Fiction and Personal Growth, Part 1

Can people change, for better or worse? Can a person truly let go of a part of their personality, their self, especially if it’s to fill the void with something else? I’m not talking about the changes we are (hopefully) forced to go through as we grow older (for instance, children have no concept of boundaries, but one expects adults to have already learned those at their age), nor about the little things such as likes and dislikes (“Yeah, I used to love that show, but nowadays I can’t get past how campy it is”); rather, I’m talking about the big things (or possibly a whole bunch of little things that all add up) on the scale of “Can a murderer truly repent for what he did – not because he was punished, but because he came to acknowledge that the act of murder itself is wrong?”.

Well, to be even more precise, what I’m really going to talk about is how fiction tends to deal with that kind of thing. Then again, the best stories always reflect something of real life, even if only an idealized version of it, so I’d be very surprised if nothing we discuss here can be applied to our own world.

Warning: there will be HEAVY spoilers for Kieron Gillen’s run on Journey Into Mystery, Al Ewing’s current run on Loki: Agent of Asgard, and Nobuhiro Watsuki’s manga Rurouni Kenshin. You have been warned!
One of the title character’s favourite truisms from the House TV series was “People can’t change”, but consider the source; a misanthropic jerk who often used that as a way to excuse himself of responsibility for the way he treated people, especially the few who loved him (“It’s not my fault, I can’t change; they’re the idiots who remain by my side even though they should know better”). On the other hand, while I find that statement debatable by itself in real life, in fiction, it tends to be true – especially since we don’t let those people (the characters) change.

I mean, let’s face it: the main reason why so many viewers loved House is exactly because he’s a jerk who can flaunt social convention and get away with it because he’s such a genius – he’s basically the barbarian hero for modern society, a power fantasy incarnate. Which is why all of those occasion where House acted nicer (or even just nice, period) lasted only for single episodes: neither the audience nor the writers WANT House to change, so they don’t LET him change until the final episode (possibly). As a fictional character, he’s doomed to be the living proof of his own saying: “People can’t change”.

That can be even worse with cyclic entertainment industries, like American comic books: no matter how many times they find safe shelters in The Walking Dead, people will always somehow screw things up so the protagonists have to end up on the run again (well, to the best of my knowledge; I stopped reading after about 100 issues of that, so I don’t know if it’s changed – but I seriously doubt it), and it doesn’t matter that Barry Allen had both a “happily ever after” (in his own comic) and a great heroic sacrifice (in the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” series) and Wally West actually grew as a character over a period of 20 years, Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns (respectively, editor and writer for DC Comics) grew up reading about Barry Allen, so now he’s back and he’s the official Flash (to the point the new TV series uses him as the main character, even though TV’s Barry Allen doesn’t actually have all that much in common with the comics character).

There’s a recent (and surprisingly good) comic book series which deals with these issues in a humorous and very metafictional manner, even as it shows it’s a dramatic series: Loki: Agent of Asgard, which had its origin in Kieron Gillen’s handling of the “Kid Loki” character in Journey Into Mystery, and that, in turn, was the offspring of 2010’s “Siege” mega-crossover (with the “Siege: Loki” special issue written by Gillen himself). Oh, don’t worry, the story isn’t nearly as convoluted as that might sound; that’s just a common side effect of Marvel’s (and DC’s, for that matter) editorial practices (“Why stick to a single comic book for a single narrative when we can spread the story throughout our books and sell more of them?”).

So, let me sum things up for you guys (oh, and by the way: SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.): Loki orchestrated an attack on Asgard (which, at the time, floated over the city of Broxton, Oklahoma) by Norman Osborn, his Dark Avengers, the forces of H.A.M.M.E.R. (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s replacement) and a whole mess of deputized super-villains. During this attack, the Sentry (a super-“hero” with Silver Age-Superman power levels) loses his mind, brings Asgard down and starts rampaging uncontrollably, leading an apparently contrite Loki to sacrifice himself to empower the heroes present to stop him. With Loki dead and everyone else baffled – why would Asgard’s greatest villain sacrifice himself to save it? -, Thor goes to Hela to talk to his brother, but then he finds out something which the readers already knew: shortly before the events of “Siege”, Loki had struck a deal with Hela that he would be released from the Books of Hel – if he died, his soul would be free.

So Thor, in light of that new knowledge, goes looking for his brother and does find him… Only, now Loki is a child (nicknamed “Kid Loki”) with no memories of his previous life. Which is theoretically great, since now he’s a blank slate – a truly changed person who can become anyone he wants to be!… …if not for the fact that Thor is the only one willing to give him a chance. All the other Asgardians, including a revived Odin (sidenote: how often are they going to kill Odin off, only to bring him back later?), still judge him for all the many, MANY misdeeds of his previous self. Despite that, Kid Loki continues to strive to prove himself a hero, using his cunning to save Thor and Asgard various times, until everyone finally accepts he’s not the same person he was!

And in a very real way, he isn’t. Memories are a huge part of who we are; they help form our very identities. If Kid Loki truly doesn’t have any of Original Loki’s memories (and he doesn’t), he really isn’t Original Loki in a new form, he’s an entirely different person (even if he does show the same preference and gift for trickery and guile). So score one for personal growth in fiction, right?

(Remember, people: SPOILERS!)

Except things can’t end that way. Come on, some of the best moments in Thor’s career in comics were his battles with his evil half-brother! Loki is just too iconic a villain to really let go of him. Besides, the Marvel Cinematic Universe features Loki as the key villain not only in Thor’s own movie, but also in The Avengers, and if there’s one thing both Marvel and DC have in common, it’s the inability to trust their reader’s intelligence – what if the poor, dumb people who watched the movies picked up a comic, were confused by Loki being a hero (and a kid) and never read another comic book again?!

Kieron Gillen talks about the issue in a very eloquent manner in a blog post here, but let me summarize: there’s no way Loki could have permanently become a hero – at some point, another writer would be forced (or worse, want) to change him back into a villain -, and Gillen didn’t want to leave that as his legacy in comics, that some people (especially a kid) are predestined to be evil regardless of what they might want. So he did the only thing he could: he killed off Kid Loki (who had his consciousness erased by a “backup” of Original Loki), while also granting him a moral victory (he proved that, unlike his older self, he COULD and DID change, something Original Loki could never do) and giving him the chance to lay the blame where it belonged, with the people responsible for condemning him to that – US, the readers. Yeah, that final shot of him looking straight at the page and “damning [us] all”? That’s not just Loki falling back on his habit of blaming everyone but himself for his situation, it’s also a way for Kid Loki (and even Original Loki) to give us the finger for not letting him change, to force him to once again play the villain.

This theme continues throughout the new series, Loki: Agent of Asgard. Original Loki-in-Kid-Loki’s-body (which I will call “Young Loki” for simplicity’s sake – he aged himself to around 20, 21 years old) is tasked by the new rulers of Asgard, the All-Mothers (the Asgardian goddesses Freyja – who used to be called Frigga -, Gaea and Idunn), to perform covert missions for them; for every successful mission, they will erase one story of an evil deed by Original Loki, essentially telling the Universe to forget about Original Loki so Young Loki can reinvent himself – change and grow, like his child version did. But like with Kid Loki, he’s burdened by the weight of all those stories, which are trying to force him to conform to the role he played for so long. To make matters worse, an older Loki – which isn’t Original Loki reborn, but Young Loki from the future, happy to play the villain – reveals to the All-Mothers that in his timeline, Asgard is superbly ruled by King Thor and Loki is basically the only villain left, so now they, too, want fate – the story – to play out as it should and for Loki to be evil again, regardless of what he might want.

Kid Loki was right, of course. We ARE to blame for what happened to him. Oh, we bitch and moan about the writers and editors constantly screwing things up, and we’re not wrong about that, but think about it: they’re doing what they think we want. And we’re telling them that IS what we want, because we keep buying what they’re selling. It’s not just with comics, either; we keep complaining about how Hollywood is doing nothing but remakes and adaptations, but we keep going to the movies to watch those.

“But Spoony, that’s just the nature of the beast! The arts and the entertainment industry have to renew themselves constantly in order to attract new consumers!” First of all, since when does “telling the same story over and over again” equate to “renewing itself”? Secondly, I think this is the height of nerdish snobbery: “Oh, kids these days, they’re not smart enough to appreciate the adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy like we did, let J. J. Abrams do his own version of ‘Star Trek’ which they can handle.”

Let me put it another way: when they remade Total Recall, they updated the special effects and toned down the camp, but they also removed all the ambiguities and complexities from the original movie – which WAS an action film, but it also had an interesting commentary on the subjects of self and identity while leaving things ambiguous enough for the viewer to decide for himself what was going on in the screen – and turned it into a straight popcorn flick. So, in the process of “updating an old work of art in order to present it to a new audience”, they not only removed everything that made said work of art what it was, they also removed everything that made it interesting. How is that not a disservice to both the original work and the new audiences? Or the remake of RoboCop: it’s not a bad movie by itself, but Lewis noticing that “RoboCop” retains all of Murphy’s mannerisms – showing that even though the mega-corporations treat people as nothing more than bags of meat (“He’s legally dead, we can do whatever we want with him”), the individual remains – is a much more powerful statement on the nature of Man and the Machine than any of Gary Oldman’s histrionics. Why does the entertainment industry keep underestimating the consumers’ intelligence, and why are we so complicit in it?

Whew, this is kind of too long already, and I haven’t even gotten to Rurouni Kenshin yet! Stay tuned for the next part!

50 Comments

  1. antialiasis says:
    I feel like you’re focusing a bit myopically on a very specific subset of fiction here. Sure, American superhero comics can’t permanently change a character, but there are a lot of things about American superhero comics that are pretty unusual for fiction as a whole, so that example doesn’t generalize very well. Even House is a mostly episodic, case-of-the-week TV show that set itself apart through the snarky jerkass main character, which inevitably puts it considerably on the status-quo-is-God side of the scale.

    Meanwhile, if you look at a show like Breaking Bad you’ll find it’s all about the characters changing, and even if you just look at something slightly less episodic than House, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you’ll still find the characters change and develop pretty radically over the course of the show without having to be returned to their original state. The issue you’re describing is mostly an issue of episodic fiction with highly iconic characters, where changing the character is in some way changing the work’s fundamental identity (plus, of course, fiction where the authors don’t bother with character development or can’t write it well, but you’re talking about this as a problem caused by concerns that the audience will reject change).

    1. SpoonyViking says:
      I don’t agree with that. This is most obvious with episodic fiction, but even other works can suffer from this. For instance, you mentioned “Buffy”, but I don’t think the plot or characters (at least the main ones) changed all that much. Sure, Xander grew up, got a job and got a bit better at fighting off assorted nasties, but at the end of the day, he was still basically the same NiceGuy(tm) comic relief he had been ever since the first season; Willow became a powerful sorceress and got more assertive in general, but after her stint as Dark Willow, she was promptly reverted to 1st season’s mousy nerd – even if her area of expertise had changed from computers to magic; and Buffy herself, her whole schtick of “being the Chosen One sucks” never really changed, only her ways of dealing with that did.

      Which ties into the series’ whole theme, as an allegory for how the transition from your teenage years to young adulthood can be perilous and painful, so Buffy and friends can never be truly functional adults capable of balancing the mundane and the supernatural in their lives, nor can they ever really fall victim to those issues and die so others take their place; because either one of those things would change the show on a fundamental level, and its audience wouldn’t want that.

      I mean, can you imagine the fans’ reaction if, say, Buffy decided keeping up both sides of her life was too much for her and her calling as the Slayer was more important, and the show focused only on her Slaying? Or, conversely, if she decided she deserved to live a full life, and the show focused mostly on her trying to get by college and a job while occasionally being forced into acting as the Slayer?

      It’s possible the writers could have sold either one of those changes, we can’t really know. But I do think highly iconic characters (and themes and plotlines) are a more endemic issue than it might be apparent at first.

      Edit: To clarify, I don’t think it’s impossible for fictional characters – even highly iconic ones – to be allowed to change, but I do think it requires said change to be at least a part of the work’s premise. I’ll be talking a bit more about it on the next part, when I address Rurouni Kenshin.

      1. antialiasis says:
        I was thinking more of e.g. Spike going from bloodthirsty villain to deliberately trying to obtain a soul so that he can truly be good, which more resembles your original “can a murderer repent and realize that murder is wrong” question. But note how now you’re going “Well, they didn’t change that much“, when your original assertion was that fictional characters can’t change. They’re not by any means unrecognizable, of course, but they definitely did change and are noticeably different, not in likes and dislikes or being older but how they talk and think and behave.

        (Also, Willow going somewhat mousier again is completely incidental, not an effort to undo the change to her character to maintain some practically-forgotten status quo. Season five was written to be an end to the show and that hadn’t happened then, so in the entirely plausible alternate universe where it did end after season five, Willow did change quite a lot in a permanent way – it’s entirely possible for a show like Buffy to do that.)

        I think whether the plot, or premise, of the show can change is a rather different issue from whether the characters can change. Yes, Buffy would cease to be Buffy if it stopped having the mix of teen life and slaying, the same way House would cease to be House if House weren’t a snarky jerkass, so sure, certain avenues of change are off-limits to Buffy the character. But that doesn’t mean it’d stop being Buffy in any meaningful way if the characters changed in any of the myriad other ways that don’t interfere with the premise of the show. They could have changed considerably more than they did and it still would have been essentially the same show about teen life and slaying.

        And even then, we’re still talking about a fairly episodic TV show. I brought up Buffy exactly because it’s a show that does have to maintain its premise and whose episodes are to at least some degree self-contained units, and many of its characters still managed to change noticeably over the course of the series. In other works that are non-episodic continuous narratives with a definite end, there is even less reason to think the characters are doomed to remain static. I mean, really, just look at the number of works that feature a villainous character realizing they’re on the wrong side and permanently switching sides – endless multi-author continuities like superhero comics and long-running episodic TV shows are basically the only kinds of stories where there’s any sense that they’ll inevitably turn evil again at some point.

        1. SpoonyViking says:
          It’s pointless to talk about standalone works regarding this specific issue, though. Maybe at some point Aragorn turns to drinking and whoring as a way to cope with the responsibilities of rebuilding his kingdom and fighting off the remnants of Sauron’s forces, but we can’t know that because Tolkien never wrote a sequel. How can we talk about how the fans’ expectations forced him to keep Aragorn exactly as he was in the original LotR series in that case?

          And yes, the degree of change is significant in this kind of evaluation, and I maintain that the Buffy characters didn’t change all that much (and sorry, but it’s ludicrous to judge things by what-could-have-beens; the series didn’t end on season 5, so we can’t judge it as if it did). If a character continues to fulfill the same role throughout his TV show / book series / movie series / comic series, he hasn’t really changed from the first episode/issue/whatever even if he marries, gets a good job and has kids (or, conversely, has a self-destructive sadomasochistic relationship with a soulless vampire).

          Edit: Also, consider how Spike changed in a way that met the audience’s expectations for the character. He was supposed to have been killed off in season 2; instead, exactly because he was a fan-favourite, they found a new role for him (while also keeping the same characterization – in fact, even after being ensouled, he still acted and talked mostly the same, except possibly for his relationship with Buffy).
          So yeah, fictional characters can change… As long as we let them. ;-)

          1. illhousen says:
            ” If a character continues to fulfill the same role throughout his TV
            show / book series / movie series / comic series, he hasn’t really
            changed from the first episode/issue/whatever even if he marries, gets a
            good job and has kids (or, conversely, has a self-destructive
            sadomasochistic relationship with a soulless vampire).”

            Um… yes they do?

            Not long ago we talked about the Hero Journey, and it is interesting to note that the Journey ends where it started: the hero returns home and picks up the old life. But the hero is changed by the Journey, and so old problems seems petty now, and the path ahead is much more promising.

            I don’t really watch Buffy, so I can’t judge how the show handles it, but I can imagine a story which starts with a girl becoming a Slayer and ends with the girl still being a Slayer, yet the character grows would be present because the character is different from who she was at the beginning even though she’s still a Slayer.

            Let’s say she started as someone who has no idea what she is doing. She fumbles around, botches her missions, has plenty of troubles balancing normal and supernatural aspects of her life, which isn’t helped by her social awkwardness. By the end of the story she is sure of herself, methodical in dealing with supernatural creatures, courageous where before she was fearful and knows what and when to say, overcoming her initial flaw.

            That is a character grows, even though she’s still a Slayer. Just not a character transformation.

            1. Roarke says:
              The ending of UBW shows that Archer returns to his horrific status quo a bit more optimistically than before. Literally nothing changes about his situation except his own outlook.
              Reply
              1. illhousen says:
                Yes, in that Nasu deviates from the classic Journey which typically does help the hero to deal with the problems present in the old life.

                Still, Archer does change, which is the point here.

              2. Roarke says:
                It makes me feel stupid but I don’t really understand this blog post, illhousen. Make this make sense.
              3. illhousen says:
                Basically, SpoonyViking argues that the character development is often absent in media because that would change characters from what the audience finds appealing into something else – angsty anti-heroes stay angsty anti-heroes never overcoming their flaws, villains can never truly redeem themselves because they are too iconic and creating new villains is hard, etc.

                Me and antialiasis argue that it’s mostly a problem of formats of media SpoonyViking focuses on: mainstream comics and TV shows – and that the character development is much more prevalent in other forms of media, like comic mini-series, standalone movies and books.

                I am starting to suspect that it’s just a matter of personal preferences that led to us consuming different kinds of media and basing our assumptions on other media on that.

              4. Roarke says:
                Mm. So he’s not actually questioning whether or not personal growth can exist in fiction. I had that impression for some reason. Like, even serial fiction can have some serious character development. I feel like most of the issues pointed out in the post are really contemporary.

                Like, I hate to bring up “literature” when we’re focused on TV and comic books, but a hundred-fifty years ago or so we had some seriously badass and famous authors writing serial novels with extreme character arcs. Fuckin’ Count of Monte Cristo was a serial novel. Young, happy dude gets set up and sent to jail and becomes super sophisticated and hell-bent upon vengeance… only to later give up on that vengeance when he saw it was hurting people he cared about. That’s a serial novel. Dumas received letters from fans while he wrote it. Presumably he just said “fuck you guys” and stuck to his own script.

              5. illhousen says:
                It was a different time. He didn’t say that. He said, “I respectfully disagree with you, kind sirs. You may now proceed to pleasure yourselves.”
              6. Roarke says:
                Well he was French, so it would have been like “Avec respect, je ne vous ecoute pas, messieurs. Fuck you.”
              7. illhousen says:
                Yes, but all I know about French language is how to say “gentlemen, I didn’t eat for six days.”
              8. Roarke says:
                Did they feed you when you said it?
              9. illhousen says:
                It’s from Twelve Chairs, actually, the classic satire. The sentence was used in a con to gather money for a bigger con.
              10. Roarke says:
                Yeah, I looked it up, after. It’s outside the scope of my practice. Did you come back with 10 rubles?
              11. illhousen says:
                Inflation means it’s easier to find ten rubles on a street nowdays.
              12. Roarke says:
                Hooray inflation?
              13. SpoonyViking says:
                Sorry, Roarke, but that wasn’t a good comparison. “Monte Cristo” may have been written as a serial, like most novels at the time, but it’s still a self-contained work. You’d have been better off pointing out how Aramis changed in between The Three Musketeers and 20 Years Later. :-)
              14. Roarke says:
                So you’re excluding self-contained works from your discussion? Why didn’t you just say so in the first place? illhousen and antialiasis would not have had issues if you’d just properly outlined the scope of your subject in the first place.
              15. SpoonyViking says:
                i’d have thought the fact that the post focuses on audience expectations and how it can trap a character (and then goes on to comment how many remakes are little more than rehashes of the same stories, often devoid of their original meanings) would have made it rather obvious, actually. Or do any of you guys imagine Tolkien fretted over his non-existent audience complaining about how Bilbo was being too adventurous in Mirkwood and not being faithful to the domestic hobbit they had grown to love?
              16. Roarke says:
                No, but we thought you had. If you’d gone about saying “I’m unsatisfied with the continuity and staying power of character development for iconic characters in popular serial media, because it’s often diminished by external factors like audience expectations” nobody would have argued with the premise. That makes perfect sense and it’s really interesting how that happens.

                Instead, you opened up with “Can people change? Do you think it’s possible for people to change? Can they change their personalities?” The purpose of your opener isn’t just a ‘hook’. You need to properly establish what exactly you’re trying to say, or people are going to have the wrong idea for the entire thing.

              17. SpoonyViking says:
                Consider those questions will be relevant for Part II and that, as you can see by the ending, this wasn’t actually supposed to be divided in two parts – it just grew too long.

                Consider also everything else in the post :-)

              18. Roarke says:
                *Sigh* Last time we had an involved disagreement, it took direct quotes from the ShikixAkiha porn scene to convince you that it was incest. There’s nothing similarly extreme I can do here to make you understand.

                Consider also everything else in the post :-)

                I feel like this post has issues, dude. That’s all I can say. I don’t appreciate being patronized, but I’ll read Part Two to see if it fits better as a whole. I can say, now, that:

                Consider those questions will be relevant for Part II and that, as you can see by the ending, this wasn’t actually supposed to be divided in two parts – it just grew too long.

                If you broke this post in two and then didn’t go back and edit Part One to make sure it stood well on its own, you made a mistake. If the opening for Part One is supposed to be valid because it’s relevant for Part Two, then put that opening in Part Two and write something else for Part One. That is my advice. Please consider it.

              19. SpoonyViking says:
                There’s nothing similarly extreme I can do here to make you understand.

                Well, you do have my entire post at your disposal, you know.

              20. Roarke says:
                Yes, the one you’re heavily invested in. I’ll pass.
              21. SpoonyViking says:
                In that case, let me do it for you: Well, to be even more precise, what I’m really going to talk about is how fiction tends to deal with that kind of thing. There, a direct quote from the article, except for the bold. Now please, drop the attitude, and in the future, do try not to turn the discussion for one of my posts into one of your comedy skits. I’m neither Act, nor Farla.
              22. Roarke says:
                You say ‘to be even more precise’, but you’re still generalizing ‘fiction’ in the same sentence, when your subject matter is still more limited and precise than that. That’s the exactly what I took issue with before.

                I like that you’re telling me to drop my attitude in the same post you’re giving me attitude. Although ‘attitude’ isn’t the right word for you. You’re just really patronizing and condescending. At any rate, I’ll respect your wish and stay away from your posts. That you are neither Act nor Farla is eminently clear. So if we’re done being passive-aggressive at each other, I’ll bow out.

              23. SpoonyViking says:
                I have read a whole lot of stories in a variety of genres and media from various cultures and times. Trust me, my tastes aren’t limited to comic books or TV shows, just like Farla or Act’s tastes aren’t limited to YA literature and visual novels. :-)
              24. SpoonyViking says:
                And yet, when we see him again in “Hollow Ataraxia”, do we see the Counter Guardian who’s regained a sliver of hope from confronting his younger self, or do we see the same snarky closet idealist he was when we first met him? :-)

                It’s just how every subsequent appearance by Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud – Final Fantasy Tactics, Advent Children and Kingdom Hearts – ignores all the character development (poorly written as it was) he underwent in the original game and presented him only as the brooding loner he was at the beginning; because that’s the Cloud the fans and writers remembered best.

              25. Roarke says:
                … Nasu’s gone on record telling people not to worry about HA’s status in the canon, or the continuity of its characters. There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason all of the spin-offs have either an alternate-dimension Archer, or an Archer who has been reset. Keep in mind that whatever official relation HA has to FSN, a single year has passed, and the dimension is not necessarily UBW in terms of Archer.

                Same with Cloud. Do you think Kingdom Hearts was designed to cater to the canon and events of FF7? Aeris was alive; it obviously wasn’t. Even then, Cloud gets snarkier and more sociable between KH1 and KH2, so your example is still bad. It was an acceptable decision to let Cloud, who is barely a secondary character in KH, retread some of his old character development in a new canon.

              26. SpoonyViking says:
                Canonicity is irrelevant. In a “game” which is little more than fanservice, the writers deliberately chose to present the character in a certain way that ignored any potential development he may have had.

                Yes, the above applies to both Archer and Cloud.

              27. Roarke says:
                Canonicity is irrelevant.

                Then why are you bothering about the canonical character development?

            2. SpoonyViking says:
              No, no, no, her role isn’t Slaying! Fighting the baddies can be, and has been, done by any character; heck, even the comic relief guy does it!

              Let me see if I can explain myself better. If you watch the show from the first episode to the last, you’ll notice there are recurring character arcs with Buffy: how she can’t balance her mundane life with her supernatural duties, how being the Slayer sets her apart (or even “above” – she tends to struggle with this one) from even her loved ones, how even her most fulfilling relationships are quite dysfunctional at their core… Those, and a few others. We have whole episodes – heck, whole seasons dedicated to those arcs, and yet, Buffy never once manages to truly grow out of those issues and put them to rest. THAT’s a character who doesn’t change; that she grew from a teenager to a young adult is just window dressing, really.

              Compare and contrast with, say, Sarah Connor. Note how she actually changed as a character from The Terminator to The Terminator 2.

              Reply
          2. antialiasis says:
            “and sorry, but it’s ludicrous to judge things by what-could-have-beens; the series didn’t end on season 5, so we can’t judge it as if it did”

            If we were discussing the merits of Buffy, then yeah, that would be ludicrous. But my point here was not to espouse the merits of Buffy specifically (I am a fan, but I don’t think it’s a perfect show by any means); I just took it as an example off the top of my head of characters in reasonably episodic TV shows changing. My point was simply that it’s possible for that kind of TV show to feature characters changing significantly, and the fact Buffy could have ended after season five means that there is no law saying a character like Willow must be reverted to her mousy state before the end.

            Either way, we’ve established that you’re defining change in a very particular way that’s not how I interpreted the topic as you introduced it in the post, so the argument is mostly moot. I just wanted to clarify what I was trying to say with that particular bit.

            1. SpoonyViking says:
              Hm, ok, I see what you mean. But consider that if “Buffy” HAD ended on season 5, it would have been because of network issues, not because the writers wanted to end it that way.

              Edit: Also, I’d point out that, from a meta-textual point of view, Willow’s change wasn’t treated as a good thing. Her becoming more assertive was directly tied to her becoming a more powerful witch, and that, in turn, was shown as a bad thing because of the way she abused her power.

              I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when the writers actually planned to end the show, the very last season had an overall feeling of “let’s go back to basics”.

              Reply
            2. Farla says:
              My point was simply that it’s possible for that kind of TV show to feature characters changing significantly, and the fact Buffy could have ended after season five means that there is no law saying a character like Willow must be reverted to her mousy state before the end.

              But it does suggest change is intrinsically linked to ending. It’s not clear if they were only willing to change the character in the first place because they assumed it’d end or if they had no plan originally but found they had to reset her when they tried to continue the show, but either way, it’s due to the show continuing that she resets.

              I’d guess it’s simply that we’re largely talking about character-based stuff here, and so a character’s original personality is chosen based on what’s easy to tell more stories about. It’s hard to change them without compromising that.

              Reply
  2. GeniusLemur says:
    “Why does the entertainment industry keep underestimating the consumers’ intelligence”
    Because they think we’re as stupid as they are.
    1. SpoonyViking says:
      Well, aren’t we? I mean, putting aside the matter of how we keep forking money over to them even as we complain about the works they produce, how often weren’t we guilty of wanting a work we loved to get a sequel which was exactly the same, but better? :-)
  3. illhousen says:
    I do kinda agree with antialiasis about the issue: you are focusing on episodic fiction which is a rather specific format.

    The issue is present, but it’s caused by two factors:

    1) That stuff never ends. Or at least nobody really plans on it to end. Comics continue until they hit a retcon, shows continue until they are cancelled. As such, people working on them want to keep the elements that make such works appealing in the first place around.

    Basically, what you see is personal conflicts being stretched to the point of becoming status quo. Characters in such works do have character arcs, but they are skewed, with the resolution postponed until the final episode and the bulk of the work being about characters with their flaws intact because that’s what makes those characters interesting in the first place.

    2) Different authors working on the same project. That just plays havoc with the storytelling since some authors do take characters in interesting directions only for their replacements to get everything back on track.

    And a lot of writers simply aren’t allowed to make any dramatic changes in characterization because they were hired to write one episode in the middle of a season and there are other writers working on scripts for future episodes at the same time.

    I am not that familiar with Rurouni Kenshin, but manga and anime in general are different from Western episodic fiction. The creative team behind it is typically codified from the start and rarely changes in the middle of the project, and they do actually aim at finishing it at some point and giving the work a grand finale.

    They are basically very long but standalone stories.

    I think if you want to talk about fiction in general the format, you should explore other formats as well that aim to tell a complete story: movies, standalone books, book series, etc.

    1. SpoonyViking says:
      I stand by my assertion that those issues are endemic to the entertainment industry in all its forms, not just comics. :-) For instance, don’t you agree that “stuff never ends” and “different authors working on the same project” also applies to TV shows? Very few TV shows are written with a beginning, a middle and an ending already planned out in advance, and even fewer are allowed to tell those without being forcibly extended or cut short (usually because of ratings).

      As for the differences between Western and Eastern comics, consider that some luminaries of manga – such as Dragon Ball (which also includes “Z”), Hokuto no Ken, Yu Yu Hakusho and, more recently, Bleach have all been accused of going on for too long, sometimes because of pressure from the editors or fans. (For instance, it’s widely known that Toriyama wanted to change DBZ’s protagonist from Goku to Gohan, but fan outcry led him to bring Goku back.) Perhaps they’re all written as “long, but standalone series”, but it doesn’t mean they’re all allowed to stay like that throughout their run.

      Basically, I’d say that most anything that is turned into a series – whether books, movies, TV shows, comics, anything – will fall prey to this issue. Consider the formulaic nature of the Harry Potter books, for instance, and how Harry NEVER strives to learn more about the magic world even though he explicitly notes he’s much happier in it than in the mundane one, all so he can continue to be the readers’ viewpoint character; or how little (if at all) the main characters of the recent “The Mummy” series changed throughout the movies. Heck, the whole point of The Terminator 3 was to basically reset the series!

      1. illhousen says:
        “For instance, don’t you agree that “stuff never ends” and “different
        authors working on the same project” also applies to TV shows?”

        Yes, my post applied to both shows and comics.

        I am saying that the problem is mostly present in long-running episodic mediums, into which category both comics and TV shows fall.

        You should expand the sample size to include standalone books and movies if you want to talk about media as a whole.

        Unless your point is specifically about how specific forms of media stretch the initial idea as far as they can, skewing or eliminating character progress in the process.

        It is a valid criticism, it just doesn’t really apply to all fiction.

        And interesting point to discuss would be a transformation of a standalone story into series (like movies are often made into trilogies when originally there should have been just one film) and what problems it causes.

        “As for the differences between Western and Eastern comics, consider that some luminaries of manga – such as Dragon Ball (which also includes “Z”), Hokuto no Ken, Yu Yu Hakusho and, more recently, Bleach have all been accused of going on for too long, sometimes because of pressure from the editors or fans.”

        I may have a skewed perspective in the matter. I don’t follow any of those titles. Most mangas I read do have a forward momentum and character grows. I guess it’s the same division as between popular mainstream comics like Batman and Superman and, again, standalone projects.

        “Consider the formulaic nature of the Harry Potter books, for
        instance, and how Harry NEVER strives to learn more about the magic
        world even though he explicitly notes he’s much happier in it than in
        the mundane one, all so he can continue to be the readers’ viewpoint
        character”

        He actually does learn about the magical world little by little and kinda changes over the books. It’s just he doesn’t have a personality to begin with, so the changes are shallow.

        “Heck, the whole point of The Terminator 3 was to basically reset the series!”

        Terminator 3, while not a good movie, actually does provide a character arc for the protagonist who goes from a douchebag stealing drugs to the leader of the la resistance.

        It’s not exactly a compelling or interesting arc, but it is present.

        1. SpoonyViking says:
          Terminator 3, while not a good movie, actually does provide a character arc for the protagonist who goes from a douchebag stealing drugs to the leader of the la resistance.

          Huh. It kind of reminds me of this movie where we saw this douche-y, thieving kid grow into the destined saviour of mankind… :-D

          I think you’re kind of missing the point, Illhousen. It’s not a matter of T3’s quality as a movie (although it WAS terrible), but whether it brought anything new to the table – and it didn’t; it didn’t move the series forward, or at least sideways, but only backwards. In this regard, Terminator: Salvation was actually better in that it at least changed the formula, even if it was also utterly pointless.

          He actually does learn about the magical world little by little and kinda changes over the books.

          Does he, really? Sure, he can cast a few more spells and whatnot, but when Rowling needs to drop an infodump on the reader (for example), does she turn to Harry? Or even Ron? Or do they continue limited to the same roles in the plot they’ve had since the first book?

          It is a valid criticism, it just doesn’t really apply to all fiction.

          Comic books (and not just super-hero ones – see The Walking Dead for an example), TV shows, movie series, book series… Those are, what, 90% of current literary and dramaturgical production?

          We can (and I will) talk about standalone stories from a textual point of view (for instance, how Javert would rather die than change), but I can’t talk about them in the context of meta-textual issues such as audience expectations and the pressure caused by it simply because those stories don’t suffer from those things. I mean, if a character never appears again in a significant manner, we can’t really evaluate whether he failed to change because the fans / editors / the author didn’t want him to, right?

          1. illhousen says:
            “Comic books (and not just super-hero ones – see The Walking Dead for an example), TV shows, movie series, book series… Those are, what, 90% of current literary and dramaturgical production?”

            Eh, my perspective may be skewed due to my preferences, but standalone works, including long ones, always seemed prevalent among the media to me.

            And I really think you have the focus problem. You talk about how characters don’t change because the audience doesn’t want them to change, but that complain, indeed, applies only to fiction which allows for creator-audience interaction. That is, long-running mostly episodic stuff.

            Then you generalize it to fiction as a whole.

            I do believe that renaming your post “Role of audience participation and editorial demands in creative works” would eliminate those problems.

            1. Roarke says:
              What can change the nature of a man?
              Reply
              1. illhousen says:
                Lots of drugs and Our Lady of Pain.
              2. Roarke says:
                Just don’t tread her shadow.
              3. illhousen says:
                Don’t pray to her, either.

                “I have passed from the outermost portal

                To the shrine where a sin is a prayer;

                What care though the service be mortal?

                O our Lady of Torture, what care?

                All thine the last wine that I pour is,

                The last in the chalice we drain,

                O fierce and luxurious Dolores,

                Our Lady of Pain.”

              4. Roarke says:
                God, that game was the best. Shame I can’t stand to play IEngine ever again once I finish Baldur’s Gate.
            2. SpoonyViking says:
              Nah, that would only conflict with Part II. But its funny how audience expectations work, isn’t it? Even regarding titles? :-D
              Reply

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