The more I delve into supernatural drama television, the more it seems to challenge reality. I am referring to when vampires and witches become strangely more believable when compared against the circumstances that surround them, calling into question everything we know about real life.
Fantasy is a genre of literature that has gone mainstream in recent years. Spurring a huge market following in TV drama while flooding bookshelves across the country. When a young adult fantasy novel is adopted into a television series, it can be more intoxicating when we blend it into a setting that mirrors our own. It’s an element that enables the viewer to identify with the main protagonist and thus, fall easily into step with her as she moves forward in the realm of urban fantasy.
The series begins in the fictional town of Mystic Falls; a young 17-year old girl (lead protagonist Elena Gilbert) is attracted to the mysterious new student in town, Stefan Salvatore. As one would imagine, the two are destined to fall for each other. Soon it is revealed that Stefan is actually a 162-year old vampire. This situation is further complicated when his brother Damon (also a vampire from the 1800’s) emerges onto the scene to wreak havoc. Other supernatural problems soon become apparent that involve the town’s inhabitants who vigilantly guard against these paranormal threats. Meanwhile, there are high school dances, carnivals, a Miss Mystic Falls competition, girlfriend outings; the reality part of things that pulls us into the storyline, inviting us to immerse ourselves, to be a part of what’s happening.
As viewers continue to watch, we find where we fit into things in terms of how the Vampire Diaries universe is orchestrated. In so far as Elena Gilbert is concerned, I can identify with her. She’s me. I am that girl. I went to high school. I had a group of friends who I hung out with. I have dark hair and dark eyes. I too, fell in love with the new mysterious guy. Throw in a love triangle with a third player and it became a modern Midsummer’s Night Dream for any teenage girl.
But here is where the reality part of things become sketchy. Where logic pulls against improbable elements of television storytelling. When the series begins, Elena Gilbert’s Aunt took over as her and her brother’s legal guardian after her parents died. Aunt Jenna died at the end of Season 2. Alaric Saltzman, her boyfriend took over as their un-official guardian. When he died at the end of Season 3, no one was left to take care of Elena and Jeremy.
This leaves us with a more pointed question; Who pays the bills now? With Elena and Jeremy in high school full-time, (I’ve never seen either one of them working a job. Still, even if they did work at the Mystic Grill part-time busing tables… ) would it be enough money to cover utilities and a mortgage payment? The same can be said for Matt Donovan (Elena Gilbert’s childhood friend and ex-boyfriend, also 17 years of age). His mother, proving to be irresponsible, ran off with her boyfriend, leaving both Matt and his sister Vicki behind. Following this, at the end of Season 1, Vicki dies as well.
With Matt Donovan now left to fend for himself, how does he support himself financially as a full-time high school student working busboy at the Mystic Grill? And when Bonnie Bennett’s (Elena’s best friend of the same age) grandmother passed away at the end of Season 1, we can presume that she too was left without a guardian as well, and can now be supporting herself.
Then there are the many times the characters in the series are off making trips to special places, trying to solve Vampire problems ‘Nancy Drew’ style. Often I wonder, where do they have the time to do all this? Isn’t this truancy? Shouldn’t they be in class or at the library, studying? Why do I never see them doing any homework or writing term papers?
Students in high school are typically burdened with these responsibilities. Every so often a scene appears where someone will strap a book bag over their shoulder and say, ‘I’ll see you in history class’. A minor insert (with minimal investment in following up on this) that holds them to their scholastic obligations, which is just about the only reminder we get that they are still in high school. Speaking of which, since they are now seniors, shouldn’t they be preparing to take the SATs to go to college? In between these musings, the vampires are compelling people to do their bidding, moving at supersonic speed, their superior capabilities on display and yet, I find myself accepting this without question. Even though the preceding dilemma’s I just described leave me pondering.
Supernatural fiction has established its reputation in these origins. We walk into the Science Fiction/Fantasy zone with the understanding that anything out of the ordinary is plausible. Whereas reality as we know it has its limits. When things happen against the norm, questions come into play. You need a job to pay your bills, people under the age of 18 need legal guardians to care for them, and if you’re a senior in high school taking off into the mountains on day trips with your friends to chase after vampires, chances are you’re skipping class and probably won’t graduate on time.
When the two genres (Supernatural and typical teen drama) collide into one storyline, one will inevitably have to bow to the other. Somehow, the Vampire Diaries’ universe will right itself. Yet it’s that ‘righting of itself’ that is the very thing which ultimately conflicts with logic. In real life, things don’t just right themselves. Actions have consequences.
There is something off kilter about teens being able to financially support themselves when they are not even earning a legitimate income to keep the roofs over their heads. A minor fissure that producers don’t address and that fans are willing to ignore.
Perhaps this is because when we suspend reality, as paranormal fiction allows us to, young adult literature takes place in absence of adult supervision. We don’t want the practicalities of every day life to intrude on the free Universe we are trying to create. One that allows its characters to live their lives freely and with abandon. Maybe teens in the YA genre are fated to venture these experiences alone, to figure things out for themselves without the benefit, or nuisance, of having to deal with the naggings of adult intervention.
When adults do make appearances onto the scene, is it any surprise that they rarely stay for long? Maybe this is what allows protagonists in the genre to come out stronger, fighting so that they are shaped by their experiences into the heroines that young readers can look up to.
So we can’t have it both ways. If the Vampire Diaries had a storyline arch that evolved solely around the copings of adolescence in typical teen-themed drama, it might not interest me. But that could simply be television’s defining of an era. Given the direction the industry has since taken in wetting our appetites in this category (it could always turn back), I’m more in the mood for a Supernatural escape. In that case, I’m going to have to take the good with the bad, the logical with the absurd, supernatural drama the way TV of our time intended it to be.