March 6, 2014 · 12:06 am
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 →
February 13, 2014 · 12:43 am
For the love of God, someone send Nick Fury after Sherlock Holmes.
What are you smirking about, you life ruiner
I have no problem with characters that are terrible, or even just irritating, people. Lots of characters that I enjoy immensely in fiction are people I would either outright avoid or attempt to sucker punch if I met them in real life. It’s why I love villains, and antiheroes, and made-up people whose diabolical behaviour, snark and flaws I can study in a detached sense. But only to a certain point, and that point is where these characters start actually getting called, as they say, on their crap.
When a villain or antagonist acts awfully, we know it’s not alright because they’re portrayed as the villain and (hopefully and presumably) defeated or at least confronted by the hero or protagonist. Their blatant assholery or people manipulation or flat-out evil is pointed out as a bad thing and within the story world it’s brought to justice. The problem arises when these negative traits appear in the heroes of a story, and the story then goes ahead to treat this bad behaviour as, sub-textually or otherwise, the morally right thing. Protagonists will be rude or downright horrid to other characters, make a mess of things and act, whether in sweeping gestures or in everyday circumstances, in ways that we as members of a polite society are pretty sure we shouldn’t if we want to be accepted and not spurned, or at least complained about when we can’t hear.
Yet, these characters will go on like this undeterred because they make up for their behaviour by doing things no other character can do with whatever main character power-up they have, and thus they’re never (or at least very rarely) reprimanded for the things they do, in more ways than one. If the other characters just brush it off, it’s cemented as an okay thing to do in-world, and from a meta perspective, this character is still being portrayed as the hero of the story for all their awfulness, and thus the message being beamed to the audience is that this is the right and proper thing. And that makes me grind my teeth. Continue reading →
December 12, 2013 · 12:10 am
Except when they don’t
Hush little audience don’t you cry, you knew your favourite character was going to die…
Well, that’s an unnerving little lullaby isn’t it? The fact is, the author giveth and the author taketh away, and the characters and worlds creative professionals breathe life into are often at risk of having that life sucked right back out of it. Yes, friends and loved ones, I’m talking about character deaths again. An excessive amount, or a lack thereof, both of which seem to be trending across popular TV series at current, and both of which have some iffy implications.
Game of Thrones, for example, has by now a stellar reputation for sticking an axe into everyone you love, or, in less weepy terms, its writer assigning no contractual immortality to the ‘good guys’. One of the most popular anime series at the moment, Attack on Titan, runs a similar operation, as does the Fate franchise which has spent the better part of this year putting my heart through a pepper grinder. Supernatural is not much better. In the sphere of YA The Hunger Games and Harry Potter are well worthy of note, with fans everywhere lamenting the loss of their favourites in whatever context. Suzanne, George, J.K. and their kind have earned their place in the hearts of many as the harbingers of doom.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Steven Moffat, who, as much discussed in the wake of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special, has a general aversion to actually killing characters off. Which is fine, on one level, since not every series has to contain a warzone’s worth of death if it’s not actually set in a warzone. But what our champ the Moff does is fake out deaths; kill Rory and bring him back so many times it becomes a running joke, displace people in time so they pass away quietly off-screen, or just smack the literal giant reset button and make everything okay again. As a side note, there is an actual website where you can press a ‘make everything okay’ button, which is really cute, but as a writing technique it’s… rather dicey.
There he goes again
At one end of the tightrope, you have Game of Thrones watchers joking that they’re hesitant to get attached to new characters since they’ll probably just get killed off, at the other, all tension and sense of fear for the Doctor and his crew is pretty much evaporated due to their writers’ discomfort with the idea of killing anyone permanently. Neither of these is really a position your show wants to be in. Continue reading →
Filed under Things We Need to Stop Doing
Tagged as A Song of Ice and Fire, Agents of S.H.I.E.LD, Day of the Doctor, Doctor Who, Fate franchise, Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero, Game of Thrones, Joss Whedon, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shingeki no Kyojin, Steven Moffat, Supernatural, The Avengers
October 31, 2013 · 2:23 am
Let’s talk about utopias, giant robots and pop culture.
There’s been much talk surrounding the recent hit Pacific Rim, and how, in all its giant-alien-clobbering awesomeness it was very quick to be dismissed as a shallow creation by critics. Fair enough, I suppose, Pacific Rim isn’t exactly an award winning struggle with the Great Themes and overall the movie was pretty simple, especially in terms of its black and white morality (humans = good guys, giant poisonous aliens = not so much). It’s a lot of fun, plain old monster fighting fun, not exactly gritty, dark or deep. But here is the question: must it be, in order to be accredited any artistic merit?
Apart from, of course, the awesome characters, worldbuilding and immensely creative design of the whole thing, you could argue that one of the big appeals of Pacific Rim is that it’s an optimistic science fiction, where humans and their inventions and relationships actually end up saving the world instead of trashing it. Raleigh and Mako, the main Jaeger team, could be given the title of the heroes of the movie and could convincingly hold onto it, being heroes in the regular sense of wanting to save people, do good and being genuinely likeable characters along the way.
They aren’t twisted or cynical or even snarky, and they don’t have fathoms of shadowy depth and inner turmoil. Neither of them is Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne in terms of dark, brooding complexity, but rather than making them immediately seem shallow and boring it made them part of the overall enjoyability of the movie. Perhaps, if nothing else, it’s because they stood out of the crowd. Continue reading →
August 29, 2013 · 12:31 am
Look out Thor there’s an attempt at widening the demographic stuck to your chest!
I gripe and grumble a lot about romance on here, and I just want you all to know that I do not actually hate it. I am not a pointy-nosed cynic with a shrivelled soul and a vendetta against any film that isn’t black-and-white and so artistic it’s incomprehensible, and any book that isn’t a first edition, weighty philosophical tome of mournfulness and dry social commentary from at least a hundred years ago. I am not only a modern movie buff and reader of things with shiny covers but a giant bloody sap, and I adore the love story in all its incarnations. I just hate it when it’s done badly.
Within the fictional realm you can barely budge an inch without bumping into some semblance of a romantic plotline. Love is a universal human theme, one of those few, bizarre and magical natural occurrences that manages to be common as mud but still unique every time it appears. Love stories are everywhere because they resonate—by and large, love is something that everyone can relate to (in some way or form), so we form an immediate empathetic connection. They’re pretty great, really.
But. But, but, but. We are so in love with love that we feel the need to put it everywhere, even where it doesn’t belong. Are we in our own obnoxious stage of our relationship with romance where everything must relate back to the object of our desire, whether it’s really relevant or not? We can’t shut up about it and, though the infatuation is endearing, it’s starting to annoy our friends. And ‘our friends’, for the purposes of this post, means this blogger. Continue reading →
Filed under Things We Need to Stop Doing
Tagged as action films, cinema, Iron Man, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pacific Rim, Pepper Potts, romance, Thor, Thor 2: The Dark World, Warm Bodies
October 11, 2012 · 2:29 am
Iron Man 3 – May 2013
Man of Steel – June 2013
Thor 2 – November 2013
Captain America 2 – 2014
The Avengers 2 – Speculated 2015
What a program! We sure are going to be remembered as the Golden Age of Superhero Movies.
No, really. In the last few years we’ve seen two different Spiderman incarnations, a revamped trilogy for Batman, a Superman movie, a trio and prequel for the X-Men, a film for both the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern, not to be confused, and an adventure each (and more!) for each of Marvel’s Avengers crew: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk (more than once); the first three with parades of sequels lining up behind the release of the blockbuster The Avengers, which featured the whole damn crew and tied together all the individual films.
Never to be outdone, their competitor DC Comics is setting up a parallel set of movies for the Justice League, starting with Man of Steel starring the big S-Man himself. But Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy defies the canon of the DC Universe with its tone and lack of supernatural/overtly sci-fi elements, so they won’t really fit into a combo set like The Avengers did… guess someone will just have to redo the Batman franchise then…
To utilise the official scientific measurement, that is a crapload of superhero movies. Continue reading →
September 27, 2012 · 6:00 am
There’s just something infinitely interesting about evil.
Heroes are all well and good, but let’s face it, if they are merely heroes (and not anti-heroes existing in a story of skewed morality or reformed villains themselves) their one layer of goodie goodness can appear a bit flat. They may be the most lovable, honourable character to ever set foot upon a page, but that doesn’t make them intriguing. Also, the story will often be told either from their own perspective or centring around their workings. The bad guy looms on the edge as a menacing shadow. They’re a mystery.
And people love mysteries.
Like, why is this guy such an asshole? Was he/she made this way by some trauma of their childhood? Or is he/she merely inherently evil? What inspired them to want to take over the universe and/or cause the general unhappiness of other people? Or are they just an unthinking agent of chaos? Or perhaps an Eldritch Abomination?
Continue reading →
Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings
Tagged as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Black Butler, books, entertainment, film, Harry Potter, Kuroshitsuji, Loki, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Portal, Portal 2, The Avengers, The Phantom of the Opera, villains