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Narrative anti-kinks February 14, 2011

Posted by Erin Ptah in Meta.
Tags: , , , , , ,

I think I’ve put a finger on one of my narrative anti-kinks. For lack of a shorter name, let’s call it Drama And/Or Angst In Which None Of The Characters Are Likable.

It’s easy to avoid when people are in conflict and one side is clearly The Heroes — your basic Joseph Campbell monomyth, and/or football game featuring the Packers. (Go cheeseheads!) It gets more complicated when the hero starts doing morally questionable things, but often you can understand where they’re coming from, even if you disagree. Or at least, you can see how their Issues are distorting their worldview, and feel for them. The Ninth Doctor did that a lot; Ten too, less effectively.

On the far end of that scale, I think, is what you usually get from “Stephen”. He can be flat-out abusive over something ridiculously petty…but he’s so ridiculous about it that you still kind of want to pat him on the head and say, yes, I know, it is horribly unfair that the Starbucks under one side of your desk closed, so now you have to go all the way to the other side if you want a latte.

Fights in which neither side is Wrong are also fun, where you’re not so much cheering for a single viewpoint as hoping that all parties can get together and work something out, or at least find a tenable balance. Desperate Housewives does this all the time, putting two people with clashing viewpoints on a collision course over some issue, then just letting them bounce off each other as they frantically try to avoid the horror of a heart-to-heart talk.

The problem comes when you have nothing to cheer for at all. Death Note avoided this for me by having such complicated schemes and machinations that it distracted you from the increasing lack of characters worth caring about. Both the Tenth Doctor and BtVS pushed it a lot in their later seasons, with too many moments of “yes, I know the bad guys are evil, but the heroes are being such dicks right now.”

And at least those had their epic fantasy/sci-fi/adventure goings-on to keep up the interest. Worst of all is when you have a completely mundane or domestic setting, with characters fighting over something stupid or petty or “completely fixable if you would just do Simple Thing X and stop angsting about it.” And it’s not cute or funny, but played completely straight, as if the reader is supposed to be tormented on behalf of at least one of these people, when the narrative has given you no reason to be anything more than annoyed with both.

The whole setup is my anti-emo-porn. Not only do I avoid it when I can, but if I end up reading some by accident, it leaves me grouchy and irritated until well afterward.

Is there a shorter term for this scenario? A trope name, maybe? I feel like there should be. I can’t be the only person who gets this put off by it.

On a semi-related note, is “descriptions of drug use” a narrative kink for some people? I’ve come across a few fics recently that go into minute detail about things like a couple of characters smoking pot, which to me is about as interesting as a step-by-step description of somebody loading a dishwasher. But these are written with the kind of loving detail usually reserved for, well, sex scenes. Is it a “you had to have been there” kind of thing, or (as with porn) are there people who enjoy these scenes for their own sake, and I’m just not one of them?



1. X - February 15, 2011

Closest I could find is Fetish Retardant (with “retard” used in the appropriate verb sense): http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FetishRetardant

Based on this, Atlas Shrugged should definitely be on your reading list (and there’s a movie coming out!). Ayn Rand makes her good guys genuinely good and is very adept at contrasting them with the antagonists (only downside: her good guys monologue to themselves a lot, a symptom of the book’s lack of editing).

Her evil is not the “kick the dog” sort of obvious – they all suffer from believable neuroses or self-delusions that you can see in people all around you, stemming fundamentally from an inability/unwillingness to accept responsibility or a tendency to ignore the world around them. Some believe they’re doing the right thing, even as the results of their actions prove them wrong. (There’s a couple exceptions, but that only serves to flesh out the spectrum of antagonism the heroes face.)

In many ways, Ayn Rand’s “bad guys” consist of the very same “anti-emo-porn” types you don’t like being made protagonists. This means you and Ayn Rand have similar tastes in literary kinks.

(That’s hot. In an intellectual sense.)

Erin Ptah - February 15, 2011

Uh, that link is just a generic synonym for “anti-kink.” Whereas I’m trying to find a term for this specific scenario.

X - February 16, 2011

My recommendation: start your own Tropes page! (First, come up with a name for it and use it in Shine, so you get to be the trope namer.)

2. Kit - February 16, 2011

I have no idea of a single trope for that. Maybe bits of Designated Hero, Angst Dissonance, and Idiot Ball. But I definitely agree with you about all your examples.

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