For Real Friday: Manipulation

“You think you changed?” Poseidon laughed, and moved toward me, the filtered lights making the sea god look like he was moving in stop motion. “Why? Because you rebelled against Zeus?”

“I was created to be loyal to him,” I pointed out. “So…yeah. I’d say I’ve got some experience with change.”

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“No, he created you to have to be obedient to him.”

I tilted my head, not sure what he was getting at with the distinction and he laughed again.

“It never occurred to you to wonder why he didn’t bother to make you want to obey?” Smug, self-satisfaction permeated the sea god’s voice.

Where was Poseidon going with this? “Because he was a heartless bastard that didn’t care what I wanted? Why bother with the extra effort of–“

“What? Ensuring you wouldn’t spend every waking moment of your life trying to find a way around how he’d made you? You think that would be more work?” He smirked and shook his head as though astounded by my stupidity. “He gave you a personality, Aphrodite. He didn’t even have to bother with that. You were disposable to him; he could have made you an empty shell. Do you actually think the personality that you got was an accident?”

“I–” I broke off, drawing back. I hadn’t thought of that. “What?” I shook my head, trying to dispel the horrible suspicion forming there. “Stop it.”

“He liked a challenge.” The colored strobe lights glittered against Poseidon’s teeth. “Even when he had a sure thing. Unquestioning compliance would have bored Zeus, and you–“

“Stop!” I stepped away from Poseidon, back coming up against the shield, but he bridged the distance, his words filling in blanks I didn’t want filled.

Poseidon gripped my arm so hard I saw stars. “You’re nothing but Zeus’ plaything. You haven’t changed, Aphrodite.” He gave me a rough shake and I cried out in pain. “You did exactly what you were designed to do. He just never anticipated losing, and, don’t flatter yourself, you had nothing to do with that, either. He lost because he didn’t see Demeter’s sacrifice coming.”

“I said stop it!” I tried to pull my arm free, my shriek surprising even me. It wasn’t until clarity dawned in Poseidon’s expression that I realized how befuddled he’d looked before. He let me go so fast I stumbled into the shield that surrounded us. “Aphrodite, I’m–“

“Don’t!” I backpedaled to the side and away from him in a futile attempt find a weak spot in his shield, my breath coming in sharp gasps. “You’re–” I tried to say ‘wrong,’ but the word wouldn’t form. No, no! I wouldn’t believe him! I tried again. “Everything you just said is– You’re just–“

Poseidon lowered the shield and I fell backward, crashing to the floor. “That wasn’t about you. I–“

“You’re scum!” I scrambled to my feet, cradling my arm. The people near me stopped dancing. “Persephone was right about you. You’re nothing but slime.” I turned and stumbled out of the club, shoving past people until I could break into a run. When I reached the door to my suite, I stopped, realizing I didn’t have a key.

“Come on!” I slammed against the door over and over again. He was wrong. Poseidon was wrong; there was nothing more to it. He didn’t know what he was talking about. He’d never been in my head. He didn’t know what it was like day in and day out fighting every instinct Zeus had given me.

But I was letting Zeus define me. I let the things he’d done control my reactions. He pushed left so I moved right. In the end, everything I did still led back to him.

“No!”

“Aphrodite?” A hand touched my shoulder.

I jumped with a shriek, backing into the door with enough force to hurt, hand poised on the knob like I had any prayer of opening it. When I registered Adonis standing there, I went limp against the door, hand to my chest, struggling to draw breath into my lungs. “Don’t do that.”

“Are you okay?” Adonis’ gaze latched on to my arm, which was fast turning into a mottled purple mess, and he hissed. “Did Poseidon do that? Why isn’t it healing?”

“I can’t–” I gasped again. “I can’t breathe.”

“Here.” Adonis unlocked the door and reached for me, but I jerked away from him.

“Don’t!” I stumbled into the room. “Oh gods, he’s right,” I realized, voice breaking. I stepped out of my shoes, moving on autopilot into dark the room, stopping when I reached the half-wall that separated the kitchen and dining room. “He’s absolutely right. He could have made me love him.”

“What? Aphrodite, what happened back there? What did Poseidon do?” Adonis followed me, stopping just short of the kitchen wall. “Hang on.” He flipped a switch and light flooded the suite. “Did he–“

“Zeus could have made me love him.” The flat of my hands pressed against the countertop. I stood hunched over, elbows locked, hair falling in my face as I stared down at the matte, white surface breathing hard. “He could have just made me.”

“That would have been horrible.” The confusion in Adonis’ voice would have been comic under any different circumstances. “But I don’t see what–“

“I could have been happy.” A sob worked its way up my throat.

~@~

Manipulation plays a pretty big part in the Persephone trilogy. The most overt example is charm, but its there in other ways. Demeter doesn’t have charm and can’t even lie, yet she still manipulates Persephone into thinking she’s heard one fact over another.

Charm, mind-control, and the like have been in fiction for as long as we’ve been telling stories, and as I’ve said so many times before, to learn a societies fears, read their fiction. Mind control is a pretty interesting case of this though because on the one hand we’re afraid of it and on the other hand there’s this air of inevitability behind it. Manipulation is a part of life. We like to call it socialization even. It’s not always a bad thing. If humans didn’t react to things in the predictable ways they did, culture and society wouldn’t exist.

Because it’s sometimes benevolent, you might not think of it as mind control, but it fits every aspect of what we’ve created in fiction. Here’s a tongue in cheek article that goes into it more than I particularly want to, but in summary….

We’re socialized from a very young age into accepting certain rules and standards as right and wrong. I’m not just talking about morals, if someone looks into your eyes in passing for more than five seconds, your social response is to be creeped the frick out. That’s not an instinct you’re born with. We’ve been socialized to react that way.

On the darker side, politicians play on emotions to gain your vote. Stories, real and otherwise, are framed in such a way that they control how you sympathize with the people within them. Language is power and make no mistake it is deftly wielded. I mean, market research exists. The purpose of that is solely to determine how to best manipulate people into wanting a product or to keep watching a show or to feel a certain way toward a certain thing. It is so well known that we play on peoples emotions and manipulate their thinking that no one really thinks about it, its a given.

So what makes manipulation and mind control so much more frightening in fiction? Personalization. Unless you’re talking overt mind-slaves like POD people, large scale mind control in fiction just doesn’t have the same kick to it as that creepy guy behind the secure door in the prison who somehow talks people into blowing their own brains out just by talking to them. Knowing the Master hypnotized everyone into voting for Saxon is somehow not as terrifying as Ella, a girl who *has* to follow orders being ordered to be happy (not act happy, BE happy).  There’s something sinister about the personalization of manipulation. That’s why gas-lighting someone is pretty universally considered a reprehensible thing, but the existence of commercials…not so much.

What do you think makes mind control scary and why is it different than the subtle and not so subtle ways we’re already controlled?

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