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Wednesday, Jul 17, 2024
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Carmilla and Being Wrong

I’m going to talk about the philosophical revelation I had about Carmilla on Friday. I may sound like a crazy person at first but stick with me here though this social science dissertation. I know what you are thinking, I was bored during my all-day work training and my mind drifted to my favorite obsession/web series from KindaTV. But, that’s not entirely true… Be warned, there are plenty of plot spoilers below.

I was at a leadership training focused on emotional intelligence and I was fairly engaged in the content. In the afternoon we had a little break from lecture and activities to watch a short TED talk. If you haven’t explored TED talks you need to; there is something for everyone! (https://www.ted.com). The TED talk we watched was from journalist Kathryn Schulz and it was all about being wrong. Yes, that’s right, a whole speech about making mistakes and being wrong about all kinds of things. Sound like a certain plucky student journalist? You can watch it here:
According to Schulz, we have all learned that making mistakes is bad; not just at work, but in life. We don’t want to be wrong about anything. To overcome this we simply operate on the notion that we are right most of the time and don’t question it. As, Schulz says, being right makes us feel “smart and responsible and virtuous and safe.” We start to think that we are right all the time and that our beliefs reflect reality. This is where the problem lies.

To illustrate this, Schulz gave the example of the old cartoons where the coyote is chasing the roadrunner off of a cliff. The coyote keeps running in the air and doesn’t notice that he is no longer on solid ground until he looks down and then falls. This is analogous to our lives.

We go through life with the feeling that we are right about everything until suddenly, we realize we have no ground to stand on. Everything feels fine and normal even though we are wrong, right up until the moment we have the realization that no, we’ve been running in the air the whole time. Schulz calls this error blindness and when we finally realize we are wrong, it can shake us to our core.

Why does this revelation impact us so greatly? It is because we interpret this as getting something wrong means there is something wrong with us. Our attachment to our own rightness is what keeps us from preventing mistakes and causes us to treat each other horribly. This is when it hit me, my work training was actually all about Laura Hollis!

Laura spends season one of Carmilla completely attached to her rightness and is rewarded for it. She has a specific view of the world that divides people into heroes and villains. She is convinced that there is something going on at Silas U and she eventually proves that her roommate went missing, her new roommate is a vampire, and the Dean is evil. She gets almost everyone back at the end of the story, mostly without consequence. The outcomes reinforced her rightness. She was safe with her hero vampire! That is, until the moment they were not.

With her own truths ratified, Laura moved forward in season two more attached than ever to her own rightness. She never stepped outside of herself to question whether she was wrong. She insisted Mattie was a two-dimensional evil villain who killed all of the newspaper students in a quick, red flash of violence. Laura was convinced Perry was simply disturbed by all of the trauma inducing violence. She even thought Vordenberg was the weapon they needed to prevent the Dean from taking control. Laura was more committed to error blindness by the end of season two than she was to Carmilla, and it all came crashing down around her.

Mattie murdering, Perry’s behavior, and the hope of Vordenberg makes sense as a narrative. It all makes sense in Laura’s mind and the things she has experienced in her short lifetime. She never stopped to consider that she was wrong about anything. Which is probably because being wrong, felt like being right. And that is what leads to mistakes and the life altering consequences of those errors.

Camilla didn’t want to betray Mattie but Mattie was killed anyway. Perry was really traumatized but she was also possessed by the Dean. Vordenberg turned out to be worse than anyone thought he would be and in the end, the Dean got what she wanted. Laura didn’t spend the end of season two devastated just because those things happened. She was devastated because she finally had the realization that she was confined by her dedication to rightness. She couldn’t handle the consequences of errors she made that may have been preventable if she had considered, for one second, that she was wrong. This is what makes Laura Hollis human, her capacity to err, to misjudge, to make mistakes.

This is why I love the Carmilla series so much! It is this ability to root the characters’ actions, words, and stories in the fundamental human experience. We love Laura because she is fallible. We want to hug LaF when they realize Perry is possessed because LaF never considered they were wrong about Perry. And it is why we care for Carmilla, because she never considered that trying to protect the girl she loved would make her lose so much.

Whether we err out of love, hate, or some other emotion, it can all blind us to the reality of what is and what isn’t with very mixed results. At the end of her talk, Schulz chats about the radio program “This American Life”. She interviewed the host of the show and mentioned that she felt all of the episodes were about being wrong. The host confirmed that every episode has the same crypto-them. The theme is essentially, “I thought this one thing was going to happen, and something else happened instead”.

I thought this one thing was going to happen, and something else happened instead. Recognizing this is powerful. That is the theme of all of our lives. As Schulz points out, this is humanity, these are our stories, and so many of the stories go, “I thought this one thing was going to happen, and something else happened instead”. This is what Carmilla does best. It constantly reminds us that life is fleeting, imperfect, and even if you are a 1000-year-old vampire, you can still be surprised by something else happening instead.

These are the stories I want to experience. Stories about love, conflict, and the unexpected twists and turns that we all experience. This is our cultural currency; stories are the only inheritance that last far beyond the people that experience them.

We are almost done with the Carmilla web series and I am curious to see if Laura will step outside the confines of rightness and experience the wonder that Schulz talks about when we consider that we may be wrong. As we journey onward to the end of season three I thank the writers, actors, crew, and everyone else involved with Carmilla for giving us a story we can all enjoy. A story that makes me think deeper about the human condition and all of our wonderful, flawed messiness!

You can watch Carmilla over at KindaTV on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYGOMWwWwszJ4KbeWn2Eqgw

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