Originally written for Fandom Following / The Fandomentals.
Tumblr has been trying to teach me about gaslighting for a good three months now. It’s been popping up in people’s long posts, I’ve read it in some of the discourses, and I’ve even acknowledged that this is a thing that has unintentionally been done to me. At least, I think it was unintentional … In any case, gaslighting is not a new word to me. However, I have only just recently been able to correctly identify it.
Awhile back, I used to teach ninth grade English. One of the first things I ever told my students was to not ever use a word that they were not comfortable with. Knowing and defining a word is entirely different from actually understanding it’s use and applying it correctly. That’s how I feel about gaslighting, and other words that I wouldn’t normally use. I’m particular about how people judge my writing, so things like this are important to me. You can come at me for my punctuation usage, but I’ll be damned if I let you Inigo Montoya me.
In any case, Google says that gaslighting is when you “manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity”. Wikipedia tracks it’s origin to a British play from 1938 called Gas Light (or, Angel Street).
In the play, some newlyweds move into an apartment below one that the scene of the murder of a rich woman a few years prior. The husband manipulates the wife into thinking that she’s going insane by moving things around and making it seem like she’s misremembering her own actions and misplacing things. Thing is, the husband was the one who had murdered the woman from the apartment upstairs, and he kept returning to the scene of the crime to look for the dead woman’s jewelry. Except, the gaslights in both apartments were connected, and his wife would notice when the ones in their home dimmed. So the husband pushed his wife into insanity in order to cover up his crime.
Sounds like a lot, don’t it? But, like any good colloquialism, the term ‘gaslighting’ caught on as soon as a movie was made. It’s been in use as a psychology term since the 1960s, but, again, I’ve only been aware of it for three months at best. However, I am quite sure that ‘gaslighting’ is where the phrase ‘gassing up’ comes from.
Language is ever evolving.
So why am I giving you this rundown about gaslighting? As I’ve said before, knowing and defining a word are one thing, but understand the word and using it correctly are another. I can guarantee you that everyone who comes across this site does not know what gaslighting is, and, if they do know, there’s a good chance that they might not be able to recognize it for what it is. Luckily, the media is brimming with different examples!
So, for the rest of this post, I am going to talk about three different instances of gaslighting that I’ve found in the media, in the order of their severity. Two of them will be Korean Dramas – hush – and one will be NBC’s Grimm. At the end of this post, I will leave a link to a clip of the 1944 movie, Gaslight, as one final example. If you don’t come out of this post with a better understanding of what gaslighting is and what it looks like, then it’s probably a good thing that I’m no longer teaching.
Please be aware that there will be spoilers.
1. My Love From Another Star
My Love From Another Star is first on my list because it is technically the most lighthearted of the three. Overall, the series carries a relatively light tone, even though three people are dead before the end of the fourth episode. They don’t count, though.
My Love From Another Star is a Korean drama about an actress who tries to change her image and falls in love with an alien. It’s much better than it sounds. Originally, I wasn’t even going to go with this picture, but it’s impossible to talk about gaslighting in My Love From Another Star without talking about Lee Jae Kyung.
So I’m going to talk about Do Min Joon first. As the alien in this show, it’s entirely understandable that he gaslights quite a few people just based on the use of his power alone. He makes several people question their own sanity with his teleportation powers, and is so committed to covering his secret that he has been known to destroy CCTV cameras just so that there will be no record of him. On two different occasions he has appeared out of nowhere to rescue Cheon Song Yi, only to tell her that she was hallucinating. On a third occasion where Cheon Song Yi could not have been hallucinating, Do Min Joon outright avoids having to explain.
One can argue that Do Min Joon is not gaslighting because of the intention behind his actions, because gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse and Do Min Joon doesn’t want to have any power over anyone. However, Cheon Song Yi felt the need to visit a psychologist to understand if what she had seen could be true, and Byun Hee almost runs himself ragged trying to figure out how Do Min Joon went through a door on one side, but did not come out on the other.
In both instances, Cheon Song Yi and Byun Hee questioned their sanity and Do MIn Joon didn’t provide the truth until he almost lost Cheon Song Yi. So, it still counts.
The only time Lee Jae Kyung wasn’t gaslighting people was when he was watching them die. In the beginning, before he killed someone, Jae Kyung would ask the victim about their specific ailment, then tell them to take good care of themselves because “you know I like you, right?”
That line was perfection, and it was criminal of the writers to stop using it.
In any case, Lee Jae Kyung was so good at his deception that he would bug people’s spaces with listening devices and secret cameras, so that he could spy on them and cover up any trace of his involvement that he may have missed from before the murder was committed. Jae Kyung was very good at covering his tracks, as if to say that you had to be crazy to suspect him.
Jae Kyung even put his first wife in an insane asylum, then convinced everyone that they were divorced and she had left for the United Kingdom for 8 years. Then when the wife managed to escape from the mental hospital, Jae Kyung had already had a record of her time in the hospital ready to go so that he could cast doubt on the validity of her testimony.
Lee Jae Kyung was an absolute psychopath, and I loved him for it. I know that sounds weird, but you have to understand that the only reason that Jae Kyung was able to be stopped for good was because his father was made aware that Jae Kyung had killed his older brother, Lee Han Kyung. Up until that moment, Jae Kyung had kept up his lie and knew exactly how to get out of the trouble he had found himself in. Even when his father had called him out on his brother’s murder, Jae Kyung was still saying that the evidence against him was fabricated.
Lee Jae Kyung felt no remorse about what he did, and anyone in his way was a liability. It was a truly a testament to Shin Sung Rok’s acting ability that Lee Jae Kyung’s story was so fascinating all the way to the end. Make no mistake though, Jae Kyung was gaslighting his way across Korea and burning up the bodies he left behind. There could be no evidence of his wrongdoing.
2. Cheese in the Trap
Cheese in the Trap is a show that psychology majors would have a field day with. There’s more psychological disorders and emotional issues going on in this 16-episode drama than you can find in a textbook. The show talks a lot about people with a victim mentality, but the big focus is the people who gaslight them.
The actual plot of Cheese in the Trap is about how Han Seol’s life is turned upside down after Yoo Jung begins to interfere in it. Han Seol first considers Yoo Jung suspicious, but later falls for him. Han Seol and Yoo Jung both have a habit of not speaking up when people wrong them, but Yoo Jung still manages to quietly get his revenge.
Yoo Jung is a borderline sociopath, and the only reason that borderline is a qualifier for him is because he at least tries to do better when it comes to Han Seol. However, Yoo Jung can’t change who he is overnight.
Yoo Jung is the entire reason that I decided to write about gaslighting, because the way that he does it is very subtle. Everything is a suggestion, and, honestly, anyone who is actually paying attention to him wouldn’t be getting caught up in his schemes, but, like Yoo Jung says, a victim mentality makes you greedy for things that are not yours. And he never feels any remorse, even when it ends up worse than he had expected it to go.
Yoo Jung maintains plausible deniability. Even when you do think to suspect him, just about everyone is ready to jump in to defend him. Yoo Jung had to be exposed by someone who knew him for him to be found out when he ruined a classmate’s job prospects. And even then, Han Seol had to almost die for Yoo Jung to finally see the damage he had been causing by manipulating everyone around him.
The difference between Yoo Jung and Lee Jae Kyung had to be the fact that Yoo Jung actually feels some remorse for what he’s done, even though it came at the end. Probably one of the best lines in the entire series is when Yoo Jung tells Han Seol that “in order to love her correctly, he had to go and figure himself out as a person”. Some people might have hated that, but I thought that it was the best move for them. Han Seol would have taken him back regardless, but Yoo Jung had done too much for it to be that seamless.
Ugh, I’m talking too much about these shows, but it would be wrong of me to move forward without saying something about Son Min Soo and Oh Young Gon.
Son Min Soo was a classmate of Han Seol’s who had felt invisible to others, until she wholesale copies Han Seol’s look. Oh Young Gon was Han Seol’s stalker from the previous year (yet another Yoo Jung manipulation that got out of hand).
Son Min Soo clearly had a victim mentality, and Oh Young Gon knew that, but he chose to gaslight Min Soo into thinking Han Seol was just jealous and bullying her. Young Gon’s goal was to get revenge on Han Seol and Yoo Jung by breaking them up, and then ditching his own girlfriend for Han Seol.
Suffice to say that none of these situations worked out for either Son Min Soo or Oh Young Gon. In fact, Young Gon’s gaslighting (and Yoo Jung’s manipulation) resulted in Min Soo catching a very public beating from Han Seol for coveting Seol’s look, phone pendant, old schoolwork, and even her younger brother. And where was Young Gon in all of this? Recording it on his phone for Korean World Star.
Where was Yoo Jung? Right there, watching it live. He didn’t even have the decency to pull Han Seol off of Min Soo.
Last, but not least, we’ve made our way to Grimm. I had a problem with Grimm’s gaslighting long before I even knew what gaslighting was. And, once I finally understood it, I knew that I couldn’t leave it out.
In their defence, Grimm’s entire mythos require some form of gaslighting to be carried out by the entire Wessen community. (Grimm is the other show about fairytales and folklore, in case you were wondering.) There was a set group of people who would go out and kill a child if that’s what it took to keep their secret. More often than not, though, if a person found out about Wessen, they’d be more likely to be committed to a mental hospital because the idea of Wessen being real would just be too much for them.
Confused? That’s fine. I’ll explain.
On NBC’s Grimm, Wessen are the creatures of fairytales and folklore who go about their daily lives wearing the appearance of a human in order to not be hunted. They used to be specifically hunted by Grimms, who could see through their guises whether the wessen wanted them to or not, but the particular Grimm for the setting of the show is a cop who wanted to do right by the people of his community. And his community includes wessen.
So in the show, Nick the Grimm is a detective who works in a precinct full of mostly humans. He coincidentally handles a number of wessen-related cases (read: all wessen-related cases), and the only way for this to work cohesively is if his partners are aware of what’s going on.
This is not the case.
We got up to season four, and some of the humans closest to Nick were still just finding out about wessen. On three different occasions, at least one of Nick’s humans went crazy. The messed up part about it is that these people would have several deadly wessen-related incidents, and afterward Nick would just be like, “man, what was up with that?” Like he didn’t know exactly what was up with that!
The person that suffered the most had to be Sergeant Drew Wu (pictured above). This guy should have died five times over for all of the wessen-related things he was put through without his knowledge. Sergeant Wu was gaslit so much that he had a psychotic break, admitted himself into a hospital, came back to work, and basically had to confront Nick about harboring a murder suspect in order for the truth to be revealed to him.
Grimm went out of it’s way to justify the gaslighting with whole episodes dedicated to how people would continue to deny it when confronted about it, either out of fear of being hunted, or outright ignorance because there was no one around to teach them about themselves. Nick’s partner and fiancee’ had both went crazy before the whole of it was revealed to them somewhere in season 2, and there were points where Nick would still have been just fine if they never knew.
Some of you might ask how this could be the most severe example if the other two were so serious? Ultimately, Grimm had the most cases of psychotic breaks, but they still tried to justify their gaslighting as if it was the greater good. The thing is, not knowing always seemed to do the worst damage.
I’m going to stop here because, again, I’ve written much more than I had intended to. Hopefully by reading this post you are able to pick out more examples of gaslighting, as portrayed by the media and in real life, if you were not able to before.
In the three examples I provided, the gaslighting is relatively easy to spot as gaslighting can come off as suggestion, can lead to a break in a character’s mental state (depending on the level of intensity), and, in all three instances, there was a reference to a mental institution. While gaslighting in the media will not always have the third thing, the first two are common. In this clip from the 1944 movie, gaslighting is so subtle it’s actually quite scary.
Gaslighting in real life is a terrible idea, I don’t care what anyone tells you. The moment you decide to manipulate someone’s mental state, memories, or self-perception, you have officially become a terrible person and you are entirely responsible for whatever trouble they find themselves in. Before you even think about trying it, ask yourself how you’d feel if someone did that to you?
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