The trouble with toxic relationships on TV
On modern TV, romances are not frequently depicted in a healthy manner. Audiences are fed inorganic, unhealthy relationships that, heterosexual people especially, lap up like they’re meant to without a second thought.
The most recent example that comes to mind is Mon-El and Kara, also known collectively by internet fans as “Karamel”, on Supergirl. It is promoted by the show as the ideal relationship and has generated a large amount of attention .
The problem lies in what happens when they are given screen time. Mon-El batters Kara in superhero training, despite falling in love with her. He calls her names and talks down to her.
He also has a desire to spend an unhealthy amount of time with her; his ambition to be a hero fuelled by his need to frequently be by her side. He is controlling and possessive towards her – something that is promoted to be admirable – instead of what it truly is: abuse.
This depiction is problematic, and there are numerous reasons why that is the case. There is also an alternate love interest – a black male – who was sidelined to shift the primary focus onto Mon-El .
Similar to Once Upon a Time, there was one romantic interest who was shoved aside to give another character the spotlight. They switch from one potential love interest to another, who has increasingly worse behaviour than the last.
It has become increasingly normalized for us to see abusive relationships on TV, to the point where we don’t notice when a genuinely decent prospective partner is being overlooked in place of an emotionally abusive one – namely because they’re pretty and white.
Another popular example is the relationship between Betty and Jughead on Riverdale. They seem like a healthy couple on the surface, but something incredibly problematic occurred in one particular episode.
Betty planned a birthday party for Jughead despite his explicit wishes not to have one. It doesn’t make you a devoted girlfriend to go against your partner’s desires, it merely shows that you’re neglecting your half of the relationship. This isn’t normal or beneficial for either side, despite how it may be portrayed.
Shows in general – especially ones that are designed to empower women – shouldn’t showcase arguably abusive relationships, regardless of which gender is the guilty party.
The issue stemming from this is that impressionable audiences who watch these shows will believe that this behaviour is acceptable; that it’s okay to call your partner names, belittle them and ultimately go against their wishes to make yourself look better.
This common example of relationship representation needs to stop; people should be more regularly exposed to healthy television romances.
Relationships should empower the people in them. It shouldn’t be a drag to spend time with someone you’re supposed to love, it isn’t healthy to be worried that your partner will disrespect you for speaking your mind and you shouldn’t have to fear that you’ll be seen as selfish for wanting to be treated as an equal.
When you’re watching a TV show, be mindful of patterns like these. We should never support harmful relationships for the sake of televised enjoyment.