Shows We’ve Watched: The Vampire Diaries (Part 1?)

26 Mar

Academia is a ruiner. I’m not saying that academia is bad, and I’m not saying that I don’t love it. I’m just saying that last fall when I wrote my thesis (“Born or Bitten: Child Vampires in Middle Grade Fiction”) eventually I saw sex in EVERYTHING. Two characters lock eyes, the music swells, they look away. Sex. Mulan shoves Sleeping Beauty’s heart back in her body, saying, “I’ve never done this before.” Sex. Okay, maybe that one is more obvious. Everywhere though.

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Now that I’m teaching a race, gender and class course I’m seeing systemic oppression everywhere. I like to think I was always aware of it, but maybe now it’s really bothering me. I know that in The Vampire Diaries the witches have always been people of color, and there’s new buzz around the introduction of the first white warlock. Bonnie, as the only character of color in the circle of main protagonists, has always been a little in the background – not necessarily because of her skin but because of the fact that she’s a witch in a group of vampires. Even Tyler, as a werewolf, had to become a hybrid so he could fit in, but not Bonnie. Bonnie physically CANNOT be a vampire and still have access to her magic, and thus she is completely barred from the club.

I’m not saying that her marginalization as a fantasy species (vampire, werewolf, witch, etc.) is because of the color of her skin, but the very nature of her character puts her in a position outside of interests of the group, outside of the romantic possibilities of the group (especially with recent events that make Jeremy less viable as a dating option…), and outside of the immediate concerns of the group. The setup at the beginning of the series is that witches are attuned to the earth and all things natural and that vampires are inherently unnatural. So the driving forces of the show are pretty much all white vampires with the witches who, because of NATURE, are opposed to them but usually end up serving their ends.

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Kat Graham as Bonnie Bennett

And Bonnie loses A LOT to serve their ends – her Grams, her mother, her mother’s magic, eventually her magic, apparently her dating life (Luka, Jamie, Jeremy…) and now literally Jeremy. Her Grams told her not to get involved with vampires, to protect people from vampires, annnnnd she pals around with them. The thing is that the setup doesn’t allow for Bonnie to be otherwise unless she becomes a villain, because to rise up against the vampires is to rise up against her protagonist friends, and really to stop saving Elena from whatever is going wrong at the moment, which EVERYONE needs to do. The very hierarchy of magical politics disadvantages her before we even talk about race.Thus the premise of the show disadvantages her, along with its plot structures.

This is the crux of TVD – Save Elena. From Damon. From Katherine. From Klaus. From vampirism. Cure vampirism. It never ends. Elena can’t handle killing. It will change her and break her. She’ll turn off her humanity and we’ll never get her back. What innocence are you protecting? Why is Elena more important than ANY OTHER PERSON ON THIS SHOW? I loved that moment a few episodes ago when Rebeckah told her off.What makes her think she’s any better than any other vampire who has stabbed people (literally) to get what she wants? Who has killed? Who protects her family? They are all terrible people. Except Bonnie who basically always gets the short end of the stick.

Why is Kat Graham standing like that? What marketing is that?

Why is Kat Graham standing like that? What marketing is that?

I love The Vampire Diaries, and I’ve always noticed problems with it. This season in particular is getting on my nerves. I THINK the reason is that Bonnie’s basically become a tool to advance the plot instead of an actual character. She’s the witch who must use Expression and is from a specific line of witches. Basically, she’s the “chosen one,” except that the plot of the show still primarily follows vampires, which is code for Elena and her love triangle. Never mind that Caroline is the best character, and she belongs with Klaus (harrumph).Bonnie has never been the strongest character, but she always did what she wanted, even if it meant screwing everyone over (which she usually pays for somehow… or at least gets over-blamed). She had agency, she had moxie, and she was more than a key to raw power.

Now Bonnie’s just the only one who can do things! She’s a plot point. I want Bonnie to Willow out and bring Mystic Falls to its knees. She’s such an awesome character, completely underutilized, and Kat Graham is beautiful. Come on, Vampire Diaries! Use your resources!

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– Susan G.

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4 Responses to “Shows We’ve Watched: The Vampire Diaries (Part 1?)”

  1. nodatappropriatemoments March 27, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    My friend have I have long since dubbed Bonnie a plot device. Among all the characters, it feels like she’s gotten the short end of the stick not only plotwise but also character development-wise. She’s this convenient character to have around because the moment the writers face some kind of dilemma they can’t write themselves out of, ta-daaaa – magic solves everything! I can’t really remember the last time Bonnie had a sincere heart to heart with one of the characters that involved something about her growth as a character – scenes like the one between Klaus and Caroline in the last episode where Klaus made Caroline question her morals. Why does Bonnie have so little scenes like that? Is it really just because of the nature of the witch/vampire relationship? >__< It's frustrating to an extent and I was sincerely hoping, before last episode, that Bonnie was gonna Willow it out on everyone. People can dream. :))

    • Underneath The Elder March 28, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

      I definitely don’t think it’s only that, but I think the plot structure is limited by the magical hierarchy and predisposes her to remain secondary in all aspects: as a witch, as a character and as a person of color. Any attempts to correct this or bring Bonnie to the forefront break from the formulaic structure of the show and, as I said, require her to be a villain, to be the enemy of the show’s main (white vampire) protagonists who clearly see her and depend on her in really problematic ways.

      One thing that was wonderful in the last episode was that Caroline killed the witches, not Bonnie. If she’d died, she’d have no opportunity to be other than a tool, and if she killed the witches she’d have served her purpose and be the enemy as a tool, not as an agent rising up of her own accord in a character driven arc (as Willow Rosenberg). I dislike that she lost all memory of everything since the cave though because now she cannot engage with herself as a complex character. She’s just “good” and now openly admitted WITHIN THE PLOT to BE A TOOL, which is really frustrating for me. Not allowing her to feel guilt or to have open discussions with Caroline about her experience within the ritual and Caroline’s role in that robs her of that character moment we all so crave. In this instance it’s less about being disempowered as a witch and more about bad writing that does a disservice to its more interesting and powerful characters.

      • Underneath The Elder March 28, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

        Of course to make her a tool, the protagonists don’t have to be against her & thus it upholds the magical hierarchy in which Bonnie was only an enemy for one episode & now cannot be held responsible for her actions. She was against them because of some magic, not because she is an agent and can do what she wants for her own ends. If she could be said to follow Silas to get Jeremy back, she can’t even remember her MOTIVES. It’s completely disempowering on all levels.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Vampire Diaries (Part 1? ) | The Elder Tree - March 26, 2013

    […] So I’m talking about how the post in some ways oppresses witches, specifically Bonnie as the only witch in a cast of supernatural characters. By taking this route, I’m not trying to efface the argument about race happening in The Vampire Diaries, but I’m saying that regardless of race Bonnie is already oppressed. So when you place the race arguments over Bonnie’s circumstances as a witch, you have to consider her place in the overall narrative, which in a lot of ways aligns with some of the complaints about racism in the show. Caviat ended: please enjoy. […]

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