Character Portraits: The Vulnerable

Before we begin to delve deeper into the definition of this character type, I have to say now, this is not the same as ‘Damsel in Distress’.  For one thing, they are not necessarily female.  There are similar characteristics yet there are enough differences to seperate the two.  The most obvious (apart from the aforementioned) is the ‘vulnerable’ does not need rescuing, in the traditional sense.

However, they do have issues which make them potentially vulnerable from outside sources.  The traditional vices; money, drugs, drink only partially cover the gamut of issues and yet this character is more than just a two-dimensional stereotype.  Other characteristics likely to be found are naivety and gullibility.

Classic vulernable people are the young and elderly.  The young, because they have no life experience and are innocent.  The elderly, because they are in no position to fight back. Other variants include those who place themselves, unwittingly or otherwise, in a position that enables them to be controlled by others.  A wonderful example would be Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man.

Perhaps this character type has a rosy outlook on life which causes them to be vulnerable, I don’t know, but it helps us to define them.  Not being aware of the insidious nature of some people, especially those close to them, makes for a problematic future.

Why do we have them?

My guess, they are to remind us to be on our guard.  Not everyone has our best interests at heart and failing to see this can have disastrous consequences.  The other reason is to highlight such people in real life.  For example, an elderly woman killed herself because she was being pressured by outside agencies.  Had someone been there to aid her when she needed it the most, she would not have felt it necessary to use this way out.

Character Profiles: The Evil One (or Why I loved the story behind Bioshock Infinite)

Is it me or are stories for computer games still seen as an unnecessary addition? Perhaps it is down to playing too many games where a plot is not needed.  All you do is kill the bad guys before ending with the big boss where you kill them in a climatic battle.  Good triumphs over evil, end of story.

In Bioshock Infinite the top dog is Father Zachary Hale Comstock.  The first impression is that he is some sort of benevolent demi-god who has singularly guided the community to its current position.  Dig just beyond the surface however and you find that his single-mindedness has been at odds with other people’s opinions.  The phrase ‘absolute power corrupts, absolutely’ comes to mind.  The position he has placed himself in means he ignores their opposition or squashes it.

Civil unrest breaks out across the district and he attempts to use heavy-handed tactics to oppress the population.  All in all, we get the impression that Father Comstock rules with an iron fist.  It is at this point our hero arrives.

Booker DeWitt of the Pinkerton detective agency is sent to rescue a woman who was adopted by Father Comstock.  Where the story gets interesting is just before the end.  I don’t think there were many people who spotted the clue planted very early on (I certainly wasn’t one of them), after all a forced baptism is not the first thing you’d look for.

Like all good stories though, this one made me think.  It made me realise that our paths can change drastically without us noticing.  An infinity of options are out there, yet we take but one which leads us to where we are now.  No one is born purely evil, it is the decisions we make which set us on our journey.  What influences those decisions is a matter for debate.

Father Comstock may have been evil, but he wasn’t always that way.  Remember, behind every character there is a story.

Character Portraits: Geeks and Nerds

The Geek; studious, learned, socially inept, interesting dress sense, or is that the list for Nerds?

In literary terms, I think these two groups are usually classed as one.  However there are subtle differences between the two, which I shall go into later.  First, I’d like to discuss their similar traits.

As we all know, Geeks and Nerds are studious to some degree.  Whether it consists of traditional techniques (such as reading or performing experiments), or more modern ways of learning such as the internet (a lot can be learned from google and YouTube), these groups love to take part in these activities.

An interesting dress sense is also a must as well.  Shirts and trousers (pants to my American friends) are perhaps more common among Nerds than Geeks who seem to favour jeans and t-shirts sporting their favourite pastime.

Because of their obsession with their chosen subject, they are likely to be socially inept.  A classic case in point is Professor Don Tillman in ‘The Rosie Project’ (which I hope to review very soon).  Graeme Simsion has even gone as far as giving Don Asperger Syndrome.  Doing this, as well as writing it from Don’s perspective, has added an interesting addition to the equation.

And now we shall move onto the differences.

The definition of a Geek is “someone who is interested in a subject (usually intellectual or complex) for its own sake”.  Whereas the definition of Nerd is “an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a non-social hobby or pursuit”.

On reading those definitions, it seems to me that it is a Nerd who is more likely to have trouble in social situations.  A geek on the other hand, while they love their favourite topic, do not pursue it to such a degree as Nerds. If you could enlighten me on the this I would be willing to hear your argument.

Why do we have them?

Like all characters, Geeks and Nerds have their origins in real life.  The titles, Geek and Nerd, first came to the public consciousness around the same time; the 1970s.*

In recent years, Geeks and Nerds have shaken off their negative connotations.  So much so that we have even had the rise of the Geek.  Again ‘The Rosie Project’ is a perfect example.  I doubt this book would have been published thirty years ago.  If it had, it certainly would not have been as successful.

*By that I mean their current definition.

Character Portraits: The Mentor

At first glance, the mentor is a pretty straight forward character.  Look deeper though and they can be complex.  A mentor is there to impart their knowledge onto the hero.  A mentor is usually scholarly to some degree.  If not, they have life lessons to teach along with their special subject.

Take Obi-Wan Kenobi, for example.  When we first meet him, he is the only source of knowledge on the Force, excepting Darth Vader.  Later on we get to meet Yoda but in ‘A New Hope’ it is just Obi-Wan.  Luke, despite being too old to take up formal Jedi training, is taken into hand by the old master.

Having lived a long life Obi-wan has a lot of experience.  Along with teaching Luke about the ways of the Force, he must temper his impulsiveness.  Giving in to impulse is seen as being weak and could potentially lead to Luke’s death or worse, the dark side.

Other characteristics Mentors have are; curmudgeonly, e.g Doc. Hudson in ‘Cars’, true believer, e.g. Morpheus in ‘The Matrix’ and strange but in an all-knowing, comforting kind of way, the best example of which is Mr Miyagi from ‘The Karate Kid’.

Sometimes Mentors must die in order for the hero to take the correct path at the crossroads in their life.  Obi-Wan’s death at the hands of Darth Vader is shocking to Luke despite barely knowing him.  This is not always the case, for example could you imagine Mr Miyagi dying?

Why do we have mentors?

Basically a mentor is a representation of experience and knowledge.  Passing our experience on the next generation is a fact of life.  If knowledge did not get passed down, you would not be reading this right now.  Language would not have evolved and we would still be sitting in the trees wondering where our next meal was.

Character Portraits: The Angry Teenager

I think James Dean’s performance in Rebel Without A Cause sums up this type perfectly when he responded to the line ‘What are you rebelling against?’ with ‘What have you got?’

This type is culture specific.  It seems to only be present in Great Britain and the United States.  Yet when the place of origin is other than those two a miraculous change occurs.  Suddenly they are no longer the fearsome, sullen nether creatures but angels, almost.

Teenagers can only be traced back to the twentieth century.  Before then people of this age group went straight from school (sometimes at 12, other times even younger) into work.  They did not have disposable income nor time to spare.  Due to changes in circumstances and especially societal attitudes, we get a new ‘breed’.

Misunderstood because of the perfectly normal transition they are going through, they are tarred with the same brush.  Rebellious, angry, sullen, hate-filled, irresponsible, impulsive.  All the traits we associate with evil influences.

Anybody from Great Britain and the U.S. can see the correlation between the supposed reality and the character type.  We believe that one is a representation of the other which drives how we feel and act around them in real life.

Do we need this type?

No. This stereotype is harmful and perpetuates the myth that all people from this group are evil.  Society alienates teenagers so it is us who must change.  Until we as adults change then this stereotype will continue to exist.

Character Portraits: The Hero

This is the first in a series where I take a look at different character types investigating where they come from and why we have them.  I thought I would start off with the most obvious; the hero.  I’d like to take a moment to say that I don’t differentiate between the masculine and feminine here, a hero and a heroine are just the same.  I will be using hero simply because I’m lazy, having less letters than the latter.

Why do we have one?

Well that can be boiled down to one word; injustice.  The hero needs something to fight for whether that be against crime, environmental concerns, defending the weak, etc.  There has to be a driving force for a hero to take that step into danger.  We see injustice every day and we think that it would be great if someone could right that wrong.  Secretly, we may even revel in the thought that the wrongdoer will get hurt in the process.

This character is easy to conjure up, so much so that we even have different categories; the superhero, the anti-hero and even the reluctant hero.

Where do they come from?

Going as far back as Ancient Greece there were stories of people, gods almost (sons of deities at least), like Heracles (now Hercules), Achilles, Hector et al.  Classical heroes were considered as warriors who live and die in the pursuit of honour.  Now though we like them a little more complex, more human.  Heroes are no longer perfect, they must have a flaw.

Anger management pops up frequently as does alcoholism, drug addiction and anything else that could potentially disrupt the course of events.  If our hero had an addiction to knitting we would hardly consider that a flaw.  Unless, during the final battle our protagonist proceeded to pull out a ball of yarn and start knitting, but that isn’t really going to happen.  It would certainly break by suspense of disbelief that’s for sure!

We need those flaws to show that these people are just like us, an altered version sure, but us nonetheless.  I believe the hero was created to help us fantasise about what we would do in a given situation.  We don’t want to be like them, we want to be them.  We see a part of ourselves in them.  We are however afraid of repercussions.  We are afraid of being weak at the wrong moment and being unable to vanquish the foe.  Instead, we let our heroes do that for us.

Is it wrong to have them, then?

No.  If anything they are needed to show us the way, to do what is right.  Injustice has to be stopped and if it means stepping up to be counted, then so be it.