My teenage life was very mediocre. Nothing worth noting. I had friends, went to school, occasionally had a few meltdowns. You know, the usual. It was incredibly boring (still is). I found myself looking to film and television to temporarily live vicariously through the characters and their stories. They had interesting lives. I’m talking shows like “The Vampire Diaries” and “Gossip Girl,” and films like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.” Every week I would look forward to watching the next episode or to the next time I had a few hours to binge-watch something online.
The characters were all young, smart, and good looking. Like, really good looking. And they had interesting lives for 16-year-olds. Who wouldn’t want to live vicariously through them? More than anything, every single character in these shows had these epic romances that I never had. But that was years ago. Over the summer, I decided to re-watch these shows and realized the toxicity of the relationships between characters. Romance in teen romance dramas pushes the idea of “love” onto teenagers, but bases it on insecurities, vulnerability, and the idea of control. This can lead to young, impressionable audiences developing unhealthy ideas of what romantic relationships should be.
Disclaimer: if you enjoy any of the shows or movies mentioned, please don’t be offended and enjoy them to your heart’s delight. Also, spoiler alert, I guess.
Growing up, all the hetero girls I knew loved one thing: a “bad boy” with a “good heart.” Teenage vampires who kill people and suck blood but have a moral dilemma about it are the ultimate bad boys. “The Vampire Diaries” and “Twilight” capitalized on this. The plots are usually the same. The female protagonists are soft-spoken, attractive (but they don’t know it) and innocent. These bad boys eventually get the sweet, innocent girl into some screwed-up situations to drive the story. The girl is almost always the one in danger and who is the only one who can save her? The vampire bad boy who just happens to be very strong and smart. The two fall in love, driven by the plot of constantly being in peril that pushes the classic misogynistic treatment of female characters aside for the moment.
Typically, when you’re constantly in fear of the impending status of your life you tend to let your guard down in front of the person or people that you’re with. The couples in “The Vampire Diaries,” “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” show people developing relationships through vulnerability as their foundation. The idea is completely unrealistic when it comes to building a life with someone. But with teenagers, having someone next to you in times of danger is nice. It’s comforting. But it’s not romance. It’s just the basic human desire to have someone to lean on in difficult times, regardless if it’s a significant other, friend, or a family member.
Now, let’s move on to shows like “Gossip Girl.” I have so many problems with this show it could very well be its own article. That’s why it gets its own special little section. But to sum it up: “Gossip Girl” contains the highest form of toxicity and it genuinely concerns me that teenagers love this show and that I loved the show.
The two main couples in the show are Chuck and Blair, and Dan and Serena. I see memes all the time calling Chuck and Blair “goals” but they are anything but. Blair is mean, manipulative, and power hungry. Chuck is abusive and an asshole. He literally attempts to sexually assault women twice on the show and yet you still see Blair fight for him and fall in love with him. They literally get married just so Blair doesn’t have to testify against Chuck in court. It’s messed up and it’s treated as an epic love so rare, the characters will never get another chance at it.
Teenagers, or just people in general, are very lucky if they don’t have someone like Chuck in their lives. But that doesn’t mean that Blair is off the hook. She is obsessed with the idea of control. Blair treats Chuck like a project—she wants to change him and make him a better person. The stigma of women controlling their male partners is a sad attempt in film to give women power in a heterosexual relationship. And it’s been quite overused.
The other big relationship focus in “Gossip Girl” (yes, I’m still on “Gossip Girl”) is Dan and Serena. This relationship seemed pretty tame throughout the series but interesting enough to have people rooting for them. It wasn’t until the last episode that viewers realized how dangerous the relationship was when it was revealed that “Gossip Girl” was Dan.
If you haven’t seen the show, the big unanswered question is who is “Gossip Girl”—the online persona who runs a tabloid-like blog focused on the elite of New York City and all of the main characters of the show. Essentially, “Gossip Girl” is the root of all the characters’ problems and exposes everyone’s secrets. “Gossip Girl” was responsible for blackmail, emotional manipulation, and near death experiences. And when it’s revealed that Dan was behind it all, it is treated as a love letter to Serena. This is not romance.
Teenagers shouldn’t be aspiring to have relationships like the ones they see on television and in film. Young adults are at a critical time in their lives. They are learning about how to be an adult and they are essentially forcing themselves to grow up. At such a young age, film and television can leave a lasting impression. So many people base their ideal relationships on characters from different forms of media because it’s been instilled in their brains that romance should look a certain way.
These shows can affect how we treat our significant others. We are being tricked into believing shows like “The Vampire Diaries” and “Gossip Girl” are the epitome of epic romance. The treatment of young adult relationships is being manipulated by the writers and directors of these shows because of their attempts to incorporate a love story into a compelling storyline but these characters are not romantic. They are abusive and manipulative and they’re not the type of romantic idols teens need.