Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Equal Treatment

Earlier this week, Amy Garvey blogged about tortured heroines—or, more specifically, the lack of them—in today’s market. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but she’s right. Our heroines are strong and resolute and brave. They have to be, because they have to break through to our heroes and we like our heroes tortured, don’t we? We like orphans who become womanizing rogues because they never knew the love of a mother. We love heroes fighting their own hungers, whether it’s a vampire hounded by bloodlust or a junkie overcoming his addiction. We love it even more when a hero is burned by love and the heroine must break through the wall around his heart—come on, that’s one of our favorites, right?

My question is, since Garvey covered the lack of tortured heroines so well, why do we like our heroes broken? Do we have some need to “fix” these idealized male figures? Or is it the vulnerability we find attractive? Are we looking for someone who needs us emotionally, or do we just love the angst created when a hero can’t bring himself to express his feelings for the woman he loves?

I personally am an angst junkie. I love star-crossed romance, unrequited love—all that stuff. I especially have a fetish for couples who get separated at some point and have to fight their way back to each other. I think this may stem from one of the first romance novels I ever read, which was about two ballet dancers. The hero was Italian and ran off to fight Mussolini, and the heroine escaped her weird, controlling family in England and returned to America. It was years before they found each other again, and even more years before they finally got back together. I loved every minute of that book and am heartsick that it was accidentally tossed out in one of my frenetic anti-clutter fits. I also remember a fantasy series in which the hero and heroine were close enough to speak to each other for approximately three chapters, and actually a couple in less than one complete chapter—this was out of four books. And yet I ate it up.

So what’s the deal? Why do we torture our heroes? What tortured heroes stand out as your favorites, and how were they “fixed?”


Anonymous Eliza said...

Since you have a picture of Angel up there (such a pretty one, too), I'm immediately reminded of Spike when it comes to tortured heroes. He loves a good bout of angst as much as anyone, and has deeply rooted issues that were explained, at least in part, throughout his role on Buffy. Funny how no one tried to fix his heart when he was doing his Wolfram & Hart gig, huh? Guess they had much bigger fish to fry.

I think Whedon is the king of tortured heroes that I am drawn to. It goes beyond the Buffyverse and into Firefly, and now his work with different film lines. I've never been big on comic books and so on, but I can "get" these superheroes when they have real problems. The newest incarnations of Spiderman and Batman come to mind.

I'm totally with you on the angst-lovin'...but mostly when it's well-done. Jane Austen did it (particularly well towards the end of Emma), Victor Hugo has done it, and Alexandre Dumas. And of course there's at least one character in all of Dickens that has the angst vibe--and Dickens allows that person to carry the story (I'm thinking particularly of Sydney Carton here, really). And who can forget Neville Longbottom? *sigh*

When angst is well-done, I think it lays out a particular issue that most of the audience can imagine themselves dealing with. Even if it's purely fantasy (i.e., a vampire curbing his bloodlust), there's a "real" element in there (a person struggling with an addiction--sexual, food, drug, or violence). I know I attach myself to well-conceived characters out of sympathy, but also out of a morbid curiosity. How is Jack Bauer going to deal with this blow? Is President Palmer going to go with the underhanded scheme? How much damage is going to be done to this person who is supposed to be an ass-kicking tough guy? To change it up are the Nevilles, because they make you think about how the other characters should be interacting. Ron should hold his tongue better around him, and Harry should have more patience.

Even in comedy, we have Michael and Dwight on the US series, The Office, and the Janitor on Scrubs.

I think I could go on and on about the topic, because I think angsty characters are a key element of fiction. So I'll close my too-long comment with this: As for angsty heroines, my favorite is Faith.

9:15 AM  

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