Let’s Talk: “Teams” in YA Media

Over the summer I started watching a new show on ABC Family called Chasing Life. It’s about a girl named April who accidently finds out that she has Leukemia when she goes to donate blood. The first half season has focused on April’s life and the lives of her family members both before and after they learn of her diagnosis. I’m not sure what the rest of the season will cover or how I feel about the show, yet, but I saw something on their Facebook page earlier today that got me to thinking. It said, “Are you Team Leo or Team Dominic?”

Leo and Dominic are April’s two love interests on the show. One is a guy she met at work, whom she started dating before her diagnosis, and the other is a secretly big-hearted playboy that April became friends with through a cancer support group. They’re both great characters, so I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. I don’t want to have to pick a team.

Say what you will about their contents, but ever since Twilight became a THING, there has been a marked increase in demand for Young Adult content and huge fandoms cropping up around them. I believe that this is due, at least in part, to the rise of the love triangle trope. By forcing fans to “pick teams,” verbally or otherwise, you bring them into the community and make them feel as though they are part of the character’s decision.

I’ve seen it done in The Hunger Games trilogy, The Selection series, The Shatter Me series, The Throne of Glass series, and so many others. Its common in television, too. MTV’s Awkward had us fighting over Mattie and Jake, the CW’s Reign forced a Bash vs Francis split, and Arrow broke my heart with the Sarah vs. Felicity arc before teasing an Oliver vs. Palmer fight for Felicity’s affections. Dangling love interests is the writer’s weapon of choice in both print and on screen.

It’s true that when it comes to being part of a fan community we all have opinions. In fact, I wrote a whole post on The Great Gilmore Boyfriend Debate for just that reason. But sometimes, like in the Leo vs. Dominic case, I really don’t want to choose. What if my OTP (one true pairing) for Katniss isn’t Peeta or Gale? Her world got a whole lot bigger at the end of Mockingjay and there are so many more guys out there for her to choose from!

Furthermore, what does this Team-centric attitude say about girls like Tris from Veronica Roth’s Divergent series? Unlike many other best-selling authors, Roth avoided the love-triangle trope altogether. Instead, she used the stress of a just one relationship – put through the trials of a crumbling society and familial loss – to generate more than enough drama. She avoided the outside factor of an additional love interest by focusing on what happens inside a relationship instead. It was more than enough. Since then, I’ve seen this style repeated in other series like the Daughter of Smoke and Bone and the Chemical Garden trilogy, though it is admittedly more common in stand-alone novels.

As a fan, I have opinions. I wouldn’t write this blog if I didn’t. But picking a “team” sometimes makes me feel like I’m not on the side of the main character. In reality, all I want is what’s best for them. I wanted to see Rory grow up happy. I wanted Katniss to stop feeling like she needed to fight for her life. I wanted the CW to stop teasing Mary and Bash when history has already made it clear that she would marry Francis. And in the future I want to see more girls like Tris, Hermione Granger, and Emma Swan (from ABC’s Once Upon a Time), girls who do what’s right, with or without a relationship. And I want more fictional boys to stand up for themselves when a YA woman drags their heart across half a series, too. It wouldn’t be fair of me to expect otherwise. As a fan, I want to see more characters with conviction, characters who are willing to fight for themselves and what’s really important.

No more teams, please. That trope is done.

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