Criticizing authors based on the characters

I just read this post and while it makes some compelling points I’m not sure I agree with the author completely. Is it accurate to do a reverse psychology on an storyteller based on the flaws of the protagonists they’re making?

While I can understand the various story fails that Buffy and Firefly has, I can also understand that a story cannot have perfect characters. If Whendon was just designing flawless women all the time, it would just not make very compelling stories and people would rightly call him out for it. And if you’re going to have a flawed but empowered female character, she’s allowed to be flawed in her empowerment.

In the Firefly case for example, the author criticizes Inara for failing at her own empowerment at times, but doesn’t this make for a compelling story? Sure, Mal “saves” her (and it’s arguable that Inara didn’t need his help), but in the end she has to save him in turn from his own stupidity.

So yeah, Mal is very flawed, and Inara as well (albeit less so imho), but I’m not sure I’d characterize Whendon from the personality of such characters and particularly Inara’s story, especially when there’s others like Zoe who are nothing like Inara and don’t need any such help (and in fact end up saving Mal and her own husband more than once).

I’m also concerned about the “key points” for “Nice Guys” that the author is making. I used to be a Nice Guy and I never thought, for example, that “Men Are Evil, Male Sexuality is Evil“. Not even close. In face, I do not believe I held any of those Key Points as true in my Nice Guy phase. Rather, I was just very shy, inexperienced and awkward with females and my shyness was preventing me from making clear that I wanted a sexual relation, thus ending up bypassing it.

Perhaps I wasn’t the kind of Nice Guy the author is talking about as my phase only lasted until my early twenties, but given how little the Nice Guy Key Points describe my former self, I’m not keen on accepting them at face value.

6 thoughts on “Criticizing authors based on the characters”

  1. Definitely agree with you that it's not that simple. It is important to separate Joss Whedon and the societal structures he unconsciously help to maintain. As has been proven in many anthropology studies now, even when attempts are made to change a structure about say gender or race, the end result still comes out supporting the existing ones.

  2. Err, like more than half of my post disappeared. Sigh. To sum it all up: I agree with you that too much blame is put on Whedon and too little on the societal structures that exist within the Western society. At least Whedon tries, as opposed to all other [insert name of random director of television series here].

    Because I mean, if the OP claims that he longer is a nice guy, then what is he, if he further claims there are basically only two masculine gender stereotypes (douche and nice guy)? Quite a pretentious statement to make.

    1. Err, like more than half of my post disappeared. Sigh.

      Always copy the comment text of long posts in your clipboard before you post. It's the internet equivalent of "save-often" 😉

  3. Wow, I can't describe how much I disliked that post. I have to say that I do agree with you, good characters must have flaws, because if they don't they stop being believable. I could write more but db0 has covered me about Wheadon and his characters. My big problem about that post is that the author is taking subjective views and personal opinions as facts. I am mostly infuriated about was that whole "Nice Guy" thing. Only someone who actually hates men would take something like that as a fact. Like db0 said, some people are "nice guys" because of their shyness and personal insecurities (myself included), but I still wouldn't describe these people as "Nice Guys", in some cases there is nothing nice about them. I don't think that there are specific traits for "nice guys" a man can be a nice person for various reasons and of course this doesn't mean that they are flawless.
    If I was to make an criticism about the author of this post, I would say that he is a self loathing person who would like to think all other nice men around him as flawed as him in order to feel better about himself.
    Crap, now I am so frustrated that I can't make another coherent sentence. 🙁 Thanks a lot Mr Hemmens.

  4. I'm not too familiar with Firefly – but I can't possibly criticize Buffy. It has always been one of my favourite series, and is one of the few series that has strong female characters, often outnumbering the male characters, who are just as varied and interesting if not more so than the male characters. There are just so many great characters – Buffy, Willow, Faith, Cordelia and Anya….all well-developed and interesting, some girly some not…it's great 😀

    I don't think a writer who wants to be feminist needs to always make characters who are totally empowered living in totally empowered worlds. In real life, women live with objectification and devaluing of their jobs and all of that – so in some ways we can relate to what those fictional women are going through. Like I said I'm not that familiar with Firefly anyway, but that's just my two cents.

  5. Well I didn't read the whole article you linked but the idea that you can do reverse psychology on a storyteller based on their protagonist, or any character in the story really, is bunk based on any basic how-to write book or workshop. At these workshops and in these sorts of books, they encourage you to base your characters on people you know or some combination of people you know. While this does include oneself, it means that flaws and shortcomings of a character could literally be taken from any person in the authors environment.

    So really any attempt at psychoanalysis might be misplaced and instead of the author you're really trying to analyze the author's best friend, ex-significant other, or some combination of acquaintances and tv personalities. I'm willing to bet good money that the characters mentioned in the essay stem from real people with real flaws and weren't created in a vacuum.

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