Elena Gilbert is like a villain in an Ayn Rand novel. Her emotional fascism is despicable and vile, and Season 3 of Vampire Diaries is almost enough to make me convert to Objectivism…..almost.
Jon and I began watching Vampire Diaries on Netflix about a year ago. It’s what I like to call “junk food for the brain”. It’s not profound or literary; it’s not breaking any barriers. But, it passes the time and is mildly entertaining. So when we were notified that Season 3 became available on Netflix, we dutifully queued it up and started watching. About half-way through, I realized that I was having a reaction to the show that I’d never had before: it was making me angry. By the end of it, it was actually difficult for me to watch the show.
The reason was Elena Gilbert. She is caring and compassionate and moral. She values life and love. She represents faith in people and their ability to do what is right, no matter what. And she wants to save people. She sees Damon doing things of which she disapproves, and she wants to save him. She sees Stefan doing things of which she disapproves, and she wants to save him. Jeremy and Bonnie and Alaric all are going about their lives, trying to make tough decisions in tough situations, but Elena disapproves… and she wants to save them.
And when Elena doesn’t get her way, she makes this face. It’s supposed to show how much she cares. Every time a character says, “Please don’t try to save me” (and nearly every single character on the entire show says this to her at least once), she makes this face and says she will not give up.
“I won’t give up on you!” she insists. She scrunches up her face and sobs, “I believe in you, and I will never stop! I will never give up on you, no matter what you say! I’m going to save you whether you want me to or not!”
I think we, in the audience, are supposed to feel sympathetic when we see this face. I think we’re supposed to think of her as caring and sweet and kind.
But by Episode 8, every time I saw this face I just wanted to punch it.
Because her character is not a good character. Her character doesn’t represent belief in people; it represents fascism. She is an emotional and moral bully.
And whenever I hear her whine, I want to yell this:
Stop trying to take away people’s freedom, you selfish self-important bitch! You are so obsessed with “helping” people the way that you think they should be helped that you don’t even listen to what they want from you. That isn’t the act of someone who actually cares about people. That is the act of a selfish, manipulative bully.
Her character is vile. She represents the worst kind of person, because although she is dressed up in sweetness, her entire motivation is to rob people of their own free will. Her entire purpose in life is to ignore other people’s wishes and force them to conform to what she thinks they should be. Her version of “saving” people is to take away their right to make their own choices in life, and to bully them with tears until she gets her way. It’s disgusting.
Then, I take a deep breath. Jon tells me to calm down, and I step back to get some perspective.
At that point I realize that she is an exaggeration. Although she is annoying and in many ways despicable, she represents something that can be a positive instinct in people’s lives. When you see a friend hurting himself, or going down the wrong path, of course you want to try to help. Of course you do. That is natural and human, and is not an instinct that should be shut out. It’s part of what it means for human beings to be social and socializing creatures. It is a virtue.
But this character is written in such an exaggerated way, it’s almost as if it’s meant to manipulate the audience. This is why she feels like the villain of an Ayn Rand novel to me. She is a caricature of the person who says that she “puts other people’s interest before her own”, but who does it in the most annoying, pretentious, and obnoxious way possible. It very successfully paints the woman who wants to “help others” as a self-important, whining selfish fool. And isn’t that the message that every Ayn Randist wants to get across?
What Ayn Rand wants people to do is believe that there is an intrinsic connection between being selfless and reducing freedom. She wants you to believe that anybody who tries to help other people for their own sake is actually engaging in a form of bullying and manipulation. And Elena Gilbert is the perfect embodiment of that view.
After some reflection, I have decided that I won’t fall for it.
Oh, sure, I still hate Elena Gilbert with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. But it’s not because she cares about other people. I don’t hate her because she puts other people’s interests before her own. No: I hate her because she is manipulative and doesn’t listen to what other people want. I hate her for being a bully about her desire to make her friends into better people.
In the real world, you don’t have to be at one extreme or the other. In the real world, you can care about other people and help them, without being an emotional bully about it. There is a “middle path”, a way to be social and caring without it being a threat to anyone’s free will.
I know this is true, no matter what Ayn Rand or Vampire Diaries says.