Tag Archives: Hannibal

Sympathy For the Devil


Ah, the old dilemma: when you’re making up characters to propel or occupy your story, you want the audience to like them. Otherwise no one’s going to care enough to read or watch it. But how does one generate affection for people that aren’t real? Writers and scholars the world over have puzzled at this since the craft began. Of course, some of them just didn’t care and gave us outrageously unlikeable characters, some managed to strike the seam of gold between their words and the audience’s empathy, and some found a way towards both. Maybe the trick is not to worry about it too much.

I consider this after seeing a blog post floating around the ol’ Tumblr, discussing A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones’ Cersei, specifically her book characterisation vs her TV characterisation and how the fluctuations in them were going to make one of the biggest moments in the upcoming story fall flat. Book Cersei is much more volcanic, they argued, and much more of a sexual being than the TV series shows, which is going to make it awkward when she’s (minor spoilers) called out, shamed and generally stripped of her manipulative powers. What have they got to strip her of if they haven’t demonstrated these traits in the first place, leaving the show’s version of Cersei as a much softer and more likeable person? A commenter suggested that the head writers (affectionately called ‘D & D’) didn’t know how to make a character likeable without begging the audience for sympathy.

It certainly worked in the case of Daenerys, who quite plainly suffered through most of the first season, making it all the more uplifting when she rose to power and is now having a jolly time setting fire to people who try and oppose or abuse her. Pre-dragons, Daenerys is a teenaged girl sold into wifehood/slavery in an unfamiliar race, with a douchebag brother and a sense of resilience her only companions. Despite Cersei’s own qualms with her arranged marriage, penchant for revenge and other parallels you might scratch out between the two queens, there’s a clear difference that makes one immediately more ‘likeable’ than the other. Daenerys is an underdog, the stomped-on that we are all hardwired to support because we’d hate to see ourselves in that position. Cersei is the one who stomps on people (daintily and seductively), so naturally we’re less inclined to like her.

Yet the world overflows with Cersei fans, and fans of villains and terrible characters in general. Do writers really need to beg for sympathy to make people fall in love with bad guys? Continue reading


Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings

A Comedy of Horrors

All logic tells us that horror and comedy are two genres that should be worlds apart. But, finally getting to hang out at the big genre dinner party, while Fantasy and Sci-Fi are chatting happily, Romance and Drama have retreated to the kitchen with the champagne bottle and Arthouse is smoking in the bathroom, Horror and Comedy find they have more common than one might initially think.

The conventions that make us laugh are, strangely enough, the same sort of things that make us scared. Juxtapositions, for example. Things doing what they should not normally do are funny; for instance, elderly women forming gangs and beating people up a la Monty Python, or children’s stuffed toys being foul-mouthed drug users, a la Ted. Things being the wrong size, like a giant sandwich falling from the sky, or being where they shouldn’t, like finding Rowan Atkinson in the cabinet under your kitchen sink.

These tweaks of the ordinary make for humour, but the same idea is also a fundamental ingredient in scaring the bejeezus out of people. The dead, for instance, should stay dead. It is an accepted piece of logic in most cultures, despite whatever succinct beliefs they hold about what happens to the soul afterwards. That is why zombies and ghosts are scary, because once somebody has died and been laid to rest, the general consensus in society is that they should stay there. It’s immediately eerie when the dead in question subverts that by dragging itself back into the picture.

Furniture should also not move of its own accord, which is what makes poltergeists and other demonic tomfoolery freaky. In fact, generally speaking, demons and company should stay in mythology where they came from, and black magic, unquiet spirits and bloodthirsty night-crawlers are immediately disconcerting to any viewer because they’re already defying the rules of the world.

The Empty Child, Doctor Who

No I am not your Mummy. Leave me alone

Just as the image of old ladies going savage amuses us, the image of children acting creepy terrifies us. Old ladies are, traditionally, quiet and refined and soft and lovely and not going to go out into the streets on motorbikes and start bashing up phone booths. And children are, traditionally, pictures of innocence and cuteness and need to be protected by adults. This is why it’s so effective when horror movies or books use the creepy child trope—it subverts every instinct we have about the nature of children, and it freaks us the hell out. Continue reading

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Filed under Archetypes and Genre