One of my favorite authors when I was a teenager was L.J. Smith, of Vampire Diaries fame. Stefan, Damon, and Elena weren't famous back then. They were characters I snuggled up with and got lost in the fantasy with as Stefan struggled to resist his draw to the beautiful, popular, and lost Elena. While I always adored Damon, despite his faults and fairly obvious, although mild compared to literature today, sadistic tendencies, it was Stefan and Elena who were truly in love. And I was cheering for them all the way.
More than 10 years later my favorite characters from my teen years popped back up. The popularity of Twilight brought the long-lost Smith—who disappeared for more than a decade from the writing scene to tend to ailing family—and her books back into mainstream popularity.
I definitely fan-girled when I found out they were making this series, which I'd read probably 100 times, into a TV show. But then I watched the first six episodes or so ... And then I never watched another episode again in its entirety. I'm totally getting off topic here, so let me just go on to say that it was so vastly different form the books that I couldn't watch it without ranting. So to save myself from allowing a TV show to ruin the series for me, I changed the channel. For good.
Now I know it's hugely popular. I see the commercials, I catch glimpses of the fan-girling (and fanboy-ing), and I've heard. Damon and Elena were, or are, dating. I don't know details. I'm sure someone else could enlighten me. But bleh. This bothers me. I know for a fact from the episodes I did watch that he killed people. And it's not just the television series. Fast-forward 10 or 15 so years and even Smith, who ended up penning several more books in the series, has Elena cozying up to bad-boy Damon. This is all after Elena comes back from the dead because her love for Stefan is so great!
I believe this is all part of a cultural shift in expression, one that is giving people, women especially, the appearance of a societal freedom to indulge in the "appeal" of the three Ds: dark, dangerous, and dominate. I personally have not read Fifty Shades of Grey. I don't want to merely because erotica isn't my thing. I realize it's hugely controversial, but I think it's just a book that appeals to kinkier, darker fantasies. I'm fairly neutral on it except to take a stance that it's fiction. However, I do believe it is also a part of this trend, but it's also in the erotica genre and so I wouldn't expect the "good guy" to win. I don't think any person with a modicum of common sense that reads Fifty Shades thinks that it accurately portrays what women want or deserve. I trust that readers are intelligent enough to understand the difference between dark, sexual fantasies and healthy reality. YA, however, is another story.
This brings me to my lovely marketing manager Erin Latimer, who also happens to be a YA Wattpad author. She recently wrote a blog, called Crossing the Line: Bad Boy or Abusive? Her beef is that the love interest in YA books are being depicted increasingly in a bad boy light, exhibit horrible behavior, and yet are still bringing in the girls and intriguing readers. It's an interesting observation.
While I don't really think the bad boy character is any more prevalent in books, I agree that he seems to be winning the day more, winning the girl. Sometimes the bad boy isn't really "bad," he's just misunderstood and so redemption is possible. But there are lines, and these lines are definitely blurring.
Again, I'm going to use Smith's books as an example, mainly because she wrote them in the nineties and the majority of her series had at least one bad-boy love interest. In her Forbidden Game series, Julian is a dark shadow man who torments Jenny by stalking her, making her participate in sadistic "games," and steals her friends away, all to entice her into his world so he can keep her forever, away from her friends and her family, because he's in love with her. I'll admit, there was that tiny part of me that felt for Julian, that was drawn into the bad boy element. But I always wanted Jenny to win more, to defeat him, because I couldn't get on-board with a heroine who would choose the abuser over the long-time boyfriend she truly loved. Julian wasn't all evil, he had depth, he protected her in various ways. But in the scheme of things, I probably would have tossed the book away if she'd chosen him in the end.
The old fan girl that I am, I read Smith's blog occasionally and a few years ago she posted she was writing a sequel to the Forbidden Game series. I wonder if Jenny will choose Julian this time around. I honestly don't think "bad boys" winning in books is necessarily going to sway teen girls into thinking that's the way they should be treated. If Julian had won all those years ago when I first read the series, I probably would have questioned the main character's judgement. But then again, two 12-year-old girls stabbed their friend multiple times last year so as to please the mythical Slender Man. So who am I to comment on the impressionable nature of youth? It's horrifying.
I do know this ... If Julian did win, I'd be sad. I'll always be cheering for the good guy to win because in the end, don't we want our heroines to experience healthy, loving relationships?
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K.M. Randall writes fantasy and paranormal for both a general and young adult audience. Her debut novel, an epic fantasy called Fractured Dream, launched in June 2014, and her second book, The Reaper's Daughter, launched May 2015. Randall also published Fairytale Lost, a prequel to Fractured Dream, as an exclusive on Wattpad. She blogs about dreams, female heroines, and activism and its relevancy to the literary and fictional world. And when in the season, sometimes she just likes to talk about Halloween. She is currently hard at work on the second book in the Dreamer Saga series, Shattered World.