26 December 2015

Dramione: The Problematic Ship?

It's the guilty pleasure we all somewhat recognize to have had in our lives: Despite everything, we can't help feeling the whole 'opposites attract'-vibe at times.

Even more so, perhaps when we tend to ship two, polar characters not paired - romantically or otherwise - within the canonization(s); i.e. the original material.

To make matters 'worse' and thus all the more better tension-wise: These two are practically enemies and at each other's throats most of the time!
Of course, we've seen this relationship trope played out before, in real-life as well as in fiction; from old mythology to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's on-off romance (who both, ironically, played the respective roles of Petruchio and Katherina in the 1967 film version).

Well, what I'm all about this time is the interesting, but nonetheless problematic - or shall we say complex - non-canon shipping of Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter universe. Also known as 'Dramione'.

And a highly controversial one at that.

After all, we're talking about two main characters, 'the good girl' and 'the bad boy', from one of the biggest, most beloved and influential canons in modern history! Many grew up with these books and feel a close - almost protective - kinship to them; such as battling with bullies, school, hormones, etc. in well-known as well as fantastical settings.

Of course, because the books and films hit a curve made for extravagent and passionate fandoms - hardly seen before - around the world, and with such dedicated numbers, there will always be a hoard of protesting voices, whatever one proclaims about the canon. An universal human condition, I guess, but perhaps now more than ever thanks to the Internet and the growth of various fandoms.

However, in stead of quickly dismissing and villifying the feelings certain people have regarding controversial fandoms and 'ships', such as the case of Dramione, one should rather discuss these matters critically. Maddy Myers (via The Mary Sue) makes some very good and critical points on the whole 'woobification' of villainous characters as well as the condemning of such fandoms.

This post is not so much a specific defense nor a disapproval of the Dramione ship, but should rather be understood as a critical defense of the importance of discussing and examing such controversial matters as certain fandoms.

This particular ship is also highly controversial because of the biggest elephant in the room: The racism and prejudice against Hermione's blood status as a Muggle-born witch. Pure-blood Draco is, to put it mildly, a cruel, cowardly, little brat. Raised into believing in Blood Purity, he is verbally abusive towards Hermione basically all the time we witness them interact. There's nothing likable about him in the canon. One only finds pity for him. One could venture to say, it's problematic, to say the least, to form a relationship between a racist and his victim; no matter the level of love. It will always be formed on something wrong and likely self-destructive. To love and change is one thing, but to unlearn racism on both sides is another. Not to mention, Draco almost killed Katie Bell and Ron Weasley, as well as Albus Dumbledore.

It's also an entire question of 'permitting' 'the bad boy', in this case Draco, the chance of love from 'the good side' or 'the good girl'... in this case Hermione. Sure, it's a redemption story in its trope, at its core, in its morale arc, etc., but also a chance of giving the POV to Draco. 'Bad boys/girls' are always interesting in some aspect or another, simply because they are not good. Well, not always. Not entirely. They're shady; anti-heroes.

And concerning the argument why Hermione should even be paired with someone like Draco..? Well, after Rowling recently stated - to much controversy - that she regretted having Hermione end up with Ron rather than Harry, one cannot help following those trails of thought and suggest other options than those two (rather awkward ones) ... or none at all, for that matter.
Because is it really that important who she ends up with? In the end, Hermione gets one helluva brilliant career in the Ministry of Magic (she'd also make a terrific Minister of Magic!) and makes the world a better place and that's really all that matters, isn't it?

I must confess, I'm partly biased - or rather ambivalent - about this ship.

First of all, I find Draco a very interesting character to explore since much about him was left unresolved and in the open, at the end, I feel.
Not so much redemption-wise or in regards of an anti-hero (or in Draco's case anti-villain) potential, but just because he was given far too little space to really unfold, in my opinion, and it would be pretty interesting to see how he would fare if he had run into Hermione, 'his polar opposite', of all people, more often and in more complex situations. Thus potential for a ship and expansive fan universe.

Secondly, I have a soft spot for the Tom Felton-Draco.. or simply Tom Felton (who hasn't?) - which I blame too many behind the scenes marathons - where Tom's just all smiles and seems like an absolute sweetheart (which JK herself has confirmed as well as Jason Isaacs and everybody else, I think). Not to mention, he was basically born for that role. Creds to a kid that can exude that much spite just by sheer force of pronounciation! And definitely should have won the Most Smug-Faced of the Year Award. Although Draco's depiction in the first parts of the series could hardly be called three-dimensional, he's given a bit more depth in the sixth part and onwards - and Felton played it magnificently. Seriously, he should have won a BAFTA for the bathroom scene alone! I think it's the first time you feel something else than mere hate towards him.

And that leads us to the problem of separating the actor from the character - which is difficult, to say the least, in every fandom, but with the Harry Potter series in particular. Even if you read the books first, you still see the actors' goddamn faces every time you think of one of the characters..! Though that certainly doesn't have to be a bad thing, it does make matters more complex in regards of romantizising a fictional character one really shouldn't romantizise. Then again, it's possible to be drawn to fictional 'baddies' who have not yet been visualized in a pretty face. Hmm.

What clouds our judgement when it comes to liking 'bad boys'?

It is something that we shouldn't do, so, on the one hand, it is perhaps our moral sense; something sinful and forbidden we are either/simultaneously repelled from and/or pulled towards.
On the other hand, it can be mere attraction of looks and charm. Or the simple altruistic need to 'fix something broken'; redeem a 'bad character' whom we believe has a heart of gold beneath the cold exterior (the naive version) or whom we simply believe in (the human, basic version).
You could ask yourself if you tend to fall for the 'bad guys' in general; in real-life as well as in fiction? If there's a theme, this is probably a problematic ship. You're hardly the only one, though. I tend towards it as well (again with the ambivalence). It's an acknowledged, occurring theme regarding any anti-heroic matter called the White Knight syndrome or Florence Nightingale syndrome/effect.

And in Draco's case: Maybe it just was what Rowling intended it to be: An example of one of those 'bad boys' who was bad for a reason; a coward and nothing more, who learned his lesson the good old-fashioned way:
Rowling explains that although "girls are very apt to romanticise" the "dark glamour of the anti-hero", she writes that she has had to tell fans, "rather severely, that Draco was not concealing a heart of gold under all that sneering and prejudice and that no, he and Harry were not destined to end up best friends."*
It amuses me. It honestly amuses me. People have been waxing lyrical [in letters] about Draco Malfoy, and I think that's the only time when it stopped amusing me and started almost worrying me. I'm trying to clearly distinguish between Tom Felton, who is a good looking young boy, and Draco, who, whatever he looks like, is not a nice man. It’s a romantic, but unhealthy, and unfortunately all too common delusion of — delusion, there you go — of girls, and you [nods to Melissa] will know this, that they are going to change someone. And that persists through many women's lives, till their death bed, and it is uncomfortable and unhealthy and it actually worried me a little bit, to see young girls swearing undying devotion to this really imperfect character, because there must be an element in there, that "I'd be the one who [changes him]." I mean, I understand the psychology of it, but it is pretty unhealthy. So, a couple of times I have written back, possibly quite sharply, saying [Laughter], "You want to rethink your priorities here."*
However, I've witnessed Hermione-like situations myself (though not racist) and seen how boys growing up with a harsh upbringing and being cruel, little bastards in the end come out on the other side because someone close guided them in the right direction.
If real-life throws you such examples, why not Draco? It may not have been too late to change in his case. Doesn't everyone deserve a second chance, one could ask?

And if he was a coward through and through, why didn't he tell on Harry, Hermione and Ron when they were caught in the Malfoy Mansion? Someone like Peter Pettigrew certainly would - and that would be a Gryffindor doing it to his closest of friends even!
Draco despised the Golden Trio and didn't even owe his life to them at that point. He was maybe just scared, sure, but wouldn't the coward's way just be to give into the higher power and let it be over with so that he could save himself? Yet, Draco didn't do what would have been easiest. It's an interesting aspect of Draco's character, at least.

Tom Felton himself gave an interesting view on his character:
I’m really sorry for him. All of what he believed in is gone. It’s just like somebody pulled the rug away under his feet, he totally lost his balance. But at least you’re able to see what he had to go through in his childhood and so one is inevitably touched. Draco was bullied and one understands better why he let out so much of his frustration in Hogwarts. Even if he tries to get away from the bad influence of his parents, he can’t escape the surroundings in which he grew up. 
I'm not so stupid to think that these kinds of boys have totally changed, or that there aren't boys who don't come out on the other side; who have no one to guide them. Of course, there are. It's never that easy or black-and-white. Maybe it's just my naive mind, but I can't help believing in - perhaps not a golden heart but a golden chance in Draco's case. With or without Hermione.

The question also remains: Isn't Draco also just a kid? A frightened, little kid? Is he really to blame for his harsh upbringing and inherited prejudices when he has known little else? When the only attitude he has learned to meet people with is one of arrogance and disgust, inevitably pushing everything good away? Isn't he really only trying to imitate his father and make him proud as well as fearing him and Voldemort? The fine line between cowardice and fear is drawn where one choose to act, but in the end, doesn't Draco just act in order to save himself and his family, one could ask? Don't his parents as well? In a cowardly, yes, but also very human way. With nothing but fear and hate, one has little left to support oneself to; little left to make the choices for you, let alone a will to do it yourself. And when you're afraid all the time, you deal with everything by cowering and/or putting up a hard attitude to guard yourself. Love is blinding but so is fear, and when those two come together - especially in times of war - you'll never know what you're going to get.

Dramione inhabit the somewhat 'romantic' notion that boys mostly pick on girls because they like them and do not know how to go about it otherwise ('you always hurt the one you love'-idiom), though it's far from healthy to use bullying as a way to show emotion. However, Draco was hardly in a position to be allowed or able to openly admire Hermione (if that was the case); then the easiest way is to tease, at least to show something else than mere indifference. The love/hate scale is once again blurred and impossible for us to make out exactly in this case. Only our own personal feelings and convictions can make that call; thus hardly making objective conclusions. A psychologist would probably say differently.

And the big questions (with no definite answers): Aren't we to always see the good in other people and give them a second chance? Especially the young ones, since they still have the chance to change? And when is it too late to change?

Everything depends on context, I guess. Again, you cannot conclude generalized answers that account for all and sundry to such big questions. Whether you read Draco as a unchangable, unredeemable little shit and invested a lot of emotions (often your own projections) in Hermione and see no possible outcome between them, then that may resonate with many others' opinions - but mind, not everyone sees it exactly the same way. Some are all aboard the Draco or Dramione train, while others are more ambivalent or just curious. All feelings are valid, just remember to discuss and view all of them with constructive criticism. And since they are fictive characters, why not seek to explore their character arcs a bit more? It seems like the perfect opportunity!
Yeah, you could just gush out terrible and unrealistic romance stories about them, but you could also take the hard road and make it entirely difficult for them.. but not unrealistic.

And, in regards of Dramione, maybe we're also undermining both Hermione and Draco a bit? They are smart kids/teens thrown into war on opposite sides. Either way, it's interesting to see them both deal with this matter and surpass it.

One argument is that despite their polar positions and personalities, Draco is highly intelligent and able to match Hermione more than the more prosaic Ron Weasley. And while I agree that Draco and Hermione would be compatible intellectually, I'm not so sure that also would be the case regarding their values. Of course, if Draco did change, he would inevitably have to take his set of values up to revision and compromise according to Hermione, more so than her. The generic theme in this ship often being that of Draco being the broken one and Hermione the unbroken one who leads him to the path of Light, with no small amount of electric bickering and (eventually) fierce protectiveness inbetween, often added a dash of Ron bashing (probably in order to make someone like Draco seem a better choice for Hermione).

Also, if one - as a 'shipper' - has a weakness for the snarky/sarcastic wit and cocky attitude in a guy, Draco is an obvious candidate (again more so than the more slow-witted Ron), despite his arrogance and malice clearly dominate this particular trait.

The Mudblood and Death Eater markings on their respective arms have made people draw further parallels between the characters as well. They both share different aspects of pain and shame coined to these 'opposite' markings that have been forced upon them against their will (more or less in Draco's case, given his situation). Besides Harry, none of their peers have had these disturbing markings so painfully forced upon them or carried them around, etched forever into their skin. And to each the other's symbol is equally disturbing as representative symbols of their 'given' enemy; their polar oppositions in about everything in life, despite the irony that if you stripped them of blood status, racism and all the rest of it, they'd probably be more than compatible. It's certainly an interesting yin-yang dichotomy, visually, symbolically and emotionally, to explore in a more expansive universe.

Another argument is that the Death Eater/Muggle relationship actually happened before, in the canon, between Severus Snape and Lily Evans. Initially friends, it's unclear, however, where Lily exactly stood regarding Severus, romantically or otherwise, and though he definitely ruined any chance by calling her 'Mudblood' in that fatal incident, they might actually have had a chance. And Snape was even in a somewhat reverse situation than Draco!

The best argument for this ship, however, would be the fact that Dramione may help make amends between the two Hogwarts Houses, Gryffindor and Slytherin, and their notoriously bad relations. For future generations as well. Not immediately, of course, but in time and perhaps more effectively than one could presume Hogwarts fared right after the war in the canon. If one look beyond how Hermione, The Muggle-born Gryffindor Princess, may redeem Draco, The Pure-blood Slytherin Prince, for his wrong doings, they could both be examples for each House of how to overcome stigmatization, petty hatred and superficial differences between the Houses (mostly inherited through previous generations) as well as overcome racism and the ideals of Plood Purity and elitism. 

That is, of course, a lot of responsibility to put on one couple; a couple who may or may not stay together for the rest of their lives, but at least it will show how they are willing to try, though it may not be easy.

But that's exactly it: Why should it be easy? Life isn't easy, and just because fiction can be there to satisfy and entertain it shouldn't always be easy either. Can't it reflect real-life and bring to light some of the things we wouldn't otherwise want to see or examine?

If anything, a little confrontation will do you good, I always say.

I've read a couple of good fanfics out there which realistically and patiently try to deal with such a complex, hypothetical relationship between the two of them during and/or after the Hogwarts years. It's not such an outrageous thought, if you're willing to push your feelings aside somewhat and give it a chance for exploration.

I'll rest my case with some great and quite believable (if slightly melodramatic) Dramione-tumblr posts:

1 comment:

  1. this was one of the most inspiring pieces of work i have read in a long time. Not only does it share interesting views on the ship, as a whole, but also have meaningful insight that you can put on to any character or person out there. Also your use of 'nothing is just black and white' is a really captivating idea to think about, but one i openly believe.