There are a lot of genres out there currently vying for the honor of Most Overdone Genre Ever. Sure, you got your zombies, your vampires, your teenage girl caught betwixt two adoring suitors. Yet there is one genre that, for me at least, stands far above any of these.
My last post was about how the Alien franchise lost its way when it changed Ripley from an ordinary, strong woman into a mythological hero. What I failed to do in that post was fully convey my total exhaustion with plots centered around the mythological superhero, commonly referred to as … “The One.” It is this genre of story that bores me more than all the others combined.
I am so sick of all these goddamned special heroes. These stories positively reek of American exceptionalism — egocentric, megalomaniacal bullshit!
Please. Please. For the love of all things, can we just stop it with this crap? I mean, okay, I’ll grant you — The Matrix was a great hero’s journey. But I think everyone, on some level, knows why the sequels didn’t work. It was because NEO — hamfisted anagram that he is — is a total freaking bore once he realizes he’s basically Computer Jesus. There’s no reason for any conflict anywhere after the first film. To pretend that that story ends in FISTICUFFS!?! Seriously?
But hey, okay, maybe you want to cite Star Wars as an example of a great myth, rousingly told, and point out that no one’s more special than the Skywalker clan. Sure. You could do that. But it’s not true. Until the prequels, there wasn’t anything truly intrinsic to Luke Skywalker himself that an ordinary person couldn’t hope to achieve as well (especially if you stick with the original film, which was really just the simple story of a farmboy doing WAAAAAAAY better than anyone thought he would). The Force used to be democratic. Then it became hereditary. Wasn’t it more fun when it could’ve been you using the Force to make that shot?
It was for me. Cuz the doc tells me my midichlorian count … too low! Sigh. Now I’ll never achieve my Jedi dreams!
To paraphrase a George R. R. Martin line, I have a deep affection for cripples, bastards, and broken things. Even Orson Scott Card’s military genius Ender Wiggin was hobbled by his youth (and the bloodthirsty jealousy of his peers), and Card re-upped to an even bolder degree with the parallel story Ender’s Shadow, detailed from the perspective of the even more frail Bean. Sure, Ender and Bean were both examples of characters exhibiting vast traces of one-itis, but they were still overwhelmed enough to bring the story back into a more naturally dramatic state. Hell, even freaking Beowulf is basically the story of a really old man, who inadvisably goes out to fight once more after having listened to Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” one too many times.
Yet still, I feel like a lot of these are examples of characters that want to have it both ways — they want to play the overwhelmed overdog, and that shit is just getting as bone-achingly tired as any of your old-timey Scandinavian heroes.
The deluge of characters who either discover or start as part of some exemplary race or group of “specials” disturbs the living shit out of me. Doesn’t it smack of a distasteful love of supremacy? Isn’t there anyone out there who wants to write about ordinary people facing overwhelming problems? Isn’t that more the ordinary state of regular humans? What in the name of holy fuck is with this unrelenting trend of superheroes? There’s a reason I relate to Ripley in the first two Alien films and don’t relate to her as much (or at all) in the sequels. There’s a reason Tyrion — the dwarf without any real hope of defending himself unless he can convince someone else to take up a sword on his behalf in most situations — is my favorite character in Game of Thrones.
They’re freaking normal. They’re not “the One!” They’re a whole lot like you and me.
So the next time you find yourself out there thinking how to make your character cool and extraordinary … maybe just go the crazy route.
Maybe just make them fucking normal.