Character Dive Intro: The Characters You Weren't Supposed to Identify With
TW: Mentions of Homophobia, Racism, Sexism
This is the intro / hub for a multi-part series. As the series grows, I’ll add links below. For naming purposes, this is essentially Part 0.
Other parts of this series:
[links will be added as parts are posted]
There is a certain kind of character that has been growing in popularity for the last few decades or so in media culture (at least since the 80’s). This genre of character is fairly broad, but in most instances, can be defined as a, “Wronged White Man who Refuses to Back Down or Shower”. Some prominent examples are Rick Sanchez (Rick and Morty), Tyler Durden (Fight Club), and Walter White (Breaking Bad).
On a personal, yet important note, these characters are consistently my favorite within the works they appear in. I cannot stress enough that the discussions around these characters are not coming from a place of distaste. Rather, I want to interrogate why these characters are so popular, and more importantly, ask what different interpretations of these characters exist and why. I find that there is a pervasive group of fans that identify with these characters, which couldn’t be further from their intended function. These characters are supposed to represent what we should not be. Granted, this is a subjective opinion, but it is at least supported by nearly every text that these characters exist within. The examples where the text is asking the audience to identify with the “Wronged White Man who Refuses to Back Down or Shower” are few and far between, and this series will most certainly be tackling those at some point.
The qualities of this archetype are male-identifying, white, cisgender, hyper-masculine, misogynistic, homophobic (especially to gay men), intellectual, non-hygenic, and arrogant. It does not take much analysis to come to the conclusion that this archetype is not a monolith. Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), for example, fits into this category despite his extensive hygiene and self-care routine. Conversely, Rick Sanchez has every trait. A character in this archetype does not need to have every quality associated with it. Typically, there are four big traits that these characters all share. The essential qualities are male-identifying, white, hyper-masculine, and intellectual. If they have these four traits, there is a pretty good chance that the character fits into this category.
The main purpose of this series is to go through some of the most prevalent characters of this archetype and analyze how they are used in their story. Additionally, I want to show how receptions of the character shape their public image. Most of these characters escape being widely thought of as a bigot despite bigotry being an extremely common and obvious character trait. Something that will be repeated throughout this series is that these characters were not created to be identified with, and their source text explicitly critiques their worldview, showing that it is flawed, hateful, and self-destructive. I find it fascinating that these characters are idolized despite being the subject of criticism by the very piece of art they are in. I understand appreciating these characters for their function in a story, but identifying with them is a far cry from the purpose of these characters. These characters are supposed to reflect the worst parts of society and ourselves, and seeing yourself in them is almost always positioned as a moment to reflect on why that is a bad thing.
Whether you enjoy these characters, or find them unbearably annoying, I invite you to stick around for this series, as it will be an exploration of why certain characters rise to prominence despite being misunderstood by their fans. For the first official part of this series, I will be going straight for my own jugular, as we analyze Rorschach from Watchman, my all time favorite piece of fiction.