‘Romantic’ Abuse on TV and Tumblr

Kyle Kaplan ’15
Arts Editor

After I finished the first season of FX’s original show American Horror Story last week, I decided to search on the web to see what other people thought of the episode “Murder House” since its premiere two years ago. Unsuprisingly, the majority of posts that resulted from my search featured the character Tate Langdon, a brooding, attractive boy whom the protagonist’s daughter, Violet, falls in love with. Considering that Tate shot up a school, murdered two people and raped someone, it disturbed me that the most common reblogs I saw depicting the character made him seem sweet. He is considered charming, if morbid, and the GIFs that seemed to have the most reblogs were of Tate telling Violet that she changed him, or promising he would “never leave” her. My ex told me the same things. I stayed with him for six months longer than I should have because of it.

People have often told me they couldn’t understand why I would stay in an abusive relationship. To them, I can only say that I once believed people were complicated. If they were loose cannons, manipulative or cruel, like Tate Langdon or my ex, it was because they were “complicated.”

I grew up watching complicated men on TV and in movies. Christian Slater’s JD in Heathers was archetypal. So was the Beast from Beauty and The Beast. If I had a better memory, I’m sure there were many, many other men I could recall from TV, “complicated” men whom I wanted “in and around my body” because I had never dated one.

Then I did. And there was nothing complicated about him. It wasn’t romantic when he called me names in front of my friends, or took plates of food away from me, or threatened to hurt someone I love. He wasn’t “complicated.” He was a bad person.

Who am I pointing the finger at?

Not anyone who has ever wondered why their friend stayed with an abusive person, or anyone who has ever been with an abusive person. I also don’t blame anyone who wants Tate Langdon in and around their body. He’s hot, I get it.

But I keep thinking about Chimanada Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” that I watched last year for class. Adichie said that what we assume about a person is often the result of only seeing one representation of their identity. Drawing from this idea of what we learn through representation, could someone please direct me to a TV show on cable, other than Degrassi, in which abuse isn’t romanticized, where said abuser isn’t elevated to the status of a bad boy if he’s white (because men of color on TV tend to get an entirely different treatment), or where the abuser isn’t a cis man?

If I had seen even one meme in the Tate Langdon tag on Tumblr that addressed both his abusive, violent characteristics and his sympathetic treatment on American Horror Story, I wouldn’t be so angry. But I didn’t see that on any page I searched, or any online articles. What is it about television that stops us from thinking critically about things that shouldn’t be romanticized?


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