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15 February, 2010

The Polyamorous Perspective

EDIT: Friends of mine have pointed out that the story of the game is ambiguous such that the ethical situation can imply dark deeds. I assumed that the bargain discussed below was a mutual decision, suggested by the woman involved, while other people reading the same lines assumed that she was coerced by the game's protagonist. If the game itself features the latter, it is unambiguously reprehensible, but the conversation itself still stands as an example of the phenomenon under discussion.

Since I committed to nonmonogamy, my worldview has definitely changed. I just don't see the world around me as I used to, especially when it comes to fiction. Take an example.

Some friends of mine were telling me about the demo for the new video game loosely based on Dante Alighieri's Inferno (and I use the word "loosely" loosely). Apparently the game's Dante, who is a crusader (what?), is on a quest to save the soul of his murdered lover. According to these friends of mine, she was killed because, back in the Crusades, Dante cut a deal with a woman: if she slept with him, he would save the life of her brother. (That's a potentially icky bargain, but for a video game designed to court scandal, it's no surprise.) Except that it wasn't her brother, my friends tell me, but secretly her husband! So he goes north and murders Dante's lover ...

Wait. He does what? At this point, they kept talking, but I was still stuck a line back. Didn't Dante save this man's life? Why the heck would he want revenge on the man who — OH! Dante slept with his wife! I guess that's a bad thing.

But come on, what's not to love about this guy?

It took serious thought (well, as much serious thought as one can do in fifteen seconds) for me to realize that saving someone's life wasn't all that was going on here. This isn't the first time that I've been flummoxed by the mass media, though (drat their mononormative biases!). Nearly every romantic plotline in the shows I watch could be solved if someone had just said, "Wait a tic, why don't we both date you?" No, my apologies; make that simply "nearly every romantic plotline".

You must choose! ... and why isn't that the title of a TV Tropes article?

It's strange, being aware of solutions that never emerge as possibilities because of unspoken assumptions. It definitely makes some of the shows and movies available less interesting; there really isn't a lot of fiction, outside of some SciFi novels, in which the characters have group romances that aren't train wrecks or dishonest affairs. I used to be easily engaged in romantic plotlines, but they're definitely less gripping now than they once were. It's almost as though the fiction has to stand on its own legs rather than relying on a cheap gimmick to provide tension. Fascinating!

The prolific Alan, who publishes at "Polyamory in the News", wrote a post that I admire related to this subject. He mentions a talk at a poly conference by one Cunning Minx (I kind of hope that's not a pseudonym), who claims that it's time to move "from education — explaining polyamory to people who've never heard of it — to culture-building — creating recognizable pop images of the polyfolk-world that represent us well, that we can be proud of, and that will appear in people's minds when they think of us". The basic concept is that, as one can see by checking the archives of a surprising number of advice columns and newspapers, polyamory is here. People have heard of it. Now, we have the chance to step up and do right by the nonmonogamous community by adding more representative characters and plotlines to the simmering muck that is pop culture. I suppose I'll just have to start writing, eh?

7 comments:

  1. You were not the only one to think that Willow might have just made things less complicated by dating Oz and Tara.

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  2. I think Dante's ass got whupped because he forced a woman to have sex with him on pain of her husband's (or brother's) death, not because her husband considered her to be cheating on him. If someone raped Mickey I'd rip their heart out, too.

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  3. I feel compelled to point out: Dante didn't just sleep with the guy's wife, from the sound of things, he raped her. Dante coerced this woman into having sex with him to save the life of someone she loved. I get that that probably wasn't the point the game was making, but that doesn't really make it any more ok.

    *shrug* I don't disagree that there should be more poly relationships in visible media - I'm currently talking a friend through realizing he's interested in two women - but that wasn't what stood out to me in this particular scenario. The woman is apparently only made significant by who she has sex with, and that bothers me way more.

    -Olivia

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  4. Sonia & Olivia: now that is completely different and far more horrifying. I only heard the story secondhand, so! These were not details to which I was privy, although you did half-mention it to me at the time, Sonia. Thank you both for clarifying.

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  5. I hadn't heard of the game before this; my impressions were based on your description, here, of your friends' description of the story. I'd be delighted, but surprised, if the reality of the game were different.

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  6. Olivia: when I heard the story, I assumed that Dante and the husband had been on opposite sides of the war, doing their normal warrior jobs, until the woman in question approached him and asked for help. If one assumes that he approached her with a threat, the situation has a completely different ethical cast; that scenario didn't occur to me during the fifteen seconds in question.

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  7. Worth noting: if you're interested in a polyamorous lifestyle, you likely have sex every now and then, and thus the primary selling point of this game (tremendous unclad breasts onscreen every five minutes) is invalidated for you. :-P

    I found this game insulting. Everything about it is a thinly-veiled attempt to cause controversy. Why should I be interested in a game that makes so little attempt to recommend itself on its actual merits?

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