Local lecture series What We Talk About takes on the often difficult but deeply intriguing love triangle, and we took home a few valuable lessons. (For example, Niles and Daphne getting together was morally sound, but also totally boring.)
The topic of last night’s new lecture series What We Talk About was apropos; with the day of commercially sanctified romance safely behind us, what better time to talk about love triangles?
As is WWTA’s mandate, four people took turns giving semi-informal lectures on the given theme, each approaching the subject of love triangles from a different perspective.
While a discussion of the phenomenon’s social and psychological underpinnings was disappointingly left out, the speakers, who ranged from a former reverend to a Frasier fanatic, addressed particular love triangles in, respectively, a comic strip, a film, a television sitcom and the Bible. Here’s what I learned:
1. Don’t shoot the messenger; patriarchy’s trying to tell you something
Reverend Kate Merriman, a former parish priest and current pastoral staff member at All Saints Church, quietly recalled the steamy Old Testament tale of King David and Bathsheba. You know, the one where David’s walking on the roof of his palace and sees Bathsheba bathing and decides he must have her? So he does, er, have her, and also impregnates her, which is inconvenient because Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, is one of the King’s soldiers, and is busy fighting a battle for him out in the fields. Anyways, David pulls a bunch of duplicitous moves and gets Uriah killed, but learns his lesson when God sends a prophet to reprove him.
The story itself was nothing new to me (‘cause let’s face it, Hebrew school), but Merriman presented some interesting interpretations of King David’s actions, which ran the gamut from the uber-patriarchal—focusing solely on David’s crimes against another man—to the more progressive viewpoint that David likely raped Bathsheba. All in all, Merriman suggested we shouldn’t discount the story simply because it’s anti-feminist, but should recognize that the account has not, in spite of being image-tarnishing, been suppressed by the patriarchal system.
2. Animal love triangle = an allegory for unresolved racial identity
Cultural critic Jeet Heer spoke about the love triangle found in American comic strip Krazy Kat, which ran from 1913 to 1944. He explained that the saga of a gender-shifting, dull-witted cat, the violent mouse it loves and the officious, cat-loving police dog, is the platform that mixed-race comic author George Herriman used to work through questions of race in America.
3. I should watch The Philadelphia Story
TIFF Programmer Steve Gravestock waxed poetic about the seminal 1940 film The Philadelphia Story, pegging its central love triangle to the formulaic screwball comedy premise. He explained that the screwball plot typically sets the protagonist up to marry an unsuitable character—deemed as such due to an “intolerable” quality like fraudulence, inappropriate social class or, “God forbid, being European.” The narrative usually unfolds as the main character is slowly brought back to his or her senses, confronting their latent love for a third character. Veering a little too far into referential details, Gravestock, for awhile, lost the under-25-looking crowd, but left this 26-year-old with a resolve to find The Philadelphia Story on Netflix.
4. Niles and Daphne’s coupling is necessary, yet deeply anti-climactic
Amanda Factor, an online magazine editor, spoke about her obsession with Frasier (yes, the show), of which she owns seasons one to nine. Well-acquainted as I was with the delightfully neurotic cast, Factor provided fascinating insight into the Niles-Daphne-Maris triangle, explaining that the personalities of each character makes viewers feel it is okay to root for Niles to go outside his marriage.
For example, Factor described Niles’ never-seen wife Maris as “cartoonishly villanous,” Daphne as “by no means a temptress or vixen,” and Niles himself as “not a womanizer.” The stakes inevitably get higher when Niles winds up with Mel and Daphne with the adoring Donny, forming an intricate love square, but it’s fine: Niles had a hard-on for Daphne for forever, so…
Still, Factor confessed that she stopped watching Frasier the moment, in season seven, Niles and Daphne finally consummated their love, claiming, “That was it, for me, the story was over, the show had been killed….It would be like watching Cinderella and Prince Charming going about their day-to-day activities in the palace; I don’t want to see that.”