Lately, I’ve mostly been watching Stranger Things and reading an extensive Harry Potter fanfic (the Sacrifices Arc, available here).
Stranger Things is a Netflix drama/horror/mystery series about one child going missing (Will) and another child suddenly appearing (Eleven, or El for short). The Sacrifices Arc is set in an alternate universe where Harry has a twin brother, Connor, who is believed to be the Boy-Who-Lived instead of Harry, and their parents live.
At first glance, Stranger Things and the Sacrifices Arc don’t seem to have much in common, but watching the show, I found myself bothered by the one thing they do: the dehumanization of El and Harry.
El is kept in a research facility from birth, viewed as a test subject, a tool, a weapon. She is manipulated into compliance by her father, who leads the facility, and when that fails, she is locked into a tiny, dark room.
Harry is trained from birth to be his brother’s protector, his servant, his weapon, to sacrifice his childhood and if necessary his life for Connor. His mother Lily pushes him relentlessly, and any time he falters, any time he complains of being too tired to go on practicing or learning, she guilts him into continuing by forcing him to imagine his brother dying because of his lack of skill or knowledge.
And here’s the difference:
When Harry goes to Hogwarts, and other people notice and learn about what has been done to him, they are shocked and furious at Lily and do anything in their power to help Harry realize that no, actually, he matters, his life and his desires matter, he is more than just a weapon and more than just a sacrifice, he is a person.
When El escapes the facility, and runs into a group of boys her age looking for their missing friend Will, they talk of her as a freak and a weirdo, and later as a weapon. And while they give her food and shelter and help her to run from the “bad men”, they do so first and foremost in order to use her to find Will.
It might not be quite as bad as that – two of the boys do speak of El as their friends eventually, although in one case only after prompting, and one (Mike) even speaks of her staying with his family in the future and going to a dance with him, and he shows some concern for her when hiding in a closet triggers her, and he even kisses her once. And they have a pretty good excuse not to focus all their attention on her, with their friend missing.
But it still leaves a nasty aftertaste. Even when El gets into contact with adults (and these are adults who know quite a bit about what she’s been through), they don’t exactly do much for her mental health. Again, they have a good excuse – one of them is the missing boy’s mother, and she still manages to behave most appropriately out of all of them and at least offer to comfort El in the face of a difficult and terrifying task. But. Still.
Would it have been so impossible to include a couple of scenes of El being allowed to be a person? So impossible to have Mike protest even just once when Dustin calls El “their weapon”? Even after the mostly happy ending, they talk of El mostly as someone with superpowers – would it have been so hard to have them speak of her as their friend instead?
I don’t know, maybe I’m being oversensitive due to the Sacrifices Arc, or I’ve even missed a scene where that happens. (Although if that was easy to miss while the dehumanization wasn’t, I’m inclined to think it was too little.)
This post is for Eleven, not a weapon, not a research subject, but a little girl who likes Eggos and what she looks like with long hair. May you always have friends, and be safe, and know that none of it was your fault, and that yes, you are pretty.