Guilt and shame in due South (with an X-Files footnote)

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Title: Guilt and shame in due South (with an X-Files footnote)
Creator: Kat Allison
Date(s): October 26, 2003
Medium: online
Fandom: X-Files, due South
External Links: Guilt and shame in due South (with an X-Files footnote); WebCite;
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Guilt and shame in due South (with an X-Files footnote) is a 2003 essay by Kat Allison that was posted to LiveJournal.

Some Topics Discussed


So, some people expressed an interest in my thoughts on RayV and RayK as shame-based and guilt-based characters, respectively, so I typed out some rambling comments, which are cut away because they got incredibly long-winded.


I posit that shame and guilt, though similar in many ways, have a crucial difference. Shame I see as being externally focused; it grows out of the sense that one has screwed up or fallen short in the eyes of others. One has visibly failed to live up to some group norm, whether of honor or coolness or correctness or whatever. Guilt, on the other hand, is internally derived; one has failed to live up to one's own personal standards. One can feel guilty about actions, or thoughts, which no one else will ever know about (except perhaps one's God).
Ray Vecchio as shame-based: Vecchio is a guy who cares deeply about how he's perceived by others; he's all about la bella figura. This goes beyond the obvious (his clothes, his car, his style) and shapes his behavior with others. When he gets his raise, in Juliet is Bleeding, he takes his pals out for dinner to a fancy place, because that's what a guy does, even though the tab is going to eat up most of his raise. And when the dinner is wrecked by Zuko's party, you get the sense that a large part of his anger is about losing face, not being able to show his buddies a good time, being humiliated. (RayK might just say, "Screw it, let's go down to the diner.") The pool game on his birthday, in Victoria's Secret, is farcicallly impractical, but it's the gesture that matters, the image, the amplitude and gentleman's-club luxury implied by that grossly-oversized pool table, and the graciousness of having his colleagues over for a game (never mind that none of them are really enjoying it).

When he's made to look foolish in others' eyes, he suffers. His interactions with Fraser are constantly punctuated by his mortification about Fraser's freakish behavior, and the fact that he's looking like a freak by association. When he comes back in CotW, the jabs he chooses to take at RayK are all about how his image has been damaged.

Vecchio is, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, a guy who is enmeshed in a rich, complex network of culture and tradition. A lot of his pride, self-esteem, and sense of self grow out of acting and presenting himself in ways that are seen by others in that network as being appropriate and estimable. He wants respect, and to be respected, a guy needs to be well-dressed, drive a sharp car, be suave with women, exhibit largesse, have a snappy comeback, take care of his family. There are moments throughout the Vecchio episodes that show us the private times when he actually falls short of "honorable" behavior (e.g., the deal with Frannie and the lottery tickets). As long as these things remains private (or known only by Fraser, whom Vecchio realizes operates by an entirely different code), they don't bother him. He sure doesn't lie awake at night guilting about them.
Ray Kowalski as guilt-based: Unlike Vecchio, RayK is something of an atomized individual; estranged from his family for many years, divorced from his wife, separated from his home-base precinct, with few visible old buddies or connections to the past, living alone. He comes across as someone who's largely set the terms for his own life, chooses his own conduct and appearance, and if other people don't like it, fuck 'em. He is also, clearly, someone who feels a lot of pain about his failures to live up to standards; but to a large extent those standards are internal. The best example of this, perhaps, is Ladies' Man. All his associates are clearly pleased with how he did on the case--it was a clean arrest, he did the right thing, stop worrying about it, etc. etc. But he's in agony, because he knows something's wrong, he screwed up, and he goes against all the conventional cop code and endures the contempt of his colleagues to try to set it right. Even when he's saved Beth Botrelle from execution, he's still riddled with guilt for his failings; others might congratulate him, but he's suffering his own judgment. He still broods about the fact that he wasn't able to do the right thing, by his own standards, when his dog was hit by a car. And during his recounting in Eclipse of that formative encounter with Marcus Ellery in the bank, what's continued to eat at him over the years isn't the shame of having wet his pants in public--he seems almost shame-free about describing that to a group of strangers--but the guilt that he didn't do the right thing, didn't somehow take the guy down. (Of course, he would also have liked to look like a hero to Stella. None of this is 100%. *g*)
But at heart, the two are operating from fundamentally different stances, and I think it to some extent shapes their relationships with Fraser. Fraser, of course, is himself almost wholly without shame--he really doesn't care what people think about him--but he is deeply and intimately familiar with guilt. That's one reason why it's much easier for me to see F/K than F/V; Fraser and RayK have the guilt-base in common, they're familiar with the same demons.

If Mulder is without shame what he does have in spades is guilt, of course. For not saving his sister, for not getting the evidence, not cracking the conspiracy. Which--it's not like any sane person would expect him to, but he's not sane in this regard, he expects it of himself, and he punishes himself relentlessly for falling short.

And Scully ... one continuing story thread in X-Files is Scully learning to get past her shame; her FBI-agent shame about always having to come back with shoddy or nonexistent evidence, her scientist shame about believing disreputable and unprovable kookiness, her personal shame about choosing a path that no one else except Mulder approves of for her. It's a hero's journey of a sort, just as Vecchio gains a kind of heroism in being willing to live through his own shame at the embarrassments Fraser regularly gets him into, and to stick with the guy despite it all.

Fan Reactions/Reviews

The LiveJournal post had 33 comments as of 2017.[1]

Mergatrude recced it in a 2009 ds_meta post.[2]


  1. ^ webcite
  2. ^ THIS WEEK IN DUE SOUTH META HISTORY..., Archived version, 30 January 2009.