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  1. #1
    Strongly Ambivalent Ivy's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Do you need to sympathize with characters to enjoy them?

    Today I was puzzled by some statements in the thread about fictional characters and type. The character being discussed was House, MD from the American TV show of the same name. Now, I happen to think House is one of the most fascinating characters on TV. He's complicated, frustrating, and not really all that likable. He's a puzzle, wrapped up in an enigma, smothered in a conundrum, like some kind of mysterious burrito.

    But he's not a nice guy. He's not friendly, and sometimes it's hard to be sympathetic with him because he's constantly digging his own interpersonal holes. Sometimes you think maybe he's just a tender curmudgeon with a creamy nougat center, but then he does something really super dickish and you wonder if maybe he's just basted in ass for an assy flavor through and through.

    (Fucking food metaphors. I hate dieting.)

    Anyway. I didn't really want to start another House thread, since there is one already dedicated to him and he comes up frequently in other threads. But I have been turning this over all day. Some of my favorite characters, in any form of media, are NOT very sympathetic. Or, maybe more to the point, not immediately and apparently sympathetic. But they are still very compelling characters. A totally good or totally bad character is flat, but one with both flaws and redeeming qualities stands up on the page/screen (especially if the redeeming ones are hidden away).

    Some examples:

    Darth Vader, the Star Wars saga
    Starbuck, Battlestar Galactica
    Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye
    Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver
    Ben Linus, Lost
    Humbert Humbert, Lolita

    What about you? Do you need to be able to approve of a character to appreciate him or her?
    The one who buggers a fire burns his penis
    -anonymous graffiti in the basilica at Pompeii

  2. #2
    not to be trusted miss fortune's Avatar
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    intresting thread idea!

    I like the flawed characters the best- they're usually more complex and interesting than the heroic good guys/gals- I actually can't stand any character who is too good- there's no understanding there with them If the character is trying to push others away or be unpleasant to them, it usually means that there's more there to figure out, which makes them more fascinating, which means that I like them more!

    I suppose that may be me disapproving of the good guy though- which sounds warped I've always been the one who likes the villan in the movie (with some exceptions- I dislike racist/sexist/homophobic villans) because I could identify with them being human more... the same applies to House actually (or Dr Cox and Dr Kelso on Scrubs )- I can't trust a character who I wouldn't be comfortable having a few drinks with and chatting about our lives
    “Oh, we're always alright. You remember that. We happen to other people.” -Terry Pratchett

  3. #3
    Senior Member Clover's Avatar
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    I do have a tendency to prefer villains over heroes, or more often than not the antagonist over the protagonist. I wonder why? I mean for some reason I adore characters who really have no redeeming qualities, who just cut down everyone in their path without a hint of remorse... Of course I might create my own idealized versions of them in my head for fantasizing purposes, haha.

  4. #4
    mrs disregard's Avatar
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    Not at all. I am extremely busy at the mo, but I will say that the reason I love fiction is because of the antagonist.. I don't always sympathize with the antagonist (Achilles, Ender's Game; Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter) but I certainly can identify with them a little bit. The villains just seem more honest about themselves and their motives. They're not trying to impress, they just know what they want and are set out to get it.

  5. #5
    Protocol Droid Athenian200's Avatar
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    I can enjoy most characters, actually... although I prefer ones I can can sympathize with. The only characters I dislike are vulgar/tasteless ones... I prefer a refined, civilized villain to a crude/vulgar, roughneck hero. What does that say about me?

  6. #6
    Wait, what? Varelse's Avatar
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    *agrees with Whatever*

    I can't sympathize with a character that's too perfect. Don't know anyone like that. Seems utterly unrealistic.

    Someone who is a mess is much more understandable. More human.
    We are not poets
    We have no right to make amendments

  7. #7
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    The ideal human being is a drone who does what they're told.

    Writing characters in fiction is the closest one can get to effectively controlling others.

  8. #8
    Rats off to ya! Mort Belfry's Avatar
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    Sometimes it's enjoyable to watch characters be held completely at the mercy of thier writers. One of my all time favourite sitcom characters is George Costanza and though I like him and have an understanding of him, I still enjoy watching him getting hurt and ridiculed by the plot. Sometimes on these kinds of shows it seem like the writers are actively trying to punish the character and the audience loves it.

    In the show Tom Goes to the Mayor, Tom Peters is nice, friendly and thoroughly sympathetic, but you still get a sadistic glee from watching him getting tortured.

    I'm guessing the question in the OP is asking more about sympathising with a character's intentions and actions, but I think the fact people enjoy wanting to see their characters get hurt show that sympathy can be pretty removed from enjoyment of the fictional world.
    Why do we always come here?

    I guess we'll never know.

    It's like a kind of torture,
    To have to watch this show.

  9. #9
    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    No, I don't need to approve of a character to appreciate them.

    (I think I did mention Michael from "Lost" -- I despise him... but at the same time I think he was one of the best characters in the show, because it was clear what was driving him, and he relentlessly pursued his goal even at the expense of others. Wow.)

    Or the entire cast of American Beauty, for example. Some of them are really awful human beings (such as Ricky's father)... Maybe that is different, I still empathize with Ricky's father because I can see the chains he has bound himself on and he has become a pathetic shell of a man.... sort of a self-victim. But he still does dreadful, horrid things. Yet I appreciate him as a character -- he is representing something truthful about the human condition (albeit the darker end).

    Or the characters in The Prestige. Robert Angier is such a bitter, awful human being -- he does "terrible things" to the man he refuses to forgive. Yet he is such a strong, vivid character that embodies the results of certain types of behavior in human beings. He says something truthful about people just by living.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  10. #10

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    I think the reason that people can enjoy the character of House is that although he might be a dick, he's a dick in service of saving people's lives. That's his redeeming quality. He's a dick, but people would die if he were nicer. I guess the popularity of the character is an embrace of "the end justifies the means".
    Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight.

    Johari
    /Nohari

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