Characters: Like lyrics, prophecies, and baking instructions we’re bound to get them wrong and make an utter mess of shit. Maybe it’s the internet flattening things to easy to digest lists (like this one), or maybe we can blame our English Lit teachers for lazily teaching us shallow interpretations straight off wikipedia. Maybe we’re all being followed by a slow gas leak, I don’t know. The point is, most of us are about as bad at interpreting fictional characters as we are at figuring out what our loved ones want for gifts. So we simplify things by assigning what we’d want and just assume they’re too polite to correct us.
So here I’ll set the record straight and probably spoil the hell out of a few stories in the process…
V (V for Vendetta)
Internet thinks – Badass hero of the story
Actuality – Self-centered terrorist
A vicious psychopath with a black-and-white view of the world. Tortured, experimented on, and burnt beyond human recognition, the man called V was so twisted by the events of his life that he came to see Guy Fawkes as a sympathetic hero rather than his nation’s most celebrated terrorist. V’s whole world view is that the “bad” must be killed, no matter how repentant (killing Doctor Surridge in her sleep then letting her confess was clearly not heroic) and that the “just” must suffer for their goodness (as Evey Hammond was made to suffer at V’s own hands).
And the internet like wearing this guy’s mask. A crazy, murdering burn victim.
The point of the book isn’t that V is a good guy. He represents the tyranny of the self-appointed good, the same risky icons that the foolish and frightened will follow and emulate. Evey Hammond is the hero of the story, the girl who never sheds a drop of blood and so survives to the end.
Andrew Ryan (Bioshock)
Internet thinks – Well-meaning visionary
Actuality – Short-sighted egotist
As we all know, Andrew Ryan represents Ayn Rand’s objectivist dream of a rich guy in a nice suit building a utopia out of spite for the american government and Bolsheviks. Somewhere along the way, fans got the idea that Ryan’s Rapture would have worked were it not for those pesky engineering faults and the unforeseen effects of some worms. Leave it to the internet to think that a civilization’s destruction could have been prevented with a STEM degree and a Planet Earth blu-ray.
The problem with Ryan isn’t just his execution (though obviously that needed some help), it’s that his dream is woefully unrealistic. In his diaries, President Idiot goes over the idea that so much of mankind in a group is selfish – he decries the government, the church, and communists for their lust for money and power. But he fails to realize that Rapture would itself be a group of people, only now without control or need to compromise for common good. This argument is like saying that dogs are liable to bite you, so to fix this we do away with leash laws and wear clothing made from barbecue sauce.
Even as the splicer revolt began, Ryan can be heard to say he refuses to pass laws himself or ask for outside help, as that’s how you get government regulation. So much for logic.
Beatty and pretty much everyone else (Fahrenheit 451)
Internet thinks – Evil, censoring dictator
Actuality – Heartbroken nerd
Quite a lot of us read Bradbury’s classic 451º F in high school and probably accepted more than a few truisms about the work while we were just desperately trying to make it to lunch where we could hit on Jennifer Lawson. Among those truisms were that Jennifer was never going to take that hint, and that Captain Beatty was a big fan of censoring everything with an oven. Beatty, we’re told, stood against knowledge and wanted to force his perspective on the world.
And then Bradbury went and wrecked a nice idea by telling people what they weren’t getting: Beatty wasn’t a tyrant to the author, but a lapsed reader in a world where TV is king. The book wasn’t about censorship, Bradbury said, but about a world where reading (and written information) was so thoroughly and utterly supplanted by watching television that people looked at books the way you might look at someone who told you that they’re still really into magic eye posters or victrola records: like they were trying to lure you into a cult and use their arcane media to open a door to the Cenobites. Bradbury dropped this information in, you guessed it, television interviews where he was pitching the play adaption of his classic, now containing an extra scene where Beatty owns books but complains about how they don’t do anything for him anymore. This makes his death at the end all the more poignent in that he finally gets to feel something.
So there you have it, Bradbury made a book and a play to complain about how TV was ruining us, then he went on TV because people didn’t know how to read the thing the way he wanted. Did irony just not have his phone number or something? Of course, paper – book paper — also does not auto-ignite at 451 degrees (it starts at 440 and goes up). So that’s two things you probably get wrong.
Master Chief / John-117 (Halo)
Internet thinks – Badass Soldier
Actuality – Seriously fucked-up child
Talking about Halo’s backstory is like explaining the history of a theory in physics; sure it probably involves explosions, warfare and political intrigue but somehow what’s exciting to the fan just sounds like homework to anyone with even one foot outside the bubble of fandom. So I’m gonna try and go real broad strokes on this one to keep any non-gamers from thinking they need a diagram. In a distant future, John is abducted from his home as a child and trained, like Ender’s Game, to fight an advanced, alien enemy. Through the course of this he gets a a partner of sorts… a buddy cop in space… played by the voice search function on Windows 10. John and hologram sidekick drives back these forces but at a heavy cost of NPCs, and people from books, and essentially a planet full of people not in the title credits of John And Friends Save The Day, Sorta. The series goes on. New friends are made, new enemies discovered, fortunes are reversed. John is lost and found like some sort of Spock / Han Solo type deal.
Through all of this, fans look at Master Chief as some sort of “Space Jesus with an MA3 Assault Rifle.” The lone wolf so many young men fantasize about being. But maybe we missed a part. Besides being a power fantasy, John isn’t just a child but a child’s imagination of a soldier. Seriously. When we meet him in Halo 1 he already has every medal available on earth. That’s how the series opens. We find out he’s not socialized outside of the military, not trained in extemporaneous affairs, seems to have a poor understanding of the race he’s fighting for and his best friend is imaginary. The earth is being saved by a child’s projection of heroism and that’s sorta tragic.
Jenny Curran (Forrest Gump)
Internet thinks – Cruel, manipulative temptress
Actuality – Deeply traumatized love interest
A lot of the Forest Gump audience seems to believe that Jenny is some vicious tease, out to wreck Forest’s life for fun. Presumably, these people spent the entire first act of the film arguing with a concession stand manager about how medium popcorn is a middling size distinction and that they should only sell large and jumbo. You know, important things.
If they had been paying attention to the first act, they would have realized that Jenny was abused by her asshole father and maybe that set her character on a terrible path for… I dunno… the entire rest of the movie? Maybe that’s the kind of thing that turns “unrequited love” to “I actually don’t know how to deal with people who are nice to me?”
Jason Voorhees (Friday 13th series)
Internet thinks – Monsterous serial killer
Actuality – Frightened child-monster
Jason is best known for being the unstoppable, murder machine who is going to use any makeshift weapon to extract his franchise-advancing revenge.
Wait, there’s a word there. Not “unstoppable,” the franchise has sorta stalled out right now. No, it’s “revenge.” Getting bloody repayment for some mistreatment. Namely being a disabled kid who was ostracized and bullied by campers and councilors, then left to die by thoughtless kids hell bent on pot, booze, premarital sex and other Reagan era no-no’s. And if negligent homicide wasn’t enough, Jason then witness… ummm… ligent homicide when councilors killed his mom who was just trying right the wrongs done to her son. So naturally Jason came back as the lumbering embodiment of family values. It’s not that he’s cruelly culling teenagers from the world; he’s just trying to make the world safe for him and his dead mother. Awwwwww.
Internet thinks – Lawful-neutral badass
Actuality – Pitiable final villain of the book.
This is the second Alan Moore character turned movie hero that’s made our list, and that’s truly a shame. I love Moore’s work, but it’s been terribly handled and misinterpreted.
Rorschach was written as a parody of Frank Miller’s pre-enlightenment philosophy that there is only good and bad. Heroes are good, even when they’re beating the shit out of innocent people. Villains are bad, even when they’re improving society by centralizing crime.
Rorschach takes this to the absolute extreme. At the end of the book, a city has been destroyed to prove a point to mankind and Rorschach sticks to his mantra to “Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.” Rorschach is incapable of being pragmatic and would rather see the planet go back to killing eachother, the city destroyed in vain, and possibly spark the nuclear war threatened through the pages… all that rather than allow mankind the luxury of living in peace beneath the shroud of a lie.
In the end, Rorschach offers himself up for sacrifice rather than face a world that does not conform to his view where a good result may be gotten by evil means.
Marla Singer (Fight Club)
Internet thinks – Manipulative but flawed love interest
Actuality – Doesn’t exist
Marla singer. The smoking, waif-ish, woman lodged between Jack’s two personalities. Or is she? People pay more attention to the stylishly awful things Marla says and not so much the peculiar things Marla does. Like selling men’s jeans, not having a reflection or presence in security camera footage, showing up to testicular cancer support groups, or the fact that it’s likely her vibrator that gets Jack’s luggage pulled at the airport. She lives in a hotel, just as Jack does when traveling. She tries to OD on the same medication Jack begs his doctor for at the start of the film. Even the fact that she’s never seen with Tyler and Jack at the same time says just as much to imaginary friends not talking to one another. She is the chain-smoking deaths head embodiment of the narrator’s fear of cancer and losing his “manhood.”
Literally Every Cereal Mascot (TV Ads, Grocer’s Cereal Isle)
Internet thinks – Thieves, misers, and other racist/speciest caractiture from your local propaghandist
Actuality – Starving, Jonathan Swift style urchins
Look, I know I’ve listed a lot of characters with traumatic childhoods. You might have thought I was picking low-hanging, molested fruit. What you didn’t know is that I was front-loading to condition you to realize that children are our greatest monsters. All of them, without exception. They will steal the edible gold from a starving, impoverished leprechaun. They’ll storm the castles of Romanian royalty. Children make up a sugar fueled Sherman army, burning down bee hives and Bedrock for a chance at a bowl full of riboflavin.
Look at these poor wretches. What are they supposed to eat? Some of them, like Sonny the Cuckoo is literally evolved to eat his cereal. And some bootstrappers are out there saying that these animals and admirality should get a job and buy a box themselves. But clearly that does work because they job they have (spokesperson and guard of cereal) doesn’t afford them riches enough to eat their own product. They just have to stand still for a box portrait, holding a bowl filled with cold milk and their only desire, while some photographer screams at them not to eat it because that prop sugar and it’s not for consumption.
So are you a multinational company that has rabbits, or birds, or endangered big cats with substance abuse issues? Well just wheel them over to this group of pre-teens for to be mocked and taunted until their victim gives these bullies a goddamn toy.
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