Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Why I Can't Watch Outlander

Does time travel qualify as an appropriate subject for a travel blog?  I think so.  Especially when the time traveler in question - Claire Beauchamp, the heroine of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series - is the "traveler" in question.

Aha!  You noted the quotation marks around "traveler" there.  So let me begin by clarifying the basis of my gripes here.  This isn't an anti-feminist rant against a strong woman who speaks her mind.  This is a rant against a woman who, in my opinion, is acting like a tourist in the worst sense of the word.

Not to put too fine a point on it but there's a difference between a traveler and a tourist.  A tourist comes to observe a culture, a traveler endeavors to participate in it. At best, a tourist views the sights  and leaves money to help the economy without leaving footprints.  At worst, a tourist endeavors to change the culture of the place they are visiting to fit their own homeland.  That's my take on it and that's the perspective from which I write and travel.  When I visit a foreign country I try to learn something about their customs and language.  I'm not fooling  myself here; there is no way on God's green earth I will ever escape faux pas or pass for a native, but I give myself a teeny tiny half pat on the back for not expecting everyone to speak English and serve hamburgers, for at least trying to fit in to the customs of the place I visit.

Now, as for Claire.  For God's sake, woman!  Learn some freakin' Gaelic!  I could be wrong but I don't think she uttered one word by the end of season one. (I skimmed the book as well and saw no attempt to speak the native tongue.  I admit I could have missed it; if so, I applaud her progress, however minimal.)  She's been in 18th century Scotland for months.  Her very safety could depend on understanding what is said in front of her in a foreign tongue.  She is an educated woman and speaks French so she certainly has the capacity.  Why not learn?  Even at the onset when she doesn't exactly plan on staying, it might be a nice gesture to say "Thank you" in the language of the locals who rescued you from a vicious rapist.

And speaking of rescues....this is where I want to smack her.  I understand and agree with her modern viewpoint  about a woman's right to speak her mind and maintain her independence.  But listening to a man who knows the woods and the dangers therein doesn't make you weak, it makes you sensible. Shouldn't you consider his advice about not wandering off alone?  Especially after you were nearly raped in those very same woods?  Not Claire.  I face-palmed as I watched her blithely traipsing up the hill for an instant replay of her first horrendous encounter with heinous Black Jack Randall.  In my estimation, exposing yourself to needless danger in this manner isn't independent, it's stupid.  And certainly inconsiderate of those who care enough to come to your aide.

And don't even get me started about Geillis Duncan.  After Jamie warns her, Claire runs off to see Geillis with no question about the slightly cryptic message that beckons.  The instant Geillis says that she never sent a message I'd be out of there!  That's my definition of smart and independent.  But not Claire's.  She hangs around arguing just long enough to become complicit in accusations of witchcraft.  And so a gracious Scot lawyer friend and her handsome husband are put upon to pull her ass out of the fire once more.

Of course, if Claire was completely behaved with respect to the times and customs, we wouldn't have a story.  I'm taking an historical fantasy too seriously.  I get that readers enjoy her feistiness.  I get that viewers admire her dedication to healing in the face of medical ignorance and her courage when she reciprocates rescue attempts.  But it disturbs me to watch people being put out and endangered for the actions of a person who can't accept the ways of the place they have traveled to.  At least enough to protect themselves and those they profess to love.  When one has come close to being violently raped twice, when one's sweet, adorable husband is raped, tortured, and branded, wouldn't that cause that person to hold back and take some advice from others of the culture/time/area they now inhabit?
Because it was a free Starz preview, I watched the first episode of season two to see if Claire had changed at all. To see if she'd learned enough of a lesson to grasp the opportunity to sail to Boston and live in relative peace with hunky Jamie. (Yeah, I knew better.)  To see if there was any character development with regards to some small show of reticence to get in trouble, some retrospection, some thought to possible overreaching consequences.  (Of course not. Improperly handled, that might shoot some of the external conflict of the story in the foot.)

As I expected, almost as soon as she's off the boat she's trying to alter history (spoiler alert from 2016 history books - she doesn't) and goes running after a smallpox victim.  Even though she is now pregnant.  Even though Jamie is telling her to leave it be.  She's already told him she can't get smallpox so it's not her health he's worried about.  At least stop to ASK him what's up. Show even a second of inner conflict after all you've been through.  Ya' think?  Nope.  The result - perhaps some lives saved (I say perhaps because the ship mates of the dying man are already wandering around, possibly infecting everyone anyway), definitely a brand new, high-powered enemy in the ship's captain, Le Comte St. Germain.  Makes for sequels but doesn't make sense from the standpoint of self-preservation.  Basic instincts be damned.

I don't see Claire as a strong woman so much as I see her as a poor traveler.  Please return to 1945, Claire, and stop putting yourself, your child, and those you profess to love in terrible danger.  I will not be watching season two or reading any sequels.  It's a double whammy when a traveler makes no concessions to custom or  time.

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