Let’s court some controversy, eh?
This is an image on imgur, a place where free ideas are exchanged in that way that free ideas are exchanged on the internet in that it tends to be a gargantuan echo chamber full of people who like imgur.
I don’t mind imgur, it does make facebook really boring as my mum eventually shares George Takei’s page which is really just the best socially-conscience parts of imgur plus a few days. And I can’t fault anyone for that, don’t get me wrong I am not ragging on imgur, George Takei, my mother, or event these two tweets. Sorry for lying to you for your clicks. But they feed me.
What I do want to talk about is old tropes that are falling out of favor, why that might be, is that a good thing, and what if any of those tropes I have in my own writing.
First I want to expand the “damsel in distress” for the time being to the “noble in distress” as this was a very common tactic that anyone with a good knowledge of history can tell you. Kidnap and ransom have always been a huge part of how humans have fought one another. Hostages were often a part of peace negotiations and infamously while it was fine to cut down levy soldiers, you’d always want to leave the nobles alive – so that you could sell them back at a profit.
This plays out time and time again in history, for me most notably in Western Europe’s Hundred Year’s War and in Japan’s Sengoku Period. The thought was if you had a hostage, the hostage’s family would not harm you for fear that you’d first retaliate on their hostage. Other times hostages would leave with sympathies for kind captors and hopefully prevent future conflict. And of course, for the womenfolk, marriages were great ways of cementing alliances as well as building dynastic control.
These situations did not always end well and murder and “disappearances” were common. So to were attempts to recover said missing relatives for things such as “honor” and “glory” and “not liking the political disadvantages placed by having lost a hostage but also not wanting to just abandoned them because of honor and glory.”
Thus the existence of the “damsel in distress” trope is not surprising. It plays well to the the male wish-fulfillment that defined fantasy and genre for admittedly too long. Big strong lad, usually working alone, gets to rescue girl, maybe cop a feel, and be received as a hero having triumphed over evil. When broken down like that, when at its barest and driest, the damsel in distress trope moves into cliche and is rightfully something to deride.
Why does it have to be a male knight?
Why does it have to be a female in distress?
Why does romance have to be the result of rescue?
There are a lot of problems here but the problem doesn’t necessarily have to be feminist or sexual or anything like that. Often times the sexualization of damsels in distress isn’t intended but rather the by-product of lazy, half-assed, mindless writing.
I don’t get the feeling from Mario that it is sexualizing or attempting to downplay the role of women by the original having Peach trapped in the tower. It certainly looks that way in hindsight, but it is a product of its time. Mario would be backwards if made today, but you look at Mario today and just as often Peach is a main character. That is serious progress.
The downside is of course they stick to lame “rebuild the macguffin” cliche plots. Oh boy.
I am digressing, though.
The main issue with sticking to the “damsel in distress” trope is that too often people forget that the damsel is a character too, regardless if the damsel is infact even a damsel and not a… what is the male of a damsel?
Well… “damsel” is the feminine diminutive of dominus so… dom? Don? Fuck it. Let’s go with Don because “dom” has some… other… meanings.
So imagine the scenario of a person in distress. Too often they are essentially a cardboard cut-out who, with their little voice box taped to the back, coos and swoons for our gender-not specified main character.
And that’s really about it.
More recently, and this is where it gets tripe, there has been a movement that suggests that backstory = character. Legend of Zelda, Twilight Princess does this (in my opinion). Link has a significant other (not Zelda) and she is shown to have personality and backstory at the beginning. And then she gets kidnapped and ne’er more is it mentioned.
That’s just as bad! Honestly it is worse because it was like “I know this is wrong so if we throw some personality traits her way it is made okay, right? Then we can ignore her?” Its that whole cover-up is worse than the crime thing.
And for that series it is really all over the place. In Twilight the SO is interesting until she isn’t needed anymore, but at least Zelda and Midna are really strong female characters. And that is a huge plus (again to me). I’m not saying having a good character outweights a bad one, but having good important characters outweighs boring unimportant characters. Yeah, it sucks whats-her-face lost her personality to kidnapping, but in the end she was not an important character. So I guess it is okay?
I mean, think for a second if Midna was a shitty character. Then we start hitting some sour notes.
Actually, the more I think the less I want to do with talking about this game what with (thinks about Native American stereotypes shudders).
As I continue to ramble farther and farther down this trail, I should really cut to the crux of my problem and my point – the Damsel/Don in distress can be interesting – if the rescue isn’t the climax or if it is, the captured has gotten proper attention from the writer and reader.
I think the problem is the failure to create two sides of an otherwise interesting story. Interesting hero + boring villain + boring target character = cliche and boring story. There has been some focus on sympathetic villains, which is good, but when we don’t see why the hero would rescue this person it sort of lends little weight to the story.
What if the hero doesn’t care about the target, but only the riches and fame? And not in that they’ll change their mind later way.
What if the target doesn’t like the hero? And not in that they’ll change their mind later way.
What if we take this rather dull story arc and relegate it to a subplot and leave it there? What if we use it for characterization instead of climax? What if we…
Wait… Sam rescuing Frodo from the orcs.
There you fucking go. That is how you do the person in distress trope right.
Fucking eat your heart out.
Now I am not implying that I am the bestest writer evar. Or that my works are perfect, shining examples of it all done right, because they are not. There is a lot of saying and not doing here. That is essentially how a blog works.
In my own works I tend to use the common sense method. Or at least I think I do. My characters have gender, they aren’t like Ripley were you can essentially swap genders and still have them work beside the occasional remark. However I don’t go as far as Sam Sykes’ [highly sarcastic] remark to mention that the women are in fact women at least six times a page.
It exists. The characters exist within a society that has norms. It is a matter of fact, but that is where I draw the line. Just like I wouldn’t go on about most bodily functions (I mention urinating once and waste management once, both in “proper” ways I think), I don’t go on about a character’s gender unless it makes sense.
On of the main-est characters in Sun-King is Rozenn, who is a woman and a knight. She doesn’t completely fit in, but she isn’t rejected in her own society. There are reasons for that beyond it is a fantasy realm and the genders are equal and that is important to her character. She exists mostly within a man’s world. However I think I did a good job avoiding sexualizing beyond what a normal character would be like. She is flirty at times and reserved at others, just like any normal character or real-life human would be.
I mention her chest once and it was to characterize another character as a pig, so I think I can claim to be in the right there but perhaps someone will disagree.
But what about my male characters? Pretty much the same. I don’t on on about glistening muscles and big ol’ cocks. They exist within their societies as well and much in the same way. It is much harder to talk about how well I treat male characters because honestly our culture is much more used to male characters being treated well and female characters being defined more by what they are not than what they are.
Maybe I’m just shit at writing characters and that is what makes me so good at giving the genders equal attention and quality.
Anyway, for the most part I avoid the damsel in distress trope/cliche as much as I can because I didn’t have a chance where it actually came up in a way that wasn’t stupid. None of my characters are captured and held ransom – simple as that. It isn’t really an epic plot line, which is why Sam’s rescue of Frodo is so brief. One hero, one target, one locale, one arc. Done. Over.
Anyway. This is a long post and it doesn’t have any pictures so… um…
Oíche mhaith, motherfuckers.