The Beloved Characters We Have to Leave Behind


#1

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/ywkxyx/my-fair-lady-outgrow

#2

I think I’m getting here with Batman now. Like I’ll always love Batman, but man that character is problematic these days. His very concept is a preposterously rich billionaire going out and meeting vigilante justice against poor people. He’s Elon Musk meets a Stand Your Ground law. The moment Batman became more popular than Superman is probably the moment this country began to lose its fucking mind and become the cesspool of shit we are now.

Batman could invest his money in restoring Gotham, proper education, fixing the system that allows him to be ridiculous wealthy while the rest of the town is poor. You know, fix the systematic problems? But no, keep sopping up all the resources and then wondering why the city is crumbling… (Also the Frank Miller version is an unrepentant fascist and sickeningly awful. The Miller-inspired Batman v Superman is by far the worst movie of the decade.)

Also DC’s handling of this character is truly fucked lately. Batman is like this misery addict who can’t be happy, can’t even marry Catwoman, can’t go anywhere. At this point I wish they’d reboot the whole universe and just have him dance again.


#3

Oh man, I have a big one of these, and it’s almost embarassing because the character is such a piece of shit it can be hard to explain how I could even have loved him in the first place. It’s Uncle Scrooge.

When I was a kid, comic books were the first medium I really loved, and Uncle Scrooge books were the cream of the crop. A bunch of incredible adventure cartoonists cut their teeth writing Scrooge stories, and I was just so into the stuff they got that duck into: finding old treasures, artifacts of legend, all that Indiana Jones bullshit (the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with the rolling boulder trap, was actually taken from a Scrooge comic). I ate it up.

But, like, Scrooge’s whole deal is that he’s the richest duck on the planet, and different writers deal with that differently. Sometimes they lean onto his abusiveness, the way he shamelessly exploits and underpays Donald, the way his businesses fucks over a breadth of communities, the way he’s essentially the same as some of his “villains” who are just other asshole billionaires. But sometimes they write him as this capitalist ideal, this guy who got to where he is by being this rad explorer-type guy who worked his ass off all over the world for decades until he finally got a lucky break and his fortune started there. And while both types of stories, when well-written, always worked for me, I really fell in love with that second version of Scrooge.

Even at a pretty early age, if someone asked me, I’d have told them I was a leftist: my father was a committed member of his union and I learned basic ideas about inequality pretty naturally from there. But my love for Scrooge pretty closely reflects ideas I had about meritocracy being a thing that makes sense, about gigantic wealth being no crime in itself, about the world we live in being basically fair in structure, only needing a handful of tweaks that could be implemented by better overseers.

Nowadays my opinion has basically flipped on all these matters, but I still cling to those stories where Scrooge defends his fortune from the Beagle Boys or tries to locate the philosopher’s stone or whatever. Very much like Rob, I find myself more growing into the characters that surround the huge asshole protagonist, Donald in particular. In comics, Donald is most often a deeply sympathetic character, pretty frequently written as a broke and basically depressed dude who really struggles to raise his nephews and cares about his horrible uncle way too much for Donald’s own good. I love him in a way I couldn’t when I was younger… and yet I still love his uncle way too much myself. It’s a bitter pill for my ego to swallow, but that’s where I’m at.


#4

Batman is a really good example. I have a really long-term connection to the character, but his very existence is really troubling.

I’ve heard a pitch where Bruce dons to cowl to dismantle the mob, then abandons the persona to rebuild Gotham with his vast family fortune. That’s about the only defensible pitch for the character that I’ve heard.

Otherwise, he turns into a Bezos-like character that’s just blowing huge sums of money on a personal vendetta. It’s really tough to reconcile.


#5

I’m a life-long Superman fan, and I think you’re encountering what I live with as well: Uncle Scrooge is a great character, but there’s a lot of media where he’s mishandled, or cast in a negative light, and it’s tough to separate the good from the bad. But I don’t know if you need to be embarassed by a love of Uncle Scrooge; and quite frankly, I think calling him “such a piece of shit” is a touch uncharitable-- especially if you’re willing to give the benefit of the doubt to that actual monster Donald Duck, who once tried to murder and eat Mickey and Goofy with an axe. I think loving your Ideal Scrooge is good, as much as I love my Ideal Superman or Plato loved his Ideal, I dunno, chair, I think.


#6

I guess my thing is even Ideal Scrooge feels somewhat dirty to me at this point because of how clearly basic tenants of his character tie into basic tenants of capitalism that I just can’t stand. When he’s not kind of a villain, Scrooge’s whole concept is that he’s incredibly rich and deserves it, and I just don’t believe in that anymore. Scrooge paying his broke nephew 30 cents an hour to go find a treasure he can add to his trophy room is just not a concept I can intelectually get behind, no matter how many well-written redeeming moments writers give him.

Also, the Donald who tries to murder people with axes is considerably rarer in the comics, especially in the stuff by Carl Barks and Don Rosa, the two Disney comics writers I read pretty extensively. There’s often a short temper there, but rarely that level of violence.


#7

Probably Lu Bu as a hero but not necessarily as a character I can understand. I don’t lionize him or his actions anymore, but instead try to look at the world he was looking at and see if I could make better choices at the time in that place with that nightmare they were all living in.


#8

I remember watching 500 Days of Summer in either late middle school or early high school and just really identifying with Tom. It was a weird feeling have, learning the wrong lessons from his character. Then going on to make my own mistakes when It came to relationships, being a bad partner and not focusing on the right things. (The expectations vs reality scene still hits me if I’m being honest) However, in college I began to see my own problem and then viewing the movie again, I was able to acknowledge Toms issues and problems.


#9

I loved Mad Men when it aired and followed it closely during its 7 seasons. I followed Breaking Bad closely too and was hosted a viewing party during the finale. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to watch those shows in the same light. The nature of prestige tv, agonizingly long-form, lends itself to stakes constantly being raised by characters doing awful things. The formula is shock and then redemption. And I just don’t think I have the stomach for it. I’m shocked every day by the awful things people do and then I see others fixate on the perpetrator and rarely the victims.

I do want to rewatch both those shows eventually, but in their own high-budget way, they both sit at the same table as edgy torture porn movies that was so popular in the late 1990s and into the mid 2000s. Movies like Se7en and American History X and that’s pretty embarrassing.


#10

I only read the first few books, so I don’t have the full context, but I’ve seen some pretty compelling arguments made by people far smarter than I am that “Harry Potter is kind of a dirtbag”

I think one of the key points was how he has this basically infinite inherited fortune but never once even offers to help out his friends when they run into serious money troubles.


#11

i think that’s less an aspect of the character as much as it is Rowling’s shitty politics shining through. It’s not that Harry is unwilling to share with his friends but that they’re portrayed as ‘too proud’ to accept charity and therefore deserving of respect, unlike those horrible undeserving poor people on benefits living off the work of hard working real people, etc.
Harry himself is still a bit of a dickhead though


#12

To people that engage in this sort of thinking, I’m curious, why does this sentiment exist at all? It’s not intuitive that artistic appreciation should be curated based on ideological grounds. It has never occurred to me to, for example, devalue Stalinist art simply because I find the ideology under witch it was created disagreeable (in fact, this context can make the art more interesting).

There seems to be an underlying sentiment that, by culling ‘problematic’ (which in the new usage means something like ‘ideologically incompatible’, which is not the naive usage of the word) art or characters from the mythos, a sort of new region can be collectively fostered, one that will inform our fundamental morality (but this time, the correct morality, because the mythos has been so carefully culled).

I can kinda see that angle, especially with the rise in popularity of critical theory by way of ‘studies’ disciplines in the mainstream, but I think it relies on a basic misunderstanding of art. Art is the most powerful enunciation of fundamental human truth, and as such, any attempt to wield it ideologically falls flat. Good art cuts through ideology. The program of narrowing art by way of ideological culling will be undone by art itself.

But maybe I’m misrepresenting the drive here.


#13

Maybe I’m kind of overthinking this, but isn’t the appeal of fiction that we can take glimpses into characters that we don’t like in a really safe environment?

I keep seeing Batman bought up, and I’m just confused, because (and ignoring that Batman has existed for 80+ years and has possibly thousands of discreet iterations) surely Bruce Wayne being a broken, childish, short-sighted billionaire is frequently where the tension springs from? Alfred having to babysit him, his friends and allies coming into constant conflict because his methods do or do not cross certain moral or ethical guidelines… I suppose if we take it as a very base power fantasy, Batman is inherently irredeemable, but more often than not, Batman is portrayed as inherently irredeemable.

Isn’t that what makes the comics so endearing?


#14

I think the distinction being made here is between analyzing/appreciating the work of art and identifying with or idolizing the characters, as so many of us do when we fall in love with a piece of fiction as a child.

Like, my feelings on Firefly are more complicated than they were when I was a kid, but I still thinks it’s a very funny show with an impossibly well-constructed aesthetic sense—but also, I wish I’d realized at the time that a lot of what is endearing in the characters to the audience is presented as deeply not endearing in-universe, and that in ten years I wouldn’t find some of those traits endearing as an audience-member either. Imprinting on Simon’s cluelessness as a trait to adopt in my own life was definitely a mistake!


#15

I think the read of Batman as “real” is what I’m objecting to. No Superhero actually makes sense and they don’t have to. As just a pulp superhero for kids, Batman is fine.

The Animated Series Batman is perfect, just enough of a dark tone but still an art deco fantasy. Bats are cool, gadgets are cool, fighting costumed villains is cool. But other than Christopher Nolan (and even imperfectly), all the “realistic” or “gritty” takes on Batman are awful. It’s fine to have a somewhat troubled Batman, but an irredeemable crypto-fascist Batman that likes to murder people? Why can’t he just be fun for all ages? I could make these same complaints about Iron Man, but Iron Man is fun.

Batman is a great character when you can force moral dilemmas onto him (like thou shalt not kill), but most of his conflicts are better represented externally in his fantastic rogues gallery. We don’t need a Batman psychopath, there’s already the Joker for crazy. This modern Batman though is like a misery addict. DC is so scared of letting this character exist in anything other than grimdark misery they cancelled his wedding. (And what does it say about the state of DC that their most publicized story of the year was a cowardly fucking swerve?)

This is really why Batman needs characters like Robin and Batgirl and whatever. He’s better as a father-figure, not a helpless man-child. I would have hoped that Lego Batman would have put the final nail in grimdark Batman’s coffin, but… DC won’t ever give that up.


#16

Speaking of that, I wasn’t crazy about the BvS movie but it 100% unambiguously portrays fascist Batman as the bad guy in the movie and his being an asshole manchild as a bad thing, which at the end of the day was a big part of why lots of fans hated it. :smiley: And as expected, it’s all the points where it homages Miller’s stuff and Death of Superman directly that conflict with everything else going on in the movie and drag it down.

Still, WB and DC’s various mandates on how Batman is supposed to work and behave and how they try to squeeze that into comedic or family friendly stuff is done so clumsily that I can totally understand being turned off for the character in general despite the massive variety of ways they’ve been portrayed over the years.

Plus, like, there’s Batwoman, Nightwing, there’s so many “Bat Family” characters you can get the exact kind of “Batman” story you’re looking for pretty easily without ever having to read/watch stuff with his name in the title.


#17

I mean, every time I rewatch The Last Airbender, I get reattached to the characters, and by the end I’m sad all over again.


#18

Mad Men was big for me. I wanted Don Draper to find peace within himself so bad, that I rationalized most of the bad things he did away. I suspect a lot of it has to do with Jon Hamms charisma and puppy-dog-eyes. It’s also a version of the tortured genius archetype, that hollywood loves to trot out to both trivialize and justify abusive behaviour.


#19

Super Hero comics are strange to read because, regardless of what most people will argue about them today, they absolutely were intended for kids and were written and presented in that fashion. Originally, there was never any tension between Batman’s background and what he was doing because it was fun to imagine being a super rich playboy during the day and also fighting whacky crime at night. When comics started “growing up” for the lack of a better term, lots of the classic mainstays got dragged kicking and screaming into more mature story lines regardless of how absurd they are. Every character is rife with ridiculous inconsistencies that seem moronic when viewed from a lens of someone who hasn’t just been indoctrinated with the ideas as normal since say one. Peter Parker invents a spray adhesive strong enough to lift up tons of weight with a single thread, and instead of patenting it and becoming a billionaire, he dresses up and punches bank robbers. Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark decide to use their massive wealth to fight crime on a personal level instead of using it for systemic improvement or at the very least a better lock on Arkham Asylum. The Flash could provide free, renewable energy to the world, but doesn’t. Clark Kent is clearly using his super powers to make being a beat reporter a livable profession.

I don’t think the tensions between the character and the nonsensical choices they make about their work is the fun part of reading comics, I think it’s the thing people brush aside to get to the parts they enjoy like the interpersonal drama.


#20

Harry Potter is a cop. A wizard cop.

Why he doesn’t teach defense against the dark arts at Hogwarts is baffling.