Friday, March 22, 2013

Sympathy for the Devil

The book is done and off to Mom. Now to have the Day of Getting Stuff Done, though I may be tempted to procrastinate that until Monday because this is perfect reading weather. I've obtained the Blu Ray of Les Miserables, so now I can watch the whole show whenever I want, without having to wait for a touring production or a trip to New York, but I don't know if I'll watch it today. Maybe just some bits and pieces. Otherwise, I have Nebula ballot reading to do. This may be our last blast of cold, damp weather until next November, so I need to enjoy it.

I mentioned maybe last week that I had a rant building up, and here it goes: It seems like the good guys just can't win in modern entertainment. Sometimes it's just the fans who gravitate toward the bad guys, but sometimes it's the writers fueling that.

To start with, being good is apparently considered boring. It doesn't help that a lot of writers don't seem to know how to add shading and depth to a good guy without using shades of gray or darkness. If a good guy is considered the least bit proud of being good, actually cares about being good or if he dares to judge the bad guys for being bad and doing stuff like killing, then he's called smug and self-righteous. Meanwhile, the bad guys are allowed to gloat about their success all they want. There's usually some excuse in the bad boy's past for his bad behavior -- he was abused, neglected, a good guy was mean to him or did him wrong. The good guy's past doesn't seem to matter, unless the fact that he had a happy upbringing is used to show that he had advantages the bad guy didn't have, and thus is also used to excuse the evil. A bad guy can be "redeemed" and practically sainted by just one time not doing something evil when he has the opportunity, and the good guys are considered awful if they don't immediately throw a parade for him. But if the good guy sets just one toe over the line, he's forever damned. His "bad" may not be near the level of the ongoing behavior of the bad boy, but it's still unforgivable, while the bad guy's "redemption" act may be nowhere near the level of selflessness usually shown on a regular basis by the good guy. Just about anything the good guy does to defeat the bad guy will somehow besmirch his goodness. Basically, he's having to fight evil with both hands tied behind his back and then he's considered stupid and ineffectual if he loses.

And this doesn't just apply to good vs. evil -- the heroes and the villains. It also applies to anyone with shades of gray, like the anti-hero "bad boy" who's not a villain in the grand good vs. evil fight but who is sometimes an antagonist to the good boy hero. Eventually, the anti-hero will be the real hero and the good guy will be shown as a horrible person (or at least perceived that way by the fans). Of course, the anti-hero gets the girl because the good guy is boring.

I was thinking about this while rewatching A Game of Thrones, where too many of the good guys are too stupid to live (so they don't), but I really don't think that's meant to be the message in the books. The books seem to draw the line between worthwhile honor and stupid honor that's really more personal vanity, wanting to be able to call yourself honorable rather than truly wanting to do what's best for everyone. They also acknowledge the fact that you can't deal honorably with dishonorable people because they won't follow the same rules, and that means you'll lose, sometimes with horrible consequences. Sometimes, you may have to go against rules or vows to serve the greater good, and that's okay. The TV producers may be besotted with the darker characters and manage to make a lot of the good guys even more stupid than they are in the books, but I get a different sense from the books.

Where it's really become egregious is with Once Upon a Time, where the writers seem to want us to feel sorry for the evil queen because she's sad and lonely as a consequence of all her evil actions. Meanwhile, the good guys are considered tainted if they actually do anything to fight back against the evil. Most of the fans at Television Without Pity are seeing it the way I do, where they're getting tired of watching the villain weep because she didn't get her way and can't force people to love her, but apparently the greater Internet is full of outrage that the good guys are being so mean to her -- never mind that she's never so much as apologized for the wrongs she's done to them.

I think this is one reason I loved the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling gave Harry and Voldemort very similar backgrounds, then showed that how they responded to those backgrounds and the choices they made along the way was the difference between being good and being evil, and there was nothing wrong with taking action to defeat the evil. Plus, she got outraged when fans tried to get too sympathetic to the bad boy instead of the hero.

A good guy doesn't have to be boring, and there are ways of writing layers that don't require mixing in a little darkness. Even good people can be conflicted or tempted. They can get angry. They can have layers and nuances and pain. If your good guy isn't as interesting as your villain, then you're doing it wrong.

But I'm also a little worried about a culture that's so quick to forgive evil and condemn good, where trying to be good is considered "self-righteous."

Let's hear it for the heroes!

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