Mister Big: A Tool to Fight Toxic Relationships

By Arianna Noera

India Desjardins is a phenomenally popular Québec author whose works are devoured by readers of all ages and all genres. Her greatest success is the series Aurélie Laflamme, written for teenagers and young adults. The protagonist of this series has become a true Québec literary heroine.

But Desjardins isn’t just all about Aurélie. This is a writer deeply committed to the protection of animals as well as to militant feminism. Two of her books to come out in 2021 are Mister Big ou la glorification des amours toxiques (Mister Big or the Glorification of Toxic Relationships) and Les baleines (The Whales). They deal with topics close to Desjardins’ heart: psychological violence against women, and the protection of marine life.

Birth of an Idea

Mister Big has the aura of an academic thesis. Over its 160 pages, the book draws us into Desjardins’ thoughts. It launches a rigorous critique of how movies and TV series for young people are created and written, but it never does this in a mean-spirited way. It focuses on the example of Carrie Bradshaw, lead character in Sex and the City, and her many romantic woes. Desjardins gives us a new way to perceive how movies, TV dramas and soap operas present societal issues.

This long non-fiction work is based on a series of considerations and ideas about romantic fiction that the author first started to form over a decade ago, before her phenomenal success with the Aurélie Laflamme series. These reflections have been bouncing around the author’s head ever since. After reading an Instagram posting comparing Carrie’s different love relationships, Desjardins chose to put her thoughts down on paper. Her analysis is supported by scientific research. The book is packed with footnotes. She uses a methodical process that leads her to ask questions about the world of toxic relationships, whether televised or not.

The book is an inquiry. Desjardins investigates this topic to satisfy her own curiosity: “I wanted to start out at the same place as everyone else, with all the impressions and opinions I was going to unravel, at the risk of fooling myself. What I discovered was in the end very nuanced. Some of my assumptions were confirmed, and other conclusions surprised me.”

The Importance of Criticism

Desjardins reserves a special place for her analysis of “creative freedom.”  Her criticism isn’t aimed at discrediting other people’s creations. On the contrary, Desjardins loves all the movies and TV series she examines. The idea is to take excerpts of films and shows that have become cult classics and do an analysis that goes beyond the film or show itself. “I think that criticism can bring about a change in how we tell stories,” she argues. “For example, we can note the lack of diversity in productions. People aren’t forced to do what we say, but by criticizing, we might bring about change.”

According to Desjardins we shouldn’t criticize the way that such works are written. Instead, we should look at the important social aspects in the way that we tell stories. Female characters and their relationship stories haven’t substantially changed in the last few years. But they require more criticism in order to show what steps forward must be taken. “When we talk about the social aspects, people will always invoke their creative freedom. No one is going to talk about that when it comes to technical aspects. Why can’t social aspects also be part of the critique?” she asks.

Her book is based on media works of the past, but things haven’t changed enormously recently in movies and TV shows. Choosing to examine an old series like Sex and the City is her way to explore her ideas about a series she likes very much, with its familiar characters.

This book is a readers’ guide for young women (and, why not… for young men too) on how to distinguish toxic characters in love relationships as they are depicted on the big and small screens. Thinking critically, you don’t have to stop watching those productions that we all love.

The imaginary world of Sex and the City is analyzed through the eyes of a fan of the series who rediscovers hidden aspects of a love life that is not all that uncommon. The romantic ideal of a lot of people is that of a turbulent, heartbreaking love that causes us to suffer from insomnia. But why is this ideal so widespread? India Desjardins offers a response by analyzing how and why fiction presented to us onscreen so often depicts an idealized toxicity, which doesn’t always do us a lot of good…   

– First seen in Reflet de Société Vol. 30, No. 3, March 2022   

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