Pretty Little Liars and Normalising Adult/Child Relationships
Every so often I take a little break from the usual beauty, lifestyle, food and travel ramblings on here to talk about something that is really getting my goat up, or upsetting me. I did it with my post on loss, and my one on not being a part of 'the blogging community'; I'm doing it again now. Pretty Little Liars, or PLL to us 'hardcore fans' is one of my favourite shows. I'm a bit of a sucker for teen dramas, and there's nothing better in my mind than a little catch up on One Tree Hill or Gossip Girl. I'm not even sorry, it's my absolute guilty pleasure. But, there's one thing that really sets these two apart from PLL in my mind, and it's the use of adult-child relationships.
This can be a bit of a touchy subject with some people, especially teens, as a 16-17 year old is sometimes considered to be an adult, but as much as I thought I was an adult back at that age, do I think it now? No. I definitely think you have the right to make your own decisions at this age, but there is still the opportunity for manipulation. Also, we're going right back to the age of 14, which is a little different. PLL's constant use and discussion of adult-child sexual relationships is honestly quite troubling. And the worst part? It's totally normalised. I'm going to break it down here into different relationships, to see just how frequently it occurs: something I hadn't even noticed until I read a news article on it recently. This is the most concerning aspect for me - that most of these relationships had gone totally over my head, awash with the idea that they are normal.
Aria and Ezra
This is the most obvious one, and the one that most of you guys probably thought about as soon as I mentioned the content of this post. Aria and Ezra meet when she is 15 (about to start Sophomore year) and he is 23. An eight year gap is totally fine as an adult, but in my opinion at least is a little concerning when the girl in question is underage.
From the offset this unlikely relationship is normalised. 15 year old baby-faced Aria is drinking in a bar when she first meets Ezra and loses her big V to him. In the back of a bar. For starters, in a place in which 21 is the legal drinking age, the entire setting seems a little unlikely, but as no questions are raised about it, it seems to lull us watchers into a false sense of security: we are used to 21 year olds drinking and hooking up in bars - Aria therefore seems to be that age. Indeed, for a 15 year old she is incredibly mature, and I'm not sure that shy, bookish Aria would be up for acting in the way she did that night, but maybe it's just me projecting.
Then we discover that Ezra is in fact her teacher, and he discovers that (whoops) she's underage. And she's totally in his class. Awkward. Rather than aligning himself to his duty of care however, he continues to pursue the relationship despite feeling 'guilty' about it. I know that some people will say that Aria was totally to blame here, but really, if a hot older guy told 15-year-old you he loved you then would you really turn that down? 15 year old me wouldn't have.
Now, what I find most disturbing about the continuation of their relationship is that for starters no one seems to notice or has a problem with it. High school for me may have ended four years ago, but if a girl was hanging around in the classroom of a hot young new male teacher then there would definitely have been rumours, if not actual complaints. But none of this happens. Then we have the fact that they're sleeping together with no real complications. This just simply doesn't happen. Ezra would have known how damaging a pregnancy would have been to the both of them, and surely would have taken precautions to ensure that it never happened, right? Instead of discussing these problems, we are faced with an idyllic coupling of the pair, in which the only problem is that her parents might find out. The fact that the show never questions the complications in this relationship inhibits our potential to do so too. Had there been a pregnancy scare, or a discussion of contraception then maybe, just maybe, we would be forced to think that actually this relationship isn't #goals. It's actually just a little manipulative.
Don't agree with me that there's a problem with it? It's just love and oh well, he met her before he knew she was 15 so does it really matter anyway, it's just real love? What about when we find out about his book? If you haven't watched the later series, then there's a serious spoiler alert for you now. After convincing us that it was okay, it's true love, age is just a number, etc., we find out that actually Ezra knew all along exactly how old Aria was and who she was before they met. Now if that does't scream 'creep' to you, then what will?! Ezra pursued Aria in order to write a book and make himself money. This is the ultimate form of manipulation, and was actually the first time I ever really felt truly dodgy about there relationship. Is it not a little predatory to pursue a 15 year old girl, fuck her, date her, impact her entire life, just to make yourself a bit of cash dollar?
Yet, even when this comes to light not one of the PLL gang actually turns around and says do you know what, that's really fucking creepy, what a perv. Instead the adult/child relationship isn't mentioned. And then Ezra is all 'oh soz I fell in love eventually but still stalked you, gained your trust and wrote the book anyway' and all is forgiven? Okay then. In the whole discussion over several episodes it is never once mentioned that actually, he was breaking the law by being with Aria, and he was manipulating a young girl's emotions for his own gain.
Spencer and Ian / Spencer and Wren
These two are really relationships that get swept under the rug in a wash of normality. In Season 1 we witness Spencer and her older sister's then husband macking on when she would have been a ripe 14. Again, although Ian is judged for this, it is because he cheated on Melissa, Spencer's sister, not because he cheated on her with an underage child that the judgement occurs. Then, the same is repeated with 16 year old Spencer and Melissa's new beau Wren. Wren is a bit of a charmer, and all round 'nice guy': we see Melissa being a bit of a bitch to him, so can you blame him for hitting on her child sister? Yes, you can, but we're encouraged not to. Instead, their first encounter is portrayed as an 'accident', when he decides to give bikini-clad Spencer a massage because her muscles are sore. What a nice friendly doctor man. How could either of them have guessed that that might be a little sensual? Spencer puts her trust in him, and this, combined with Melissa's hostile nature makes us want to see the pair get together, and we are not disappointed.
What is perhaps worst about these two incidents, is that rather than being portrayed as the victim of an older male's manipulative behaviour, Spencer is condemned as a 'slag'. By her own family. We see not only Melissa, but the girls' mother force the brunt of the blame onto 16 year old Spencer, and is the fact that the two men were actual total creeps who hit on a child mentioned? Of course not. Once again this issue is totally ignored by the show.
Alison and Ian
Alison was only 14 when she 'died', and we all find out that her and Ian were in a relationship before then. He was her 'secret' beau that she told none of the other girls about, and he was with her on the night she died. So, Ian is a serial predator. But, even when Ian is totally condemned by the characters, is it ever for that? Is he ever mentioned for what he really was: legally a rapist of underage children? No, they condemn him because they suspect that he had something to do with Ali's disappearance, and even the police overlook the illicit relationship. When they can't book him for murder, they don't book him for anything, or even look into his activities with this young girl. Indeed, the fact that he cheated on Melissa with Ali is mentioned as being totally immoral over the fact that it was with a fourteen year old. Ian by this point had completed a degree, so we know that for sure he is 21 at the youngest. Does it really then come as a surprise that he'd been filming the five of them undressing? Again something the police never found or cared about.
Until I really started looking into and thinking about this, so much of it had gone totally over my head. What kind of a message is PLL sending out to us, in which the law, society and even us as an audience don't care about, or even notice the fact that these relationships are going on? I absolutely love the show, but this honestly really concerns me. Should we just accept that murder is bigger than ongoing child abuse and the latter should be ignored? Or consider that it is an important topic that needs to be discussed?