Fathers and Masculinity

All right, I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here, and pick up on Marie Brennan’s post and Kate Elliott’s post, to write about fathers and how we are portrayed in books and media. Maybe there’s something to be gleaned here as well, as we at SFNovelists explore gender stereotypes and tropes.

I’m a Dad. I am not a superhero. I don’t fight criminals. I’m not a secret agent who, after dropping off the kids at school, goes off to fight terrorists. When something bad happens to my girls, I try to help them through their pain with love and wisdom and sympathy, because those are my tools, my talents. Those are my powers, super or not.

In her post, Marie talks about how often we see men avenging their murdered spouses or lovers. We also see them avenging kids who have been killed, or trying to rescue kids who have been kidnapped, or protecting kids who are in danger (Ransom, Taken). And Kate, in her post, asks why, if women can be portrayed as fierce and strong in defending their young, they can’t be portrayed that way in other, less conventional contexts. I would ask a similar question with respect to men — fathers and husbands in particular. Why does our strength have to manifest itself in violence?

I am reminded of the Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis film True Lies, in which Arnold plays a Dad who pretends to be a business guy of some sort, but really is James Bond incarnate. It’s not enough that he makes a good living and loves his wife and daughter. In fact, he’s actually kind of boring as long as that’s the extent of what he does. He only wins his daughter’s respect and rekindles his failing marriage when it turns out that he’s Kick-Ass-Secret-Agent-Guy. Or take Harrison Ford’s role in Air Force One. He’s President of the United States, for God’s sake. But even that’s not enough. He only comes into his own as a hero when he gives up diplomacy and goes Rambo on the Kazakhstani terrorists.

Let me pause here to be absolutely clear: The type of stereotyping that Marie mentions in her post — the pattern of storytelling that robs women of their agency and reduces them to plot point motivations for male characters — is far more pernicious than what I’m talking about. There are stronger, more varied roles for men in movies and television than there are for women. As the father of daughters, I’m well aware of what’s lacking in the gender images they receive on a daily basis. They’ve read the “Twilight” books. Need I say more?

But I also know that the images of masculinity propagated by Hollywood and, yes, by the publishing industry, are also hopelessly, perhaps dangerously, unrealistic. I’d like to believe that there is more to male strength than knowing how to use an AK-47 or being able to kick the crap out of someone with my bare hands, because I’m not capable of either. I’d like to believe that loving my wife and my kids — knowing how to make them laugh when they’re sad, being able to turn disappointments into learning experiences, understanding when to be strict and when to have fun — makes me a strong, competent man.

On the other hand, I want to sell books, and I realize that while the Dad I just described — the Dad I try to be — may be admirable, he’s not marketable. The men in my books are, to quote The Princess Bride, “Men of action.” They can handle a knife or a sword or a gun. They fight in wars, they beat up bad guys, they wield magics that are every bit as spectacular as any special effect from an Arnold movie. In short, they’re nothing like me at all. They are “heroes”, and somehow that word has become synonymous with “men of violence.”

So where do we as artists draw the line? How do we offer realistic, healthy images of masculine strength while also keeping our books on the shelves? Is there a happy medium between the commercial appeal of “men of action” and the socially responsible, far more realistic portrayal of “men like me”?

What do you think? What kind of men do you write about? How similar are they to the men you know and admire in “real life”?

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  1. 1. deborahb

    One day I’ll get in trouble for writing men characters who are similar to the women characters I write. But that’s me, & the men & women I know. :) More disparity within the groups than between them. imho.

  2. 2. Joseph

    The men (the good guys) in my novels are usually portrayed as family men, with wives and children they care about. But if the primary purpose of a novel is some sort of escapism and “fun” then he also needs to be a man of action. (Unless you’re writing a literary novel, in which case your name needs to be Roth or McCarthy.)

    Heroes need to cope with high-conflict situations, which are most entertaining when they are physical (read: violent). Non-physical conflict, which is all verbal and emotional, is too close to reality. Most people already have plenty of non-physical conflict in their lives, and nurture a desire for the simplicity of solving a problem in a more physical, controllable manner.

    After all, who wouldn’t love to punch their taxes, or shoot their broken down car, or set fire to their daughters’ copies of the Twilight books?

  3. 3. Clothdragon

    My husband certainly agrees. Then there’s his other hated stereotype that dovetails nicely with this one. Television’s incompetent husband who can’t even feed the children without the help of the wife/mother. We are only useful and complete inside the house dealing with the babies, you are only useful and complete outside the house kicking the shit out of mother nature or your fellow man. Enjoy your box!

    But then people living their every day isn’t very fascinating (except apparently Jack Bauer). It’s the special circumstance stories we tell. Not how they live, but how they could if they needed to — and I bet you anything that even you, as a family man with no AK skills to speak of, could figure it out if there was a good reason. (As would I, though I did spend a few army years getting ahead of you there — ten years ago and with no practice since, and we used M-16s not AKs. Look at the time fly.) And I’m living as normal a life as anyone else in my role as writing home mommy with two little ones that are thankfully not old enough I have to talk about the differences between romantic partnerships and emotional abuse portrayed in a popular book and movie combo. Or the possibility that guilt over the death of her mother makes her feel like she deserves a relationship like that. (Husband read it on a dare from his cousin and gave me the highlights).

  4. 4. Joe Iriarte

    You know, I hadn’t really thought about it, but I don’t really write a lot about men at all. The few men in my stories are usually peripheral characters, and often not nice ones, at that. I write about kids and teens usually, and it’s usually about them figuring out that the adults in their lives aren’t going to solve this or that problem, and they have to take it into their own hands.

    I wonder what all that says about me.

  5. 5. Elias McClellan

    Mario Puzo, (yeah, he doesn’t frequent the site, cause he’s dead) wrote a generational family saga that he couldn’t get published until he made them gangsters. But he never drifted too far from issues of fatherhood and family. But unless you have a literary pedigree or a sado-masochistic bent, you don’t get ‘every-man’ published or a lot of attention if you do.

    I’m obsessed with good and bad and who decides which is which. So, I aspire to write men and women who are flawed but rather than give into their flaws, which most of us don’t, they struggle to rise above; for better or worse. My characters fall into one of two catagories. Good person who does bad things or bad person who does good things. I hope to leave the moralizing to the reader.

  6. 6. David B. Coe

    Deborah wrote “More disparity within the groups than between them.” Yeah, that may be true — certainly it is for the people I know. But for those I encounter in books and media, not so much. You’re to be commended for keeping your characters true to life.

    Joseph, you’re right, of course. Action does sell. Maybe it would be nice to see a father who didn’t turn into a killing machine with such speed and efficiency. The change should be more gradual, more fraught with failures and mistakes. And it should carry more of an emotional burden. Even if it’s all justified, taking on that kind of violence should carry a cost.

    ClothDragon, yes! That one gets me, too. Most of the fathers I know are perfectly capable of making dinner, doing laundry and all those other everyday things that all of us do. And the women I know are perfectly capable of fixing a leaky faucet or building a tree house. (My wife learned arc-welding many years ago!) I also agree with you that necessity breeds adaptation and, probably, the courage to do what needs doing. To be honest, I hope I never have to find out for real.

    Elias, I like the flawed characters, too. Those are the ones I like to read, as well as write. Those gray areas are the ones enjoy exploring. And as you say, the moral judgements are best left to the reader.

  7. 7. David B. Coe

    Joe, your comment took some time to post — sorry I didn’t respond earlier. As the father of a teen, it sounds to me like you understand the teen mind pretty well. It’s not that my daughter doesn’t have us in her world, but rather that she WISHES she didn’t….

    But as you write teen boys and girls, what differences do you find yourself building into them, and are they gender based?

  8. 8. Joe Iriarte

    Hmm . . . I’d say I tend to write sensitive, intelligent boys and no-nonsense, take-charge, intelligent girls. Which is still a gender-based distinction, I admit. My boys are exactly as likely to get involved in an action scene as my girls are, though.

    I’ve never felt like I fit the stereotypical male profile myself.

  9. 9. Kate Elliott

    Not every culture privileges “the man of violence” in the way our American entertainment industry seems to have come to do (and I include myself in that criticism). I wonder how much of this comes out of our history and how much the odd American obsession with the rugged individual who Stands Alone (usually male).

    Sometimes I wonder if as a society we must intrinsically privilege violence because the USA is an expansionist society (Manifest Destiny, anyone?) and therefore we need men of violence in order to grow despite that many responsible men aren’t that way at all; they’re just trying to get along day to day, even back in the more paternalist days of our grandfathers.

    But we see the hero–man of violence, the man of destiny–in many legends and histories, so there’s something going on there which I can’t explain and which in this country has taken a peculiarly American twist.

  10. 10. Till

    Kim Stanley Robinson had a nice non-heroic dad as one of the main protagonists in his Washington Trilogy.

  11. 11. Janni

    In theory it should be possible for male characters as well as female ones to resolve conflicts without violence, and for the story to nonetheless be gripping and tense.

    Maybe it’s a matter of not equating action and violence? There being many ways to act and have agency.

  12. 12. David B. Coe

    Yeah, I don’t fit that profile either, although I have to admit that some of my characters do. It’s a tough line to walk.

    Kate, I agree. I wouldn’t say that the “man of action” is uniquely American, but the obsession with characters like Rambo does seem to be peculiar to us. Hollywood churns out enough of it to give it a worldwide audience, but a lot of it flows from here. Then again, it obviously appeals to people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. I don’t know. Not something that I find particularly appealing.

    Thanks for the tip, Till. Not familiar with the series, but it sounds like something I should pick up.

  13. 13. Merryarwen

    I think one of the solutions is to have the dad-ness be an added facet to the character, rather than one that is pwned by his Man of Action status.

    I mean, your example of Arnie in _True Lies_ is telling: he isn’t awesome as a father until *after* he kicks everyone’s ass. His status as a father is dependent on his ability to demolish people.

    While yes, stories tend to demand action, why not have the character’s success as a father be dependent on, you know, fatherly things, and have the action be separate?

    I can’t think of many that are written this way – Sisko on DS9, maybe. Oh, Agent Hotchner on _Criminal Minds_ (which actually did some lovely deconstruct of the idea of “father” as “hyper-masculine action hero who protects everyone from harm” and how it’s both toxic and dangerous). CM also has a cop choosing to be a stay at home dad. Reminding me why I love that show.

    I know I certainly like to write fathers this way: whether the male characters I write are *also* secret agents, magnificent magicians or just ordinary office-drones, what’s valued for them AS FATHERS is their ability to . . . well, father. Nurture, teach, love and empower their children. Like my dad did.

  14. 14. Elias McClellan

    M Janni, completely agree with you. After a life-time of regeneration through violence, (yeah, I ripped that off from a book) I’m sick to death of in our popular culture. Having worked in healthcare, the school system, and now in the court system, I see the lives blighted and ruined by violence. That is not reflected in most popular entertainment.

    Now I hear that “Edge of Darkness” is being remade, American-style. A story that classically highlighted the empty-waste inherrent to violence is getting a big-budget-’Transformers’ treatment. Probably with ‘Kill Bill’ stylized two-fisted shootin’ and/or ‘Fightclub’ fetishism.

  15. 15. David B. Coe

    Janni, I posted before your comment went up. Sorry for that. I think you’re right about not equating action and violence. And Elias, I appreciate your comment here, too. There is a wonderful movie from the 80s called Missing — Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon. Lemmon plays the father of a man who goes to Central America (I believe) and is killed by US backed fighters there. He is trying to get information about his son, and in so doing goes up against a US gov’t in which he once had great faith. It is a masterful film, a quietly powerful film. Very little violence; none on Lemmon’s part. But he is strong and he fights for his family effectively and non-violently. It would be nice to see more portrayals of fatherhood like that one.

  16. 16. Kate Elliott

    Till: yes, that character in Robinson’s Washington trilogy is fabulous: smart, involved, important, and yet spends a lot of time simply being a father to two small children.

    David: Jack Lemmon is great in Missing. It’s a fabulous role. It’s not easy for me to come up with examples of roles like that for men. Even in Westerns where you have the quiet man who is responsible, hard working, decent, and respectable, there’s always a point, it seems, where he proves he is truly a man by killing someone “who needs killing.”

    Janni: yes, that exactly.

  17. 17. zornhau

    I think in narrative much violence is symbolic of agency, or a generic placeholder for masculine activities. “Sharpe”, for instance, is really a workplace drama. It’s just that sabres read better than sales.

  18. 18. David B. Coe

    Argghh. Comments posted to this blog have some sort of weird delay. Merryarwen, your comment went up after my last reply. Sorry.

    I think you’re right. Incorporating the fathering into the story humanizes the character, and gives him other ways to express strength. I’m not familiar with the shows you mention (I don’t watch a lot of TV) but I know that even with a fathering element Jack Bauer still manages to be crazy violent. On the other hand, looking back on Buffy, the father figure from the show — Giles — is the one character who is least likely to throw a punch or dust a vamp, but he is, in many ways, the strongest character in the show. And yeah — nurturing, teaching, loving, empowering. I had a Dad like that, too….

    Right, Kate. That Jack Lemmon role stands out so starkly because it’s so unusual. Sad to say.

  19. 19. David B. Coe

    Zornhau, I think you’re absolutely right. But I think that the equating of agency and violence is kind of a cheap out, a shortcut that does a disservice not only to the art that does, but also to those who experience the art.

  20. 20. Elias McClellan

    I’ve stewwed in my own comments for hours now and I see myself throwing rocks without regard to my own glass bungalow. Within my own writing there is violence-a-plenty and what I don’t want is what Ms. Elliott so concisely cites; violence as a calling card.

    A man I write should no more be defined, validated, or bonafide by who/what/when/how he kills any more than any woman I write should be defined by the size of her anatomy, color of hair, or homemaking ability.

    I don’t want to write my way to a violence crescendo where all plot threads are tied up with a .45 slug, sword, or battle-ax. What I strive for is to use my own experiences with violence to write responsibly.

    Its not hard to remember when I’ve resorted to violence and the sickening, post-adrenaline feeling of ‘it could’ve been me on the ground/mat/pavement;’ or the knowledge that I could’ve lost more than some pride with a busted lip/black eye. It certainly isn’t hard to remember going to my brother’s funeral after his tough-guy act and love of pills caught up with him.

    I guess what I’m trying to say, is there is a cost to every action. There is a much higher cost in any violent action. If the cost is reflected in the story, not as dramatic coin-paid, but a genuine cost to the character born-out in a changed character, then the author has earned it. I don’t know that I have in all of my work.

  21. 21. David B. Coe

    Elias, this is a great comment, though I don’t think you should be beating yourself up too much. We all do this. I know that even now, as I plot out my next book, I’m building to the big, violent climax. My character is pushed to it. He’s not trying to be violent, and his response isn’t gratuitous, but there it is in my outline — the Fight At the End. We are trying to do the right thing, but we’re also trying to get published and keep afloat in a tough business. I agree with you. Whenever we can, we have to show the cost of our characters’ actions, particularly when they are harsh and cruel. But I’m not sure that I could pass the litmus test you offer at the end. Strive for that kind of clarity in your future work. That’s all any of us can do.

  22. 22. Elias McClellan

    And that is a constant struggle for me as well, Mr. Coe. I try to show the aftermath of those actions and/or decissions. Unfortunately, I fear that the work either comes off all ‘after-school-special,’ or worse, flat.

  23. 23. Alma Alexander

    Some great commentary – both here and in the more “feminine” postings which inspired this one. But let me toss a cat into the flock of gender pigeons, just a little…

    I know and I fully realise that “commercial” fiction (someone else drew this line, upthread, contrasting that with a line about “…unless you write literary fiction”…) tends to be action packed because that’s what(apparently) sells out there – the go-get-them attitude. We’re more used to the male half of our population going gung-ho on someone’s ass because that’s what it is traditional for the men to do – and often when it’s the woman who’s the kick-ass character the accusation gets levelled that it’s just a “man in a skirt” – God knows I’ve seen that thrown at Ripley from Alien often enough, just for starters. Yes, the quieter fiction (and I suppose by definition more “literary” – ye gods and little fishes, I hate that distinction, why isn’t it possible to write “literary” fiction without it being dismissed as too artsy to comprehend or “Genre” fiction without it being snootily dismissed for being too blow-up-happy? What happened to just GOOD WRITING?!?) may not have the outward screaming battles and things blowing up and obvious blood and guts and gore everywhere – but there are battles and there are battles, and sometimes you don’t even have to be the damned superhero to be drafted into those internal wars. And sometimes someone else on whose behalf you might want to take up arms is better helped with sympathy and empathy and stalwart support rather than you going screaming off into the forest with the breadknife screaming for someone’s blood.

    But the point is… the point is…

    I’ve written both male and female characters, of both kinds, the kind that fights with steel and the kind that fights with thought and word. And the underlying thing, for me, is that I don’t write these characters according to whether they’re male or female. I write *people*. I write people who are not necessarily good or evil, peaceful or violent, but whom I build up in the course of the story so that the actions they take are believable and completely accepted by the reader who encounters these characters.

    Sometimes just pointing a finger at men or at women who play around between the covers (of a book) and complaining about the things that their creator is making them do is a cop out. If those characters are not believable human beings (or believable aliens, in context, you know what I mean) first, why are we supposed to think that they would make a believable man or a believable woman by dint of clinging to gender stereotypes? First, make them live. Then take care of the secondary sexual characteristics and motivations.

  24. 24. Alma Alexander

    Wow. That was LONG. SOrry.

  25. 25. David B. Coe

    Elias, we all struggle to get it right. I’m a baseball fan, so forgive the coming metaphor…. If you swing and miss, you try to make contact with the next one. If you foul it off, the one after that you try to put in play. If you ground out, the next time you try for a hit. This isn’t easy. But when you get it right, it’s worth the struggle. Best of luck.

    Alma, that’s a terrific comment. I’m going to stay away from the literary v genre fiction thing, not because your points aren’t completely valid, but because that is a discussion for another thread on another day. But your larger point is exactly right. The gender concerns, the constricting stereotypes that drive us up a wall — those things matter less if the characters work, if they transcend the overused, cookie-cutter qualities that we’re all complaining about. When the characters leap off the page, taking on depth and personality, becoming truly “real”, they cease to feel like sexually predetermined bots, and their actions can be seen in the context of circumstance and backstory and need. In the end, that’s what we strive for, isn’t it?

  26. 26. Marie Brennan

    David — FYI, the delay on things appearing happens when someone tries to comment on the SF Novelists blog for the first time. Their comment goes into the moderation queue, and has to be approved by someone; check the “comments” tab on the dashboard to find and clear these. It only has to be done once, though. After that first comment, the poster is automatically approved for anything in the future (unless they do something that actively triggers the spam filter).

  27. 27. Joe Iriarte

    Apparently then I trigger it by just being me. ;-)

  28. 28. David B. Coe

    Thanks, Marie. And yeah, Joe, I noticed that….

  29. 29. Ben J

    Here’s a few thoughts off the top of my head about representations of masculinity.

    The first is the cliche of the gruff anti-hero type with a tough upbringing who feels open/comfortable enough to show his emotional side when he’s in love with a “good” woman.

    The second is that generally fathers in sitcoms are “jerks”, a couple of examples that pop straight into my mind are “My Wife and Kids” and “According to Jim.” The only exception to this that I can think of is “The Cosby Show.”

    Lastly “Numb3rs” has an interesting father/sons character dynamics. One son is a man of action and the other son is a son of intellect, yet they are both loved by their father and the “family” conversations are pretty naturalistic.

    Finally I think that there will always be tension between the commercially popular and intelligent approaches to subversion of common tropes and cliches.


  30. 30. NewGuyDave

    In Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantes’ father was an excellent example of a responsible dad. He wouldn’t take charity, paid off his son’s debt with his few remaining coins, and didn’t storm the magistrate’s office with pistol and sword when Edmond was falsely accused of supporting Napoleon.

    I think it’s possible to incorporate humility, kindness, generosity, and other characters that make fathers heroic in their on right, but the task is going to be a difficult one.

  31. 31. David B. Coe

    Ben, I fear that you’re right about that tension. As you point out, there are exceptions — portrayals of men (and of women, re the posts that prompted mine) that are complex and realistic and sensitively drawn. But the fact that we have to work so hard to think of those exceptions doesn’t say good things about contemporary media.

    And NGD, you actually prove the point that I just made to Ben. We have to go back to Dumas to find a healthy treatment of fatherhood?! Yikes! Thanks for the cite though. I haven’t read THE COUNT… in years. A good excuse to go back to it.

  32. 32. Jed

    Good entry (I agree with pretty much everything you said), and good comments.

    I wonder, though, if a lot of this male-strength-manifests-as-violence stuff does have to do with genre. Because it seems to me that there are a lot of sitcoms and romances and such that are focused on daily life and rarely if ever delve into physical violence. Perhaps even a few dramas as well, though maybe mostly in movies–TV dramas do seem to feature a lot of dramatic action and violence.

    Some examples off the top of my head:

    I think most sitcoms are rarely violent. Friends; Cheers; Newhart; Big Bang Theory; Seinfeld; Taxi; the men are often bumbling or incompetent, but usually more or less well-meaning, and they rarely kill anyone.

    Similarly with romantic-comedy movies, and other romances and/or comedies. Four Weddings and a Funeral. Love Actually. Two Weeks Notice. Okay, those are all Hugh Grant movies, another guy in the bumbling-but-adorable mold. When Harry Met Sally. Moonstruck. The Object of My Affection. Pretty Woman. Sabrina. I haven’t thought through all of these in detail; I may be missing some male-violence bits. But the men in most such movies are not defined by their violence.

    I think that’s also true of certain kinds of movie dramas. I’m thinking especially of family dramas: Kramer vs Kramer, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, Beaches, that sort of thing. Though on looking through various lists of popular and/or award-winning movie dramas, I see that there’s a lot more such movies focused on action and male violence than I would have thought.

    Still, even among TV and movie dramas that do occasionally feature male violence and action scenes, there are some that also show smart contemplative men with feelings. West Wing, for example. Gilmore Girls (which I guess is as much comedy as drama) has maybe three instances of men hitting each other in seven superb seasons, and though the focus is on the Lorelai and Rory throughout the series, there are some really good male characters.

    Oh, yeah, and there are teen-focused shows like The Wonder Years; I haven’t seen much of such shows, and I imagine they focus mostly on the teens rather than the adults, but I suspect there are a few non-violent adult men in such shows.

    Anyway, I’m sure lots of my examples could be picked at, but my overall point is that when you move away from media that’s focused on action and violence (war stories, most science fiction and fantasy TV and movies, thrillers, spy stuff, police stuff, some medical shows), there are various other models of masculinity out there, some of them pretty positive.

  33. 33. David B. Coe

    Thanks very much for the thoughtful comment, Jed. I think you’re absolutely right that the violence thing is at least partly genre-dependent. I’d add though that when you start eliminating other destructive stereotypes — the bumbling, clueless Dad, the sexist cad, to name just two (I think I just cut Cheers out of the discussion; I love the show, but without those two stereotypes you have Frasier and no one else!) — you’re left with precious little. I’m a huge West Wing fan. I loved the movie Kramer v. Kramer. And those both had lots of serious, positive portrayals of men. But the rest? Not so much. Terms of Endearment had Jack Nicholson as a sexist cad who had to be tamed, and Jeff Daniels as a useless philanderer. Yes, the violence is genre dependent, but as with positive images of women, positive portrayals of husbands, dads, boyfriends are kind of hard to come by. Are there exceptions? Definitely, and you point to several good ones. But the fact that we can name so few of them is not a good thing in my view.
    Again, thanks very much for a terrific comment.

  34. 34. Tom

    Yes, the violence of the Dad is obviously genre-Dependant, though sometimes this trope is reversed.

    Off the top of my head, i can think of MGLN, an anime, which has the main character (the daughter)’s dad being a retired ninja/bodyguard because he wanted to be a dad, and being successful at it to some degree (though he did go to an hospital to a long time before choosing to retire).

    Back to fantasy, while it’s no ‘Dad’, i think Robin Hobb has a few different male characters like the fool.

  35. 35. David B. Coe

    I agree, Tom. There are definite exceptions. They’re rare, though. I also think we can overstate the genre-dependence of the phenomenon. Yes, the violent stereotype is more prevalent in some genres than in others. But it’s not just fantasy and SF. It’s also action/adventure, mystery, horror, military, Western…

  36. 36. Ben J

    @ Jed

    You raise some great points regarding genres and sitcoms.

    I still strongly feel that sitcoms, particularly the “family” orientated ones generally present fathers in a poor light. “The middle” is about to start in my country and I could tell from the promos that the father is yet another oafish clown who will be stumbling around with hardly any idea of what’s going on. Suffice to say that I won’t be watching it.

    I think that one of the paradoxes of genre story telling (both printed and visual) is that violence has to drive the drama (otherwise it would be a story with characters standing around and just talking), yet the violence can reinforce certain tropes, cliches and stereotypes. And maybe some of the pleasure for the consumer is the comfort and familiarity of the tropes, cliches and stereotypes.

    Analysing “popular” culture makes for a good mental exercise, IMHO the key is to not over analyse and suck all of the pleasure out of it.


  37. 37. Andrew A. A.

    Humans are animals and we all fall back to those basic instincts at different points in our developements. Its the basics that create archetypes(not Jungian but Mythological character formations) which we all look at for our inspirations… hopefully with a twist. This is how I think about it:

    The Trickster archetype is usually the Fumbling father portrayed in family sitcoms. Its the episodes of developement from clumsy to heroic that stick in our mind the most (Ie: wife goes out and husband needs to change diaper for the first time). But I would reference a sitcom like the “Cosby Show” (Or even Roseanne) as still the Trickster but farther in the developement of family, than “Family Guy”(or “Simpsons”). Comical situations are usually caused by someones misfortunes, the questions becomes whose? The Tricksters or the ones being tricked? Both?

    The Hero archetype is usually self sacrificing and many times Masoginistic because of a certain amount of masculine -energies correlating more to mammal’s behaviors in defence of territory and distribution of basic needs (food, shelter, etc. in Tribal situations like Lions and herd animals). Who do we rely on when the whirlwind hits the manure pile? If placed in a violent situation, which can happen anywhere at any time in this world, we only hope we can defend ourselves and our families. AMC’s “Breaking Bad” might be an intriguing example. Hero archetype can without question step up in such situations, er, other than How does he do it?

    The Wiseman or King. Usually consider highest on the devlopemnt of archetypes, they are the — been there, done that, delegates to solve problems and yet usually pops up when there’s a situation no one else can solve kind of character. Usually shown as the President or chair person of Corporation or the Head of the Policeforce. Biggest problem with this Archetype is that they are doomed to death or collapse so that society starts over — might not translate to television so much. I’d almost say “Glee” has this archetype as the Protag… But I’m wavering. Perhaps “CSI” or even “House”. Perhaps you could also equate them to the Sitcom such as the “Cosby Show” the children being the rebirth and eventual over throwers of the Wiseman head of houshold.

    There are many other Male archetypes (and equal amount of Female archetype including a feminine Hero archetype usually inspired by Solitary mammal’s Behaviors such as in cases of tigers and bears: Though isn’t it curious How Meerkat Manor became such a Hit, breaking common knowledge of how the world works with Flower as the Lead!?). As writers how do we capture the essenses of Human/animal nature to both captivate our audience and speak instinctual Truths but with personal twists for uniqueness?

    I struggle everyday with this idea and try to keep my eyes and ears open to find the exception and creating the exceptional archetype. Whether I manage this or not…

    Thanks for provoking my thoughts- Ha!

Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.



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