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The Very Real Impact Of Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave (2016)

Updated: Mar 13

​Every now and then, someone will ask, “But why do our fictional characters need a base in reality? Why do we need representation of this specific gender/sexuality/race/religion/mental health/situation? Surely it doesn’t matter, just let them be? Not all superheroes need to have tragic backstories, or ultra-realistic traumatic scenarios. Just let them be superheroes!”

Let me tell you about a relationship.

A relationship beginning at the naively young age of 19. A relationship that lasted 3 years. A relationship that I did not end, that upon its demise, resulted in my heart breaking completely.

I lacked confidence, my self-esteem was through the floor — as it tends to be, at 19 years old — and I found myself drawn to a young man who was entirely the opposite. Full of bravado, ego and bullshit, his peculiar allure is something of a mystery to this day. I’ll put it down to a great head of hair and a heap full of charm — two things that quickly diminished.

Like all things, it was exciting and new. As a remarkably shy, if brightly coloured teen, I’d never had ‘a proper boyfriend’ before.

Within a year, I spent a considerable portion of the week crying. I’d curl up in his arms and sob about my lack of friends, (something that had never bothered me previously — I’m a largely solitary animal,) our sexual incompatibility, my body, or any number of issues that I found myself frequently drowning beneath. I was not a miserable person. This was new to me. I couldn’t understand why I was sad so often, especially regarding things I never used to worry about.

In retrospect, I see the source of the sadness. I was told frequently by him that I was too strange, my friends were equally unusual and it’s why we insisted on banding together — he’d tell me I should find new friends, normal ones, yet often excluded me from his own social plans. He’d tell me it was my own fault that no-one wanted to befriend me. He’d berate my choice of hair colour, make-up, clothing, he’d tell me he longed for me to look more feminine, stop dressing 'like a child', and harboured an unhealthy desire for us to “match.” Whilst he lived at my family home for a short period, I awoke during the night beside him, in my bed, to find him sending graphic, sexual messages to other women with my laptop. I found bus timetables to visit a woman he’d been messaging, which he told me were, in actual fact, for his fathers New Years Eve party. (You know, in the wrong county. In the middle of summer.) A day after having confronted him about his vile, sexual conversations, he told me, “It would have been fucking stupid to break up with me. It’s only Facebook.”

Later, I discovered he’d regularly made true on his flirtatious messages. He’d been cheating on me frequently. (Something he publicly alluded to at his workplace on a daily basis, as a means of showing off.)

2016 rolls around. I’m 25. It’s been a considerable amount of time. I found myself entirely emotionally detached from him approximately a year after our breakup — It was a long, arduous process. My first heartbreak. What a time. Years later still, I have no feeling towards him, positive or negative. Nothing.

Then Netflix releases Jessica Jones.​

As a fan of Marvel, strong women, Netflix, comic books and television, I indulge. Heartily. It’s well-written, visually stunning and supremely performed. It holds enough connection to the Alias comic books to be obvious, whilst simultaneously removing the early 2000’s sexism and questionable period remarks.

Enter Kilgrave.

Kilgrave, played by Doctor Who’s David Tennant, dressed sharply in a suit and pouring out his best, slimy charm, is a character with the ability to control minds. Anything he wants you to do, he’ll make you do it — whether that’s bringing him a coffee, or stepping into traffic. He uses his powers for evil. His focus and drive are himself, the ultimate ego paired with the ultimate egotistical power — everyone must bow to Kilgrave’s will.

It was only in watching this, and his relationship with the title character, that startling similarities came to the fore. The ego and bravado. The misplaced charm. The smooth, sultry exterior that gives way to unequivocal anger and a desire to control. The power to control a normally headstrong woman — Kilgrave’s power, whilst definitely of the super variety, is placed firmly in reality. The right combination of words, overwrought apologies and sickening charm, are the only tools necessary to control a human being. When combined with frequent, seemingly genuine apologies, and a barrage of, “But I love you!” and “We’re meant to be together!,” and you have a recipe for emotional disaster.

I found myself curled up on the sofa as I watched, face pink and burning from the shame, embarrassment. My stomach twisted and lurched. My skin prickled and ran hot. Lines spoken by this ‘supervillain’ were words I’d heard from my own ex-boyfriend. The seamless blend of egotistical charm and aggressive insanity was like staring into a portrait of the man I’d been with. Realisation set in.

I was a victim of an emotionally abusive relationship.

The reality hit me like a freight train. Saying the words over in my head, repeating them to a select few close friends, it felt like the weight of a confession lifted. Unknown to me, I’d carried the burden for the years since, albeit something I rarely, if ever, thought about. Telling people, openly, was cathartic. It was a relief. Yet my face still burned pink.

I am told, frequently, that Kilgrave is desirable, in both personality and appearance. It’s offensive, troubling and disheartening. I cannot separate the fictional character from my real life experience, as it’s simply too close. This isn’t a case of a passing resemblance. It’s a visceral reminder of a human being who ruled my existence for three entire years of my young life. A man who shouted at me publicly and privately, refused to let me attend social events wearing certain clothes, berated me for every decision and then became furious when later, I was unable to make my own decisions anymore. A man who I have no connection to anymore, but has finally, been reflected in the media I consume.

My lack of feeling towards the man from my past remains entirely -- I truly feel nothing for his existence. However, now I see my experience with new eyes. With explanation provided by a roster of fictional characters on a thirteen-episode superhero crime drama.

So tell me, that our superheroes don’t need flaws.

Tell me they shouldn’t reflect our characteristics, our lives, our feelings, and our experiences...

But Jessica Jones explained to me the relationship I could never make sense of.


Originally posted on personal blog in May 2016

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