_ matter (for women in the main) that you may get with pithy statements like ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ and a few family shows is vastly outweighed by the entirety of publicized society, which has 99% hot women, and 1% ‘Hillary Clinton’s a dyke and Madeline Albright is a man.’

    The entire socializtion snowballs into making people think sleeping with their bosses does work. It makes some girls believe that Girls Gone Wild is a real fifteen minutes of fame. It’s the kind of thing that underlies the supposed hopelessness of Hollywood and LA. Because what else are you supposed to think? Where else are you supposed to get this information about the world? Girls and boys in middle school and high school come up with it based upon what they get to see, and in the majority… this is what they see. This is their movies, their TV shows, their reality, and it turns into what they do.

    It’s not about being forced to watch things you don’t like. It’s about being influenced and messaged by things you don’t realize are influencing you, whether young or old. And you can’t see it coming, because unlike a punch, it never bruises the skin. The prevelance of ‘gay’ as a modern day insult. The treatment of women as inherently unstable due to periods. The idea that all men have to like beer and stare at breasts. The mental disconnect that ‘oral sex doesn’t count’ or ‘I swore to be abstinent, but I can take it up the butt and it’s okay’ (Silver Ring Thing, anyone?) The idea that men cannot sexually control themselves, and that any woman who dresses provacatively ‘Wants sex. With you.’ We aren’t _born_ with any of these mental perceptions. We reflect it from society, from the adults that bring us up, and the environment they bring us up in. And that is why looking at media analysis is important, and television influence matters.


  11. scarlett says

    I know, I never understood how they could write such flawed, ambigous characters like Syd’s dad (forgot his name!) and Sloane, who could do terrible things with a warped logic that you could understand, and then drop the ball so royally with Vaughn.

    We’re getting a bit off-topic so I want to remind people what annoyed me about the storyline in the first place – that he emotionally cheated with Syd on Alice, and physically cheated with Syd on Lauren, but when he was WITH Syd, he was the epitome of fidelity, both emotionally and physically. And it was particularly galling that they greated some kind of backdated justification for Vaugn’s cheating on Lauren by having Lauren cheating on him first. It came across to me as an attempt to distract us from Vaughn’s infidelity.

    As Beta said, there are plenty of people out there who take what they see on TV as the gospel truth and the kinds of people who frequent this site are those who were questioning the status quo to begin with. I think having a moral like ‘it’s OK to cheat, so long as its WITH OTP’ is starting down a slippery slope for people to say ‘I can cheat if I the person I’m cheating ON isn’t OTP and the person I’m cheating WITH IS’.

  12. Jose says

    I’d argue that most of the attitudes you describe are less prevalent now than they were when I was growing up. But regardless I don’t like the idea of evaluating media because of a potential negative influence it might have on the thinking of others. I think its fair to say “I don’t like it because of X” but that as soon as you say “I don’t like it because it might give Y people the wrong ideas”

    BTW, At the risk of sounding like a rube but what is wrong with men going out with younger women?

  13. scarlett says

    Can’t speak for Mecha or Beta, but the issue I take with it is 1)an ingrained sense of ‘I’m entitled to something young and pretty’ and 2)that when you get a older woman and younger man, it’s a big deal, and often meets with a lot of disapproval. A man can easily be ten, twenty or thirty years older and not have it of any concern but if a woman is five or ten years older it’s a big deal.

  14. Jose says

    Over here in Europe I don’t think the idea of going with an older woman is that big a deal. But usually when you see a substantial age difference between a man and a woman it’s usually a short term fling as opposed to a long term relationship. I’m 37 and my last few girlfriends were 21 but they were all just looking to have a short fling with an older guy (I don’t go trawling for young ladies but I won’t say no either). Likewise for young guys going with older women, it’s usualy a young guy wanting a one off with a lady in her dirty thirties. There’s nothing really wrong with that.

    There are men who feel entitled to a young woman and its a sad thing but they usually don’t get what they want and wind up frustrated and lonely which is just desserts enough.

    If I see a long term relationship with an age difference of 20 years or so and I think “money”. Although I do do know of one relationship between an older man and a much younger woman where that is not the case (but he’s a real charmer and an absolute god in the kitchen)

  15. Mecha says

    But regardless I don’t like the idea of evaluating media because of a potential negative influence it might have on the thinking of others. I think its fair to say “I don’t like it because of X” but that as soon as you say “I don’t like it because it might give Y people the wrong ideas”

    Did you get cut off here? I think part of your disagreement is that you don’t believe that you can disagree with a text if you believe it might have a bad influence on someone, and that is just… well, ludicrous. Sorry, but it is. And it’s even more ludicrous when it’s not just the text you’re disagreeing with, but the _entire societal reinforcement of the message_. But more on that later.

    That said. I’m not going to argue ‘less prevalent’ because it’s not particularly relevant to whether TV helps establish what ‘society’ is and what ‘interactions’ between people are. (Which doesn’t mean I’m not going to argue a point. 😉 But I think you cannot in any sort of reasonable manner argue that the majority of people do not let society influence them. Or even a substantial minority. You would have a hard time (but maybe a possible time) arguing ANYONE is not influenced by the society they live in. (If not, why do cultures have their own quirks and habits and such? They sure as heck weren’t born with them.)

    TV and movies are a VERY LARGE part of our society. They help shape our norms. They help reinforce messages about good, evil, men, women, etc. They always have. Just like books. Just like stories told around campfires. And the norms they shape are sometimes good, and sometimes bad.

    Think about the Hays code. ‘White women are not to be shown in relations with black men.’ ‘Alcohol and sex are not to be glorified.’ Those are _societal norms_ that the movie industry was reinforcing. And society isn’t just TV. It’s parents, teachers, other people, important people. I’m willing to bet none of them were going against those norms either. One-two punch! Knockout.

    Look back to my example about body image. The message that more women can be beautiful than Twiggy and Britney Spears is found… where? In some childrens’ programming, once every few years, in books people sneer at, in things you are told as children. Versus… most fashion magazines, celebrity news, TV shows, movies, who the guys hit on… the list goes on and on. Think about that.

    As to your idea that you can’t evaluate media if you disagree with the message they produce and think others might agree with that message (hint: people already do! The writers!) Evaluating media is important because truly free speech requires free discourse. If people do not _realize_ what is happening, they cannot discuss it, deal with it, decide whether it is right or wrong. That is the concept behind hate speech being a problem. That is how cults succeed. Lock people away, tell them to hate, tell them the comet’s coming, and _don’t let anyone argue against it_.

    Does that mean that we’re all brainless zombies, influenced only by TV or Video Games or whatever? No. That’s stupid. Just like people don’t suddenly take up violence after watching a Rambo movie or twenty, because society provides a counterpart message to that. Murder is bad. Assault is bad. But when there are gaps in your knowledge, in your experience, what fills them? Stories about other peoples’ experience. And what are most TV shows but that? Sometimes in crazy situations, but still, most of the time you connect. Without critical analysis, you would often have little to counteract any media message.

    If a show is popular and well liked, if it has a negative message then you are letting that message be reinforced if you don’t point it out. And messages that are reinforced _without_ some sort of counter-commentary, some sort of other show which reinforces the opposide message so, at worst, you can decide which you like, what’s supposed to counteract them? Society’s too busy reinforcing it to bother. So you are left with single people. Groups of such people. Parents are SUPPOSED to do that for children. They are supposed to be the counter-message for their children.

    The problem that censors, and anti-game video lawyers, and others get into, and this is where I may not have been clear last time, is that they don’t put things in a greater societal context. One video game about shooting cops is not going to make anyone go out and shoot cops that doesn’t shoot them already. One voice is not a societal message. But the topics at hand… they are not one show. They are many shows, and they are everywhere. And unlike children, adults don’t have parents lecturing them. They have to withstand the assault of sexism and racism and whatever else our society has to offer alone, with nothing but the people around them. If the rest of the people around them just accept the message blindly… do they fight? Or do they go along to fit in?

    To sum: Societal perceptions/norms affect us all. Media is part of society. Therefore, media affects us all. Analysis of society and self is the only way to counteract it, and to change the messages.

    (Also, Beta? The preview function is scary now, because I realize just how much I _TYPE_. Aiyah. 😉


  16. scarlett says

    Ah, that explains a lot of things…
    I’ve heard Europeans are a lot more liberated about sex, with less double-standards. I’m certainly open to the idea that you can get a big age gap and have a genuine connection – I’ve known plenty of people (male and female) who are quite old souls and prefer to hang out with older people, and plenty of people who are very young at heart and are more comfortable with younger people. What I have a problem with is that you see so much in older male/younger female dynamics, and next to nothing in older female/young male dynamics.

  17. Jose says

    Yes its pretty much a European thing. The Europeans are more liberal but ironicaly less promiscuous (although not much more) than Canadians or Americans. Sometimes I find I don’t get laid (sorry to be crass) as readily as I did back home but I don’t miss the Canadian single scene one bit.

  18. Jennifer Kesler says

    But regardless I don’t like the idea of evaluating media because of a potential negative influence it might have on the thinking of others.

    But that’s my point: TV and filmmakers already censor themselves because of potential negative influences on the thinking of others. Such as the specific instruction I was given as a screenwriter: “As long as you put a white man in the lead, you can write the women strong. Just don’t make it all about them.” Why not? Because it might get people thinking the world need not center around White Straight Men? Why did censors decree in the late 80’s that you could show a woman getting raped, but you couldn’t show a man getting kicked in the crotch by a woman he was attempting to rape? Because women might get the generally effective idea of kneeing men in the balls to protect themselves?

    As I said to you in another comment (which I think you may have missed), I don’t know how much TV influences people: I just know how much TV makers THINK they influence people, and that’s a big part of what this site is about.

  19. Jennifer Kesler says

    Also, Beta? The preview function is scary now, because I realize just how much I _TYPE_. Aiyah.


  20. SunlessNick says

    I’d have been fine with it – from a story perspective I mean, not being fine with the behaviour – if it had been portrayed as a flaw on Vaughn’s part. But as you say, it wasn’t – anything Vaughn did with respect to Syd was assumed to be ok.

  21. FoolForNothing says

    It concerns me that people (namely men) might see a scenario in which the only justification a man needs to cheat is that the woman he’s cheating WITH is the True Love, and whoever he’s cheating ON, well, something’s wrong with her that drove him to cheat so it doesn’t count – that fidelity only matters when it concerns your True Love.

    First time visitor to this site — thought I would chime in with my $.02 after reading the above comment. I am going to make an admission that will either give strength to my point, or will completely obliterate it in some eyes, but for the last 3.5 years I was in a relationship with a married woman. The relationship started off as one would expect — we were probably both interested in the thrill of inherent danger. Frankly, I don’t really know. Regardless, we fell in love. In my life I have dated some wonderful women, but none knew me so well as her. None were so open and honest (odd, considering the circumstances). The connection that we shared was so strong that it was apparent to anyone who spent even 5 minutes with us together. She was my “True Love”, and I was hers. The reason that I am making this post, in fact, is because your comment above is right on — she always rationalized that it was this fact, that we were “meant to be together”, that made it “ok” for us to be acting as we were. Of course, I finally grew weary of waiting for my “One True Love” to divorce her husband and all of the reasons and rationales for why she did not. Now, I just consider myself a very foolish person who committed one of the biggest slights to decency that is humanly possible. I’m sure Karma will have her way with me, and to some extent, I welcome it.

    Anyways, I wanted to provide an example where it was a woman, not a man, who acted out the scenario that you presented above.

  22. Jennifer Kesler says

    Thank you for this very honest comment. I’ve certainly known both women and men who used that rationalization.

    I realize Scarlett focused on Vaughn, and I can see why you want to point out a case of a real woman using the same rationalization. I would just like to add in support of your point that Sydney ALSO cheated and is equally guilty of using the “It’s okay as long as he’s my true love” rationalization.

  23. scarlett says

    You both have good comments, but I’ve always thought the person who was cheating on their partner was slightly more to blame then the third party. SYdney was still guilty, but Vaughn more so.

    And I agree that there are plenty of women who cheat as well, and use the rationale that ‘they’re my OTP, so it’s OK to cheat’. Carter kinda fits into this, but Vaughn gives much more concrete examples.

  24. Jennifer Kesler says

    We also have jaw-dropping rates of unplanned pregnancies, abortions and child molestation in the US, compared to Europe and Japan. But that’s to be expected: when you hold people up to an impossible ideal, they tend to rebel. Impossible ideals – such as the abstinence fantasy perpetrated by the so-called Moral Majority – ultimately equate to no guidance at all, because people know you can’t be serious… but they don’t know what to do in lieu of following your advice.

    I don’t think Europeans give their kids/citizens such unrealistic guidance about sexuality. I’m guessing they also defuse a lot of the taboo that makes it so compelling, too.

    So you might not have as much sex in Europe, but you’ll more likely be having it with people who know what sex is for.

  25. Glaivester says

    I think that The Dead Zone is a good example of this not occurring. In The Dead Zone, you have Johnny Smith, who was in a coma for six years, finding out that his fiancee married another man in the meantime (they have a son who is biologically Johnny’s). They wind up having a tryst (I don’t think it happened more than once), but it wasn’t set up as a “good thing,” it was more shown as an inevitable mistake due to a weak moment.

    This winds up splitting up Sarah and her husband Walt for a while, but they reconcile in the end, and now Sarah is having Walt’s baby. Johnny, I think, never had designs on Sarah after finding out she was married. There were also several instances in which Johnny saved Walt’s life, knowing (because he can see glimpses of the future) that Sarah would marry him if Walt died.

    In the end, it seems that this series is saying that commitments, marriages, family, matters, and “one true love” can’t be used to excuse throwing it all away.

  26. scarlett says

    Oh, there are some examples about how having an affair is often messy and causes nothing but trouble, but I’m concerned about the amount of movies and particularly TV show which show infidelity is something forbidden and glamorous, where no-one gets hurt – either the person’s spouse is a rotten human being and deserved it, or they accept that it’s OTP and who are they to get in the way.

    I’d love to see a storyline where to people have an affair then get together, only for the person who wasn’t having an affair (in this case, Sydney) to realise they just can’t trust the person who was (Vaughn) – human beings have this strange tendancy of doing TO people the same things they once did WITH them :p

  27. Glaivester says

    Oh, there are some examples about how having an affair is often messy and causes nothing but trouble, but I’m concerned about the amount of movies and particularly TV show which show infidelity is something forbidden and glamorous, where no-one gets hurt

    I know – I just wanted to point out a good show. Usually when one of the posters on this blog points out something that most TV shows do wrong and I point out one that does it right, I am not trying to contradict them as much as I am trying to compliment and publicize the shows that go against the flow. That is, I figure you might like to know of show you could watch that doesn’t do that. If enough people publicize the shows that do things right, maybe there will be more of them.

  28. scarlett says

    That’s why sometimes I seek inspiration from FIrefly, BsG, Boston Legal, etc – at least SOME shows have some decently foleshed out characters…

  29. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s a good point. Lately, I’ve been writing about some female characters that work for me (the articles will be posting over the next few weeks) because I feel we DO need to highlight examples of things being done right. I mean, knowing what NOT to write doesn’t tell you what TO write.

  30. says

    But regardless I don’t like the idea of evaluating media because of a potential negative influence it might have on the thinking of others.

    Why the hell not?

    It’s not like anyone is saying that people shouldn’t be legally allowed to make trash.

    Maybe my view is just skewed because I spend my days suggesting books to children and their parents, and because I’m such a firm believer in the value of stories, but I think that content matters and that it matters because it influences people. “The pen is mightier than the sword” goes both ways. Good art makes a difference and propaganda works.

    When talking about literacy, educators use the phrases “learning to read” and “reading to learn” to describe different ways in which literature is used in the classrooms. Stories and information do not cease to be something we learn from simply because we are no longer children or because they are given to us through pictures and sounds instead of text.

    I’ve learned a lot from media.

    Some of it was false. I spent years reading romance novels thinking that everyone must be wrong about how much women want sex compared to men, but that they must be right about how the men and women react to pictures versus stories. My college friends and I laughed at the Playgirl someone had bought and wondered how it could ever be considered sexy.

    Some if was true. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I’ve managed to find porn/erotica/what-have-you that does not follow the “consent is synonymous with submission” mantra that mainstream media rarely veers from, and I find it incredibly sexy. The idea that women are biologically not as turned on by images as men is now something I seriously question.

    To me, saying that one shouldn’t evaulate media based on how it may influence people is like saying one shouldn’t care if people lie. The fact that not everyone will be influenced the same way or that some lies are kind does not mean that we should never discuss how media influences us or not teach children to value honesty.

  31. says

    I think that’s the part where “influencing people” comes in.

    It’s not like bad behavior should never be shown, or even that ambiguous behavior shouldn’t be shown, but when bad behaviour is presented as good – that’s not only annoying, it does the opposite of what good art is supposed to do.

    Not that everything has to be good art…

  32. Jennifer Kesler says

    Very nicely said. Every time the media makes a choice about what it will and won’t present, they’re self-censoring. In evaluating their CHOICES, we are not suggesting censorship, we’re just looking at the self-censorship that’s already in place, and asking why (for example) it’s okay to show adultery as a celebrated piece of the story, but not okay to show domestic abuse as something to applaud.

  33. scarlett says

    Well the thing that really been getting my goat lately is this tendancy to justify fidelity if it’s the show’s OTP. I was watching this twdry Bitish soap a while ago and what struck me is how infidelity in the show’s main relationship was portrayed as dishonest and hurtful, and how so many shows gloss over that part of it for the sake of tension and water-cooler conversations – Grey’s is at the top of my blacklist right now because of it :(

    But what PARTICULARLY annoyed me about Alias is the way they chopped and changed Vaughn’s attitude towards fidelity, thereby emphasising that it was justified so long as he was cheating WITH Sydney. He never cheats ON her, but at the same time, never has a relationship with someone else where he doesn’t cheat WITH her. It was remarkably inconsistant as well as glossing over another human truth – wouldn’t someone as otherwise pratical, cluey and grounded as Syney quickly work out that Vaughn was a self-entitled jerk who wasn’t worth her time?

  34. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, and that also flies in the face of a basic truism: once a cheater, always a cheater. If he’ll cheat with you, he’ll cheat on you (or reverse the gender, as preferred).

    It’s hard to buy these characters who cheat with a lead, but never on her, because it just almost never happens in real life.

  35. scarlett says

    Well, I have met people who delude themselves that the person who cheats WITH them won’t cheat ON them, but they generally have pretty poor judgement when it comes to relationships. That’s something that bothered me with Sydney – she otherwise had quite solid judgement, with her parents, her friends, Sloane, but never stopped to think that maybe she didn’t want to be with someone who would cheat WITH her because maybe that would come around to bite her on the ass one day.

  36. DragonLadyK says

    I think the missing aspect of this conversation is the viewpoint of sex itself. The viewpoint of sex in the media is an amalgamate of fundamentalist Christendom (sex is a dangerous thing to be contained within fidelous relationships) and Darwinianism (sex is just a fun biological activity). On the one hand the media portrays sex as glamorous fun, and on the one hand there’s that slut/stud double-standard. When it comes to fidelity, those two viewpoints of sex collide: monogamy is good, but sex is meaningless. Therefore half the time the sex belongs in a fidelous relationship (the OTP) and half the time it is nothing but a physical connection that holds no weight/obligation of its own (therefore the non-OTP cheating isn’t bad).

    People in real-life tend to view sex in one of those two viewpoints. Either sex needs to be contained in monogamy and therefore it’s bad to express any temptation one might have to engage in carnal actions with another, or else “it was just sex” and was no threat to the emotional relationship (the old, “I love my wife” rag). Some couples balance these two elements by coming up with rules governing extra-relationship sex, some just forgive and use one indescretion to justify another later on, and some hold the wrongness of infidelity over themselves like Damocles’s sword to keep themselves from cheating.

    Personally, I don’t think either attitude is healthy or conducive to maintaining monogamy.

    That being said, there is a third viewpoint of sex that I have yet to see on television outside of Babylon 5’s Minbari: that sex is a sacred intimacy. I know two couples made up of individuals who have this view of sex, that it is a pleasure given by the Divine to share only with one’s chosen and bonded mate, and believe me: these couples do not have a problem with fidelity. They love their mates, and sex is an expression of that love that they don’t WANT to share with another. That viewpoint is my own as well, and I still have my “v-card” at 23 because of it. If sex in our culture was considered a beautiful gift that is part physical and part psychological (which oxytocin and vasopressin/prolactin assure that it is), then Vaughn-esque situations would be rare instead of the cold statistic that 80% of couples will be affected by infidelity on one or both parts.

    IMO, of course.

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