Today is TV Tropes Tuesday, and I will talk about two of my favorite tropes, which are the Designated Hero and the Designated Villain.
Most stories have a hero and villain. However, we’ve all seen or read or heard stories where the heroes are not very heroic, and the villains are not very villainous. The heroes are meant to be sympathetic, but come across as unsympathetic, and possibly even actual villains; on the other hand, the villains might come across as sympathetic, and maybe even heroic, especially if they never do anything that is truly wrong.
In my attempts at developing stories, I have had trouble with this issue. I’ve wanted to depict my characters doing bad things, but then I’m told that they sound too unlikable. It’s hard to strike a balance, but I’ve always wanted to depict bad people doing bad things; I tend to find unlikable characters to be the most interesting.
For example, with my character Luna, I’ve intended for her to be an anti-hero trying to get through life while living in a town where she is completely and utterly despised by almost everyone; to distinguish from the designated hero, my intention is that she is still the hero of her story has at least generally good intentions, although she does some morally questionable things, but I’ve realized that some of the things I’ve imagined her doing go too far and would likely make her unlikable and unsympathetic.
I’ve thought of several ways to fix that issue.
I could tone down her bad behavior and try to make her more funny and sympathetic, instead of just an insufferable brat.
I could also depict her as receiving disproportionately unfair punishments; to expand on that I have created story lines where Luna received unfair punishments for lots of things. For example, her story begins after she has spent the summer in Juvie after the cheer leading squad jumped her. Even though, she was defending herself, she was charged and sentenced. I also have Luna regularly being a victim of bullying and harassment, and the school staff does nothing about it, as they hate her. Yet another story line focuses on Luna getting her first car, and then is arrested for driving ONE mile over the speed limit. Luna is selfish and spoiled, and she doesn’t always do right by her family and friends, but that does not justify being treated unfairly by the justice system or being ignored by her school when she is bullied and harassed.
This is my attempt to avoid making Luna into a designated hero.
Interestingly, I have also considered doing other things, like making Luna so unsympathetic, that the audience is rooting against her and is happy when she is justly punished at the end; this would make her a Villain Protagonist.
I’ve also imagined Luna being unfairly treated by someone, and her antagonist is portrayed as being in the right. This is interesting because in a way Luna is a Villain Protagonist, and her opponent is a Hero Antagonist; however, the way in which I imagined would make them Designated Villain Protagonist and Designated Hero Antagonist One story line involves Luna being reunited with someone whom she accidentally outed as gay to the entire school, leading to them dropping out to avoid being bullied. This person decides to get revenge against Luna by framing her for saying derogatory things about the LGBT community. When Luna proves her innocence, the person is called out harshly for their actions, but then Luna loses her support, when the others out what she did to the person. The message is that if someone outs you, you have the right to do whatever you want to destroy their life. Not a good message. An audience might not like that story, so I will try to make Luna more sympathetic, rather than expecting the audience to root against her.
Moving on, my show about teachers, I have imagined several major story lines where they do lots of bad things, like sabotaging each other, the principal public shaming her bad-behaving daughter, a teacher accidentally injuring a student and covering it up, two teachers destroying each others’ house, and all sorts of things. Now, I’ve tried to make things not so harsh, and to include humor, but many of the characters could be regarded as designated heroes, and I’ve gotta do work to make them more sympathetic. I’ve at least made a mean character nice to certain people and supportive of mental health issues and the LGBT community.
The next paragraph has spoilers.
To end this blog post, I will talk about an example of a designated hero that I have seen. I enjoyed the Hulu original series East Los High, a teen drama which focuses on the students of a high school in the predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood of East Los Angeles. One of the characters, Jessie, is dating a jock named Jacob. When Jacob becomes close to Jessie’s cousin, Maya, Jessie becomes jealous and sleeps with her dance teacher (who seems to be about the same age as her), Cristian after spending lots of time alone with him. Jessie shortly afterwards has sex with Jacob to avoid losing him to Maya. Jessie had unprotected sex with Cristian (he failed at using the withdrawal method, which anyone who took comprehensive sex ed should and would know is an unreliable birth control method, and that many boys and men often can’t and don’t know exactly when they will reach orgasm and ejaculate, and may not withdraw in time, but I digress.), but Jacob used a condom when she had sex with him. Jessie finds out that she is pregnant, and tells Jacob that he is the father, when Christian is actually the father. This leads to Jacob foregoing a scholarship to play football for a college in Indiana, and at her mother’s insistence, he asks Jessie to marry him. Leading up to the wedding, Jessie never expresses any guilt over lying to Jacob and causing him to give up his future to be a young father and husband. Eventually as they are about to exchange vows, Jessie feels guilty, refuses to go through with the wedding, and pulls Jacob aside to tell him the truth.
What I noticed on the comments of the episodes is an expression of contempt for Jessie for her dishonesty, infidelity, and for causing Jacob to give up his future. Yet, through it all, she does not express guilt until the last minute, and the show depicts her sympathetically. While I personally don’t hate Jessie as a character, I can understand all the negative comments about her. Perhaps, the show’s writers should have and could have depicted Jessie struggles with her guilt; it would have made her more sympathetic.