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The Magical Mind Changer: When “Yes” Really Means “No”

January 12, 2012

NOTE: This article contains spoilers for recent episodes of Grimm and Supernatural.  If I have to warn you about spoilers for everything else, you might want to reconsider your geek cred.  😀

It’s a pretty common story. Boy meets girl. Girl can’t stand boy. Boy gets magic potion to make girl love him. They both live happily ever after.

Except, what happens when the potion wears off? Girl wakes up, realizes that boy has drugged her. Has coerced consent from her. In geek culture, the idea of chemically coerced consent is handled fairly frequently, with varying degrees of “oh no they didn’t.”  The difference is not in the type of device used, but in how the fallout of that device is handled.

I Put A Spell On You

In the “Season Seven, Time For A Wedding” episode of Supernatural, Sam marries Becky Rosen, a “superfan” of the books of prophecy about the brothers disguised as trashy urban fantasy. Sam has in previous episodes expressed his discomfort with Becky, so the sudden switch makes Dean suspicious. As it turns out, Becky was feeding Sam a love potion. As the potion wears off, Sam’s real feelings begin to reassert themselves and he makes it quite clear to Becky just what he thinks about being drugged. Becky, the classic crazy eyed fangirl, clearly understands that Sam is not interested in her, and would never even consider being with her without the intervention of the drug.  Becky justifies the use of the potion, both to herself and to Sam, because the drug brings out his “real” feelings for her.

The aunts in Practical Magic use an actual spell to have Michael fall in love with Sally Owens.  They defend this by saying that they only gave him a little push, unlike the spell they do for one of the village women.  That woman comes to them, crazed with obsession, wanting a spell to cause a man to leave his wife for her.  Here, the aunts make a token protest and warn “Be careful what you wish for.”  The warning comes across as lip service, a fulfillment of an obligation that they speak because it is required, not because they feel it will be listened to.  For Sally, they show regret not in that they caused a man to love their niece, but that Sally fell for him as well.  After Michael’s death, Sally mirrors the first woman’s mad scrabbling at the glass of the back door and demands a spell to raise her husband from the dead.  The aunts refuse, more than willing to meddle with hearts, but not with souls.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is rife with magical objects that control how people feel.  From Xander’s enchanted necklace that caused everyone but its wearer (Cordelia) to fall for him, to the high school letter jacket which caused women to fall in love with the wearer, to the series of devices Willow uses to try to make Tara forget that she wants to leave.  Each time , these objects are shown to have negative repercussions for their use.

BtVS highlights this best in the episode “Dead Things.” The Trio use a device specifically designed to make someone their “willing sex slave.”  Warren chooses to use the device on his ex-girlfriend Katrina, after a scene in which she makes it quite clear that she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Interestingly, when it comes time to decide which of the Trio gets to “you know,” Warren lays a protective arm around Katrina and nonchalantly brushes them off.  Warren demands that the mind controlled Katrina tell him she loves him and that she never should have left.  When Katrina wakes up from the effects of the device, he defends himself by declaring that he just wanted them to be together.  In Warren’s twisted mind, he still loves her and that justifies his actions.  But when Katrina flatly declares that what they are doing is rape, both Andrew and Johnathan seem to understand for the first time just what their immature fantasy entails.  Warren, on the other hand, becomes cold and violent.

It is important to note here that intent matters a lot.  While Becky and the aunts justify their actions as being about love, The Trio’s intent is clearly all about sex.  While hunting for who to use the device on, they identify their targets in pieces.  “The redhead,” “leather skirt,” “bazoombas.”  And even though Warren clearly thinks of Katrina as someone he loves, he still treats her as an object, just as though she were his robot girlfriend.  After Katrina’s death, Warren is the first to call her body “it,” making the easiest transition from Katrina as a person to Katrina as an object.  Warren may think that he chose Katrina because he loves her, but his actions show that it never had anything to do with her as a person, only her as an object to control.

Ooo, That Smell

Not all chemical coercion is so clear cut. In “Everything Changes” from Torchwood, Owen uses an alien pheromone to induce a young woman to go home with him, and then later her boyfriend. Prior to this, both characters had given Owen clear signals that they were uninterested. The woman gives Owen the cold shoulder, he tells her that he “can’t be bothered with all the chat” and then sprays himself with the perfume, which has an immediate effect.  When the pair are later confronted by the woman’s angry boyfriend, Owen says “Well, if it makes it easier” and then sprays himself again.  This whole scenario is played for laughs as they smilingly fight over the man who has just doped them.

A similar tactic is used by the Ziegevolk in the Grimm episode “Lonelyhearts.” In that case, the women are shown as being eager participants at first, but later in the episode are revealed to be caged up and kept like animals. Grimm, at least, doesn’t leave the women in an ambiguous limbo of “She liked it at the time, so it’s okay.”  The difference between these two episodes is that the audience is (in theory) supposed to like Owen, whereas Grimm’s Ziegevolk is the monster of the week.  Owen may not lock his targets in a cage and keep them in a basement, but his use of the alien pheromone is just as callously casual.

Blame it on the ah-ah-ah-alcohol

Stories about love potions, mind control, spells, and things of that nature like to gloss over the underlying nastiness of this sort of behavior. That a person who uses a magical mind changer on someone they clearly know would otherwise say no is a rapist. In real life, GHB, roofies, and other drugs are obviously date rape drugs. Guys who use them are, without question,  rapists. But what about alcohol? When does the guy plying a woman with alcohol become the guy using it as the most common date rape drug?   Often when alcohol is involved instead of GHB, people just call it a “gray area,” claim that the girl woke up the next morning “with regrets,” and hand wave the whole situation into a neat little victim-blaming package. He’s not at fault for getting her drunk, she’s at fault for allowing him to get her drunk. How was he supposed to know that when she said “yes” she really meant “no”?

Here’s the thing.  Alcohol is not a magic device that completely removes the subject’s free will, but it does remove important aspects of that free will, like inhibition.  Once again, intent matters quite a lot.  A man plying a woman with the intent to remove those inhibitions is attempting to use it as a magical mind changer.  This is especially sketchy when he is using it with the specific intent of changing an already received “no” into a “yes.”  Which is not to say that a man with no specific intentions gets a free pass.  He may not be willing to admit it to himself, but once it does get to that point, it is up to him to make sure that he doesn’t take advantage of the situation.  And if he does… well, that makes him kind of an asshole.

If you need an easy guideline to help out, try this: If she’s too drunk to drive, she’s too drunk to say yes.  In both situations, sufficient impairment can lead to slow reaction times, poor decision making, and choices that she would not otherwise make while sober.  Yes, this guideline is probably going to lead to considerably fewer drunken one night stands. But which would you rather be? The guy who took a completely sober girl to bed and had a time that both of you can remember? Or the guy who took a drunk girl to bed who may only remember that earlier in the night she gave you the brush off?

Finally, I hope is goes without saying that this is one of those cases where silence does not, in fact, equal consent. If she can’t say “no,” she sure as hell can’t say “yes.” If she’s passed out, sleeping, in a coma, or otherwise completely incapable of answering either way, then it’s definitely “no.” Even if she said yes just before passing out. If all you really want is a warm hole, get some KY warming gel and a Fleshlight.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Evelyn Logan permalink
    January 12, 2012 7:23 am

    Two thumbs up!

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  1. Sticking to My Goal « Crossed Wires

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