Remember those? They were those characters that ultimately represented the closest thing to an actual human being that existed in a work of fiction. They were the ones that the writer poured themselves into, giving them all of their flaws, all of their aspirations, their dreams, their failures, their insecurities, their mistakes...and their positive attributes as well. They were the ones that sometimes, a lot of times, made the wrong call, sometimes did something questionable. But at the end of the day prevailed, in spite of all of their shortcomings. They were the ones we were supposed to identify with, see ourselves in, and root for. Because they were us. Their failures were our failures, and their triumphs were our triumphs as well. They served as a reminder that even though none of us are perfect, we can still do great things.
Flawed protagonists are still around. They’re actually, usually still front and center in our books, our films, and our television shows. Except we don’t get behind them any more. We nitpick their every move, complain bitterly about how stupid they are on the internet and to our friends, threaten to stop watching the show if they do one more irrational thing. “UGH!” we throw up our hands in disgust, “Rick is the MOST ANNOYING CHARACTER EVER IN THE HISTORY OF CHARACTERS! And also the worst leader! And parent!” ...despite never having raised a child ourselves, or fired a gun, or had to shoulder the responsibility of leading a group of people safely through a zombie apocalypse. “I can’t believe he would do that insert totally relatable human thing here! Not like Daryl. Daryl always does everything right! I like Daryl.”
The reason you like Daryl is because he’s written for you to like him. He’s a one-dimensional fan-fiction and merchandising strategy. He doesn’t make any mistakes, because making mistakes requires you to be a complex, multiple-note character. And for some reason these days, we’re not really into complex, flawed characters any more. We only want to identify with the one-note, one-liner badass. The Daryl Dixons. The Vasily Fets. Sorry I only watch badly written undead apocalypse shows so that’s the end of my list. Because we’re so insecure about ourselves that we actually can’t even handle weakness in a fictional character. Liking a character whose sole purpose is to be likable isn’t a challenge, anything to be proud of, and it certainly doesn’t make you resemble that poor flawed protagonist any less. I guess I just see, and am growing concerned about, a larger gravitation away from exercising empathy and understanding for the human condition and an intolerance for weakness of character or lapses in judgement—which is bad because these are the things that connect us, no matter how different we are. The only constant among every human being is that we all kind of suck.
I guess that’s why I’ve never really been a huge fan of Brachiosaurus. He’s the dinosaur equivalent of the heavy. Nothing really going on except being the bigger than all of the other dinosaurs (or at least he held that title until recently). I guess, deep down, I feel like a hit-tip to Brachiosaurus is motivated by the same boorish drive to get in the winner’s corner. Probably I’m just butt-hurt that Brachiosaurus is bigger than my pick, Apatosaurus. That’s right, it’s a competition. You’re probably familiar with Apatosaurus, although most people know him by his other name: Brontosaurus. Sadly, Brontosaurus is a misnomer, caused when paleontologists (not the awesome ones, the crazy dynamite ones with mustaches) put the wrong skull on an already discovered dinosaur and gave it a different name. One of the rules of science is that that doesn’t actually count. I told you, science is rigorous. This mistake was corrected a few years later, but by then the damage was done. The retraction was printed on page 37 and Brontosaurus has become the popular name. How’s that for a flawed protagonist?
Before I go, I want everyone to learn a new word and never forget it. OK? The word is sauropod. Sounds just like it’s spelled. Sauropod. Not a half-bad word, really. Got it? Awesome. Now, all of the large dinosaurs that had necks…that were…(ahem)…long, that’s the word for them. The word for them is sauropods, collectively the Sauropodomorphs if you want to get real fancy with it. So that’s what you call them. There’s absolutely no other thing to call them, I don’t care what other things you might have heard in certain beloved Don Bluth movies, or read on museum plaques that have totally given up the fight.
Just so we’re clear on that. Awesome.
Postscript: Look at this guy with the dog! Isn’t he great.