Well, the trend of people reading my Reylo posts continues, so, here follows another shameless attempt to get more views. 🙂
Many people find the idea of a sexual dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren troubling because Kylo Ren is the antagonist and Rey is the protagonist. Moreover, Kylo Ren is set up as a scary, menacing character.
The argument argues that there is a binary relationship between sexual attraction and fear. A person either inspires fear or sexual attraction, but not both. This may be true for straight men, but I don’t think that straight women experience these two states as mutually exclusive.
Case in point: a few weeks ago I went on a date for coffee with someone I met online. I told my best friend and my mom, but more importantly, I told them the name of the person, the address of the coffee shop where we met, his phone number, and the time where we were meeting. I also promised that I would text them as soon as we were finished to let them know that I was on my way home. Why did I do that? It’s quite simple. I did that so that my mom and friend would have information to give to the police in case the guy kidnapped me. (Before you think to yourself, “Wow. What a paranoid bitch!” let me remind you of the Craigslist Killer. There. Now you can think of me as a paranoid bitch.) I don’t think I’m alone in taking these kinds of precautions.
Last year I went to a baseball game with coworkers and my friend experienced Every Woman’s Dilemma. She had to go to the bathroom, but she also had an unfinished drink. What to do? She turned to one of our co-workers, a man, and said, “Now, don’t put anything in my drink.” He jokingly promised to “rufi the shit out of her drink.” (Hahahaha! Rape. Hilarious.) She’s not the only woman to worry about this. I was at a brunch a few months later with a larger group of people. One woman went to the bathroom and she asked a couple of other woman and myself to “watch her drink.”
Now, obviously much of this is due to rape culture, but I don’t think that accounts for the entirety of the phenomenon. I think that the ultimate source of this attitude is not a result of social conditioning but rather a response to biological norms.
I remember very clearly the first day of my freshman year of high school. Let me be more specific. I do not remember the classes or lunch, but I strongly remember walking through the hallways and realizing that all of the guys in my class were now taller than me. At first, it was simply amusing, especially since the girls had been taller than they were for most of middle school. But then it dawned on me that this new dynamic (the guys being taller and stronger) was irreversible. At that moment, I remember realizing that the balance of power had shifted. It had shifted decisively, and it had shifted permanently.
Men rarely get this, which is why the authors of a dating guide for men asked their readers to engage in a thought experiment. You can read the entire thought experiment but it can be summed up as follows. He imagined the readers to imagine that they are gay, and they go to a local gay bar. As they walk in with their friends, they realize that all of the men in the gay bar are at least six inches taller than them and have twice the upper body strength and grip strength. Margaret Atwood is famous for saying “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” She’s right, but this is not simply because of societal conditioning. This also reflects the biological reality that the average man could easily kill the average woman with his bear hands, if he wanted to.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing that the average man is physically violent towards women. This is simply not true. My point is that the physical attributes that straight women find attractive in men (height, strength) also inspire fear because they realize how vulnerable they would be if the men turned against them.
I don’t think men think about this with few exceptions.
I think that this link between sexuality and danger is most clearly seen in vampire films. (REAL Vampire Films.) Ever since Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, vampires have often been celebrated for their erotic nature. (Bram Stoker’s Dracula is also a compelling anti-Christ figure, but another story for another time.) The drinking blood has clear sexual connotations in the novel, though with a very different context (fear of female of sexuality). Instead, I want to focus on the play based on the novel, and the portrayal of Dracula in subsequent movies.
In 1932, Bela Lugosi was asked about why women love horror movies.
When I was on stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women. They came again and again, thrilling to the shocking story. True, many men were in the audience, but most of them had been brought by women, who craved the subtle sex intimacy brought about when both sat watching the terrifying incidents of the film. In the same way, women were most thrilled and intrigued by the screen version of Dracula. The blood-sucking monster of the story excited strange thoughts and strange feelings.
(As quoted by Gary Don Rhodes’ Lugosi, His Life in Films, Onstage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers.) pg 292
Bela Lugosi would later estimate that 97% of his fan mail after Dracula was from women, as quoted in Arthur Lenning’s The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi.
(I believe that the filmmakers intended this response. The film, was not released on Halloween, but on Valentine’s Day.)
This same dynamic exists in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom is a dangerous murderer, but he’s the one who gets all the fan girls.
I also want to point out that in these stories, the heroine/damsel in distress does NOT end up with the erotic/danger figure. In Dracula, Mina’s husband and Van Helsing destroy Dracula. In the Phantom of the Opera, Christine does offer to stay with the Phantom to save her fiance’s life (and as an act of compassion), but he decides to release her and she marries Raul. (Paint Never Dries does not exist!)
In these stories, the women in the stories (and the audience) can experience attraction to a figure that could easily kill them and poses a threat to them. It is a heightened expression of the dynamic that many straight women experience in their interactions with men.
So, what does this dynamic means for Reylo?
Well, this dynamic means that sexual attraction and danger are not mutually exclusive. The anti’s on Tumblr argue that Kylo Ren is abusive towards Rey. I wonder what they would think of the fan’s reactions to Dracula in 1931. Dracula drinks the blood of Mina and forces her to drink his blood. He threatens to kill her; not just in this life, but in the afterlife as well.
Yet a year later, Bela Lugosi reported this to an interviewer.
Women wrote me letters. Ah, what letters women wrote me! Young girls. Women from seventeen to thirty. Letters of a horrible hunger. Asking me if I cared only for maidens’ blood. Asking me if I had done the play because I was in reality that sort of Thing. And through those letters, couched in terms of shuddering, transparent fear, there ran the hideous note of — hope.
(As quoted by Gary Don Rhodes’ Arthur Lenning’s The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi. )
The Star Wars films can certainly play on this dynamic. They already do.
(Hmm, this picture reminds me of something.)
(Nope, can’t think of it.)
Notice, that this dynamic is totally consistent with
1 an antagonistic relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey.
In order for these stories to work, the erotic/danger character must be at least somewhat scary. In 2004, Joel Schumacher tried to heighten the romantic aspect of the Phantom even further and downplay his menacing side and one of the results of this is that the movie no longer works.
We see the same thing at play in Twilight. I saw part of the first movie a few years ago. I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about, so I rented it and thought I would watch it one night instead of writing a final essay for a class. Eventually I got bored and turned it off to write my paper. (That’s how bad it is. I willingly chose to do homework instead of watch that movie.) I am not going to go into why the movie is boring and terrible, but I think that part of it is that Edward, for all his supposed threat to Bella, is not scary. And as a result, the story does not work.
2 Rey eventually destroying Kylo Ren, and NOT ending up with Rey.
Indeed, I would argue that this dynamic would preclude the two characters actually having a romantic relationship and living happily ever after. Real vampire movies do not end with the girl falling in love with the vampire and ending up with him.
We see a similar problem in Paint Never Dries. For all of the women who mourn the fact that Christine must inevitably reject the sexy, dangerous Phantom in favor of boring, sexless Raul, I don’t think that most of the fans actually want to see Christine end up with the Phantom. This is why there was such powerful backlash to Paint Never Dries, and also why Paint Never Dries does not work.
Personally, I think this is the most likely direction for Reylo, if Star Wars actually decides to go down this path. As I’ve said elsewhere and in this post, but the Force Awakens deliberately draws upon the monster motif from earlier movies. They also chose art for Star Wars Celebration that deliberately called to mind this imagery. This would build upon the imagery of the first film.
Will they? I think this is likely, though I don’t know how explicit it would be. I think it would be far more powerful if it was subtle. Plus, these are films primarily marketed to children, so there are limits to what they can show in these films.
Oh, I decided to end with Thriller because it is a pretty good example. Michael Jackson, in the song, is trying to seduce a girl by telling her “It’s close to midnight, and something evil’s lurking in the dark.”