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what can you say
about making Simon a shadowhunter, Mrs Clare? it seemed odd to me that after a
whole series of battling for equality between species/races, the downworlder
had to become a shadowhunter. not only he basically ceased being a minority, he
also became a part of a privileged community, and it just didn’t sit well with
Just for the record — I’m not Mrs. Clare; there is no Mr. Clare.
I am married, but my pen name is not my husband’s property. :-)
I think this is a very interesting question that brings up a ton
of issues, but there are some aspects of it I’d love to clarify — for instance,
I am puzzled at calling Simon “the Downworlder.” Is he more a Downworlder than
Magnus? Things like that actually are really important when discussing stories — if he were the only Downworlder in the story, that would be one discussion, but he isn’t, and therefore his story does not speak for the experience of all Downworlders or even a small fraction.
I am sorry you were surprised negatively by Simon’s story in
TMI. Simon never wanted to be a vampire — he always hated it, and unlike
Raphael and Lily, he never joined the community of vampires but instead spent all his time with Shadowhunters. Being a Daylighter
had already changed him from being any kind of regular Downworlder, as did
bearing the Mark of Cain: both made him even less “the Downworlder” and more of an anomaly. It also separated
him from the other Downworlders, who treated him with distrust. In my
experience, very few readers expected Simon to remain a vampire, given that it
was something he never wanted or got used to, and that it was not his dream.
More on that in a bit.
As to the question, to me the suggestion that Shadowhunters are
“the privileged” and Dowworlders are as a block “the marginalized” — instead of
being a complicated metaphor in which they sometimes but not
always stand in for people who have had their rights curtailed — overly simplifies the situation. It is an argument seems to ignore the fact that in fact, humans exist along axes of privilege and marginalization: that people can be privileged in one way and marginalized in another and that when Simon becomes first a Downworlder and then a mundane and then a Shadowhunter, he is not moving clearly from marginalization to privilege, but rather exchanging some types of privilege for others (he remains white as a Downworlder, and is a Daylighter), and exchanging some types of marginalization for others (the marginalization of being a Downworlder for the marginalization of being a mundane-born Shadowhunter and a Jew in a world where Shadowhunters are meant to have one religion).
Because the argument disclaims spectrums of privilege and marginalization, it also suggests that the world of the Shadowhunter Chronicles
is one in which there are no gay or POC or trans people in existence; one in
which there is no racism, homophobia, ableism, cis privilege,
or bigotry against the neuroatypical. But that is both problematic erasure, and also not true of these
books. Downworlders don’t stand in for people of color or
LGBTQ+ people because people of color and LGBTQ+ people are in the books; they have not
been subsumed into metaphor. (I know the showrunners said there was no
homophobia in the Shadowhunter world, only warlock-phobia, but that’s the show,
not the books, and it has a different world and world-building. I notice this
is a question I get since the show came out, and I sometimes wonder if it’s a
question of confusion between the two different universes? It’s easy for that to
Fantasy prejudice metaphors are complex and confusing and they
rarely work as a one to one comparison (in other words, there is a difference
between saying that this fantasy
situation is reminiscent of this real world thing and saying this fantasy situation is exactly the same
as this real world thing. For instance, one of the really interesting
things about True Blood is that it made many deliberate parallels between
“vampire rights” and GLBT+ rights — referring to vampires “coming out of the
coffin” and “God Hates Fangs” on church signs. However, its vampires were also often
violent predators who killed and ate people. The argument that Simon “basically ceased being a minority” (while,
somehow, remaining Jewish) is similar
to making an argument that True Blood was saying that gay people kill and eat
their neighbors; I’m fairly sure in fact, they weren’t. They were reaching for
a resonance — the echo of a real world situation that would give a layer of
relatability and meaning to their points about difference. But they were not
creating a literal “these things are the same” comparison or they wouldn’t have
had vampires chewing off people’s heads.
So: are Downworlders discriminated against? Yes, sometimes, by
Shadowhunters, who are a small specific group. Do they “stand in” for a
specific minority group? No, they cannot, because they are accessible as a
metaphor to any marginalized group or groups whose rights have been abridged.
Also: the world at large does not discriminate against Downworlders because
they do not know they exist, nor do they privilege Shadowhunters because they
don’t know they exist either. It would be one thing if this was a high fantasy
and Shadowhunters and Downworlders were all there was, but these books are set
in our world, and the characters experience real-world bigotry, racism,
homophobia etc. because of it.
Alec sighed. “Sorry to
wreck your vision of our happy family. I know you want to think Dad’s fine with
me being gay, but he’s not.”
“But if you don’t
tell me when people say things like that to you, or do things to hurt
you, then how can I help you?” Simon could feel Isabelle’s agitation vibrating
through her body. “How can I—”
“Iz,” Alec said
tiredly. “It’s not like it’s one big bad thing. It’s a lot of little invisible
things. When Magnus and I were traveling, and I’d call from the road, Dad never
asked how he was. When I get up to talk in Clave meetings, no one listens, and
I don’t know if that’s because I’m young or if it’s because of something else.
I saw Mom talking to a friend about her grandchildren and the second I walked
into the room they shut up. Irina Cartwright told me it was a pity no one would
ever inherit my blue eyes now.” He shrugged and looked toward Magnus, who took
a hand off the wheel for a moment to place it on Alec’s. “It’s not like a stab
wound you can protect me from. It’s a million little paper cuts every day.”
“He hurt you. It was a
long time ago, and I know he tried to make up for it, but—” Bat shrugged.
“Maybe I’m not so forgiving.”
Maia exhaled. “Maybe
I’m not either,” she said. “The town I grew up in, all these spoiled thin rich
white girls, they made me feel like crap because I didn’t look like them. When
I was six, my mom tried to throw me a Barbie-themed birthday party. They make a
black Barbie, you know, but they don’t make any of the stuff that goes with
her—party supplies and cake toppers and all that. So we had a party for me with
a blonde doll as the theme, and all these blonde girls came, and they all
giggled at me behind their hands.”
If we carry the theory through (Shadowhunters
are THE privileged, Downworlders are THE marginalized) that means that Alec, as
a gay Shadowhunter, is more privileged than Simon, a straight vampire. That Ty,
who would be locked in a mental institution if the Clave
discovered his autism, is privileged beyond white, rich, immortal and powerful
Malcolm Fade. It’s saying that when Cristina encounters a wealthy, white,
straight, misogynist male werewolf in Lady Midnight who tries to
force sexual attention on her, she, a Latina woman, is the one
who is the privileged character because she is a Shadowhunter and he is a
Downworlder (though Sterling has arguably, given that he lives outside the
supernatural world, never experienced a whit of prejudice because of it.) So I’m sure you can see where the problem lies.
It also erases Simon’s Judaism entirely. Stating
without caveat that Simon has become “part of a privileged community” means
ignoring the fact that Simon is Jewish; that he decides in Tales that he will
continue to practice, and that he was the only Jewish protag written by two
Jewish authors that I’m aware of having been on the bestseller lists last year.
He didn’t think about being a
vampire as he was preparing to transform — he never wanted to be one or
consented to be one, nor was he part of the community, as Raphael constantly
pointed out — though he does later think of having previously been a Downworlder
when interacting with vampires and Shadowhunter prejudices. He thought of the
important thing to him: his Judaism, which he both couldn’t and wouldn’t give
up. To me it is personally painful to think that for any reader, Simon’s status
as a vampire is more significant than his status as a practicing Jew.
I think sometimes it is possible to invest yourself so heavily
in a metaphor that you forget the real world that surrounds the metaphor and
the flexibility of metaphors in general. The Shadowhunter/Downworlder situation
could stand in for the systemically privileged
and marginalized of our world: sometimes it does. However it also can stand in
for the way totalitarian governments abuse their own people: there are echoes
in Shadowhunter history and current events of the Cambodian genocide, of
Stalinist violence against intellectuals and resistors. There are also echoes
of police brutality — what Shadowhunters have is the privilege of the Law, specifically: the Law is what allows them
to enact bigotry in the name of justice, and when they abuse their jobs, it has
resonances of the way police can abuse their jobs and use the privilege
conferred on them by their authority to murder and abuse the helpless and
marginalized. There are also echoes of the way soldiers carry out immoral
orders given by superiors: the Shadowhunters are taught to be obedient to the
Clave, and one of the ways we know who our Team Good is in any TSC series that
they question that obedience. All of these are echoes and resonances: they are
not saying that the Shadowhunters are
the police, or the US military, or the Khmer Rouge; the resonances provide
context and hopefully add a sense of realism to a situation that is fantastical
in its nature.
(It’s also a wise idea not to so totally buy what the
Shadowhunters are selling about themselves. They think they’re special and
better and awesome, but the books constantly question and problematize that.
Shadowhunters also pay a high high price for their runes and their sense of
superiority: they die young and often and experience brutal constant violence
and the pressures of a repressive society that allows for little divergence
from an idealized norm.)
There are reasons that the Downworlders were never constructed
to be a specific marginalized group and their situation was never meant to be
limited in its relatability to one situation— for instance, it’s very hard to
not look askance at the argument that Downworlders are meant to be specific “race”
when you can become a Downworlder and then stop being one: when you can, as
Simon does, change what kind of magical creature you are, because there is
absolutely no correlation between that and what race or ethnicity means in our
So yes, Simon becomes a Shadowhunter: however, what I don’t see
acknowledged here is not just his ethnicity and religion, but the fact that he
becomes a Shadowhunter partly because he is aware of the
prejudice of Shadowhunters, and fights against the bigotry they show not just
to Downworlders but also to their own. He is part of Magnus and Alec’s
Shadowhunter-Downworlder Alliance. He continues to work for change from within the
system, arguably something almost no one else could do, because there are
almost no other Downworlders who have become Shadowhunters. It is odd to me to
consider Simon as simply ascending to a height of blithe privilege when he is
fact much more like someone who has become a police officer in order to root
out corruption and racism in the police, and brings his own knowledge of
marginalization (which he still experiences) with him.
That is why Simon in Tales
from the ShadowhunterAcademy is
constantly fighting and bending the rules in the name of his evolving social
conscience, though I understand if you haven’t read TfTSA. One of the things
about having had a flood of new readers enter fandom because of the TV show is
that I’ve seen a lot of arguments based on the idea that TMI is the entire
story of Downworlders and Shadowhunters, or the entire story of these
characters. I see people talking about characters getting a happy or sad ending
in TMI even when those characters go on to feature heavily in the sequel books
and could by no reasonable account be considered to have any ending, happy or
sad — unless you thought TMI were the only Shadowhunters books that existed
rather than a chunk of a larger ongoing mythology. In no sense has Simon’s
story ended: you have no idea if he will remain a Shadowhunter or not. Perhaps
if you consider the fact that TMI is not a story that has ended for Simon, but
rather one that continues, the fact that he has now been two magical species
and might well move on to become another will sit less poorly with you? After
all, this is not “after a whole series of
battling for equality between species/races” this is “in the middle of a whole series of battling for equality between
species/races.” Usually the middle of a story isn’t the place it’s best to
draw all your conclusions from. :-)
She tells me
she hates the taste
except for when
she tastes it on my tongue.
And I want to be the one
for her but
loving me is lonely
and the hangover is hell.
I don’t want to become
the bad habit that
she has to recover from.
If you portray a character as only ever actually purchasing yellow socks, and over the space of 12 years the audience sees him buying yellow socks a dozen times or so and when asked what colour socks he likes he says “I only like yellow socks”, then you are fully expected to think that he only likes to buy socks that are yellow.
That is fine. However…
Consider if every time he has been asked or it has been implied that he might like socks that are not yellow it has been in a hostile environment and admitting to liking red socks might culturally seem like a weakness.
Consider how the environment he grew up in made him believe red socks were culturally wrong and he maybe therefore just sticks to yellow because hey it’s not like he doesn’t like yellow socks too right?!
Consider how many times he glances at and full on checks out red socks when there are some nice ones available.
Consider how, when his best friend wears red socks he struggles to compute anything else in the room and eye-fucks the hell out of those red socks to the point that his brother is an awkward moose about it and has to clear his throat or change the subject on numerous occasions.
Consider how when the red socks are forcibly taken away from him he usually goes and impulse purchases some yellow socks. But over the years it seems to satisfy him less and less.
Consider how he is so desperate for red socks by this point that he’s stopped pretending so hard to his brother that he doesn’t want the red socks and is spending most of his time trying to get his best friend back to him who happens to have the exact particular red socks that he has been pining for for years.
Consider how, after a bunch of life changing events he starts openly admitting that even though in the past he said he only liked yellow skittles for instance, he now actually admits to liking the blue, green and red ones too and that his brother just has to learn to deal with it because he’s now just done and impatient with having to hide it all, “grow up Sammy”.
Consider how he starts actually saying outloud that there are some things that he hides, that he sublimates…
It may not be explicitly canon yet that Dean is bisexual, but its a hella implied in the subtext.
Coupled with the fact that Dean has repeatedly and canonically admitted to hiding aspects of himself that he thinks are culturally seen as unmasculine eg. taylor swift, cake, fancy shampoo etc. To the point that in season 2 Sam actually tells him that he seems to be “Butch” and “Overcompensating”. Just saying. This is not new. This is not ‘Dabb ruining my favourite character’ or whatever, this has been there all along.
Coupled with the fact that in 12x05 he actually said the words “sublimation is kinda my thing”.
Coupled with the fact that 12x11 was a whole episode dedicated this. To explaining to the audience that Dean deep down is not who he portrays himself to be due to all the baggage he has accumulated over the years, heavily relatable to the whole ‘red and yellow socks’ metaphor. Also hella relevant in the whole ‘who are you’ discussions this season with the brainwashing, Alesha, Cas, the heart v brain v memories discussion. It is repeatedly shown that it is the heart that is who you really are, not the memories.
What I’m saying is it might not be canonically explicit yet but it sure is leading that way and this is not a new thing, it’s been in the subtext since season 1, it’s just only now coming to the surface as we are at the point in the story where Dean is starting to learn who he is and reconcile the old and the new within himself and accept himself for who he is.
This is not out of character. It is entirely IN character. You just have to have looked at who that character really is beyond the facade since the pilot to see it.
And hell, if a guy likes red and yellow socks why can’t he have both?