Thursday, October 4, 2007

Boring Heroes

"But, what's so bad if the guy is truly a thoroughly good person?"

A simple question with a sort of simple answer. If a character is a thoroughly good person (i.e.already perfect), they're not going to grow. Doing the "right" thing is what they do, they treat people around them decently, pay their taxes, etc. It also means there's little to redeem, and isn't that ultimately what we want? Redemption is a powerful concept.

Quick, think of some of your all-time favorite characters, or just those that come to your mind first. Let's say five. Or, we can talk about mine:
Mal Reynolds, Firefly/Serenity
J.D., Scrubs
Dexter Morgan, Dexter
Thomas Build-the-Fire, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Queen Elizabeth (a la Cate Blanchett), Elizabeth

Each are, to a greater or lesser extent, flawed. On one end of the spectrum is J.D. who's sometimes bumbling, frequently confused, and who usually says things he should have kept to himself. On the other is Dexter, the serial killer. I'd put the rest somewhere in between.

There are also varying degrees of redemption, when the respective characters overcome themselves - like moments when Dexter has a flicker of humanity, or when Elizabeth asserts herself as queen.

Now, let's add the "perfect" character into the equation. What does he have to overcome? The perfect character's problems are due to other people and circumstances, like a burning building, for one. When a character only has to overcome things that are outside of their control, they don't really grow as a character. Yes, any story has an element of things that are outside of the character's control, but the good stories tie them in with things the character does have control of. Mal's confronted with fugitives on his ship, but he choses to keep them aboard. It's his decision that creates more conflict which he then has to overcome.

Even more importantly than that, is the fact that no one who reads about/watches these "perfect" characters is themselves perfect. Since most of why we read is to live vicariously, the system doesn't work if we don't relate. No, I haven't had to solve Dexter's problems of how to murder people without getting caught. However, I can relate to his struggle to understand the ways people connect to each other.

The fireman's life went so smoothly. He gets the job, gets good at the job, befriends all his coworkers, meets the girl, marries the girl, has the kid... It's all so organized and clean. I can't relate to that at all.

So, why is perfection boring? Because we are most interested in people we can relate to, and none of us are perfect. We relate better to characters who are working toward redemption than those who have no need for it.

Anyone else want to add?


Camii said...

nooooooooooo you forgot Queer as Folk people -- BRIAN, hello ~ :)

Ali said...

Doh! Shame on me. You're totally right, he's up at the top of the delightfully complicated characters list.