Do lead characters in books have to be good roll models for society?

Discussion in 'Every Day Debating' started by Overread, Feb 18, 2011.

  1. Overread

    Overread Wolfing it up! Staff Member

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    Two posts from the Twilight thread that got me thinking about the roll of the lead character in a fantasy story (or any for that matter) and the influence they have upon the reader. So we get the question of if they should always be good roll models for society - if so why and also for what society in question?

    So what are your views on this matter? Should the author be able to write about any character they so choose or should we prevent them from writing "bad" characters in the eyes of society - or maybe only certain age groups should get "perfect" characters.

    Ps this is not a twilight thread its just the spark that has started this trail of thought.l
     
  2. Turambar

    Turambar Harebrained Staff Member

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    lol

    No. Just... no. It's fiction, for crying out loud >.>

    Besides, if lead characters would be all perfect and dandy, society might take this the wrong way as well. As if being imperfect or not complying to the tenure of society would simply be forbidden. Or non-exsistant. Truth is that nobody is perfect, and this might as well show in the characters of fictional work.

    Besides, never underestimate humans - I think we can trust them to relativate what they read, however twisted society might deem these paper and ink character.
     
  3. ScreenXSurfer

    ScreenXSurfer Better Than You

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    Nope. They can create very interesting stories by not being what modern society would expect. One of my favorite main characters is Malus Darkblade, a selfish murdering sleezebag who is ever bit hilarious as he is awesome.

    "If nothing else, Malus Darkblade, you can be counted on to react to adversity with as much violence as physically possible"
     
  4. Ser Land

    Ser Land New Member

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    Definitely not. There are several reasons why they shouldn't. I'll mention a few.

    1) It would limit the writer's creative process. Art isn't necessarily pretty or in accordance with society's standards. If often isn't. Besides, from fiction to non-fiction would be a small step. The first step is the hardest.

    2) Following the previous reason, such limited view would impose in one's life, it would impose dogmas. Dogmas are contrary to social evolution.

    I'll add more when I have more time.
     
  5. Cascador

    Cascador Who's Anakin?

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    In my opinion it depends on the lead (what kind of role they play in the story) and it depends to what audience you're pointing at.
     
  6. Tabris

    Tabris 11.11.11

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    I agree with this. I think it depends a lot on who your target audience is. If it's children or teenagers, the writer should be aware of the influence their writings might have. But being a role model doesn't equal being perfect, as someone in this thread mentioned. I wouldn't think that a "perfect" character would be a good role model anyway. For instance, I think Harry Potter is a good role model for children and teenagers, but he has flaws. Which I'm glad he does.

    There is also, to me, a difference between a character who by himself/herself isn't a role model, and the author romanticizing those flaws as if he/she wanted the to be a role model. (Twilight belongs in the latter category, and I think that is what annoys a lot of people, just to use that as an example).
     
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  7. Cascador

    Cascador Who's Anakin?

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    absolutely. I think making a character perfect, would in it itself not be a good role model in the first place. Cause then a young audience might try to rise to somewhere they'll never be. You tease them with something you can't give them. Perfect is to dull anyway as somebody already pointed out. But the hero should always be a role model. They might rise to the highest evil at one point, but still should rise above those mistakes, to show that they are indeed heroes and can rise above their mistakes. Show that no matter what the mistake you can always correct them and learn from them.
     
  8. Ser Land

    Ser Land New Member

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    Writers have no obligations whatsoever. Writers write a story. You may love it, you may like it, you may hate it...They're writers, not priests. There's no moral conotation to a writers' job.
     
  9. Plotspider

    Plotspider New Member

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    I think they should be good role models, but let me explain what I mean by good. I don't mean good role models in the sense they should always do what's right. Instead, I think they should be fully realized and developed characters so that the reader may compare his/her life to them and make better decisions. I have main characters who do stupid things, that I don't want my kids (if I ever have them) to do, but at the same time, I have my main characters make good choices, too.

    I think part of the fun of reading, for the reader, is both when they get to look smarter than some of the characters in the know (particularly true of mystery, etc.), but sometimes it's fun to really admire a character. I'm reading The Name of the Wind, and the main character has beliefs I don't agree with, but is an incredibly smart and fully developed character in so many ways. I think it's important to just have a character you can reasonably compare to.

    Having said that, I'm not sure that Bella is a good role model. She does not fit my definition of a fully realized character (at least, not from the movies I've seen). She defines herself based solely on her boyfriends, she has literally nothing to offer anyone that is uniquely her. Now, I could compare people to her, but there's really nothing apparent about Bella to compare to. She's a stand in, a placeholder, for the reader themselves, I think. She's a character who creates a hole so that the teenage, lovelorn reader, can say: "I could do better than her in her position."
     
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  10. Plotspider

    Plotspider New Member

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    I agree writers have no obligation, except where they want to write important, well-loved, or well-received fantasy. If you want to sell no books whatsoever, then have a character doing things no one can relate to or being someone no one wishes to become or having problems in their lives that no one understands, and you won't have any readership. Even Darth Vader had some ambition, and it destroyed him, which is why he's a reasonably fascinating character of the series. The reader goes: "how can I become powerful/famous/etc. without ending up like him, without destroying my life like that?"
     
  11. Cascador

    Cascador Who's Anakin?

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    That's right. I mean you're right that writers have no obligation whatsoever... But look at stories which are really successful. Most include again the hero's journey. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, even in the Bible Moses and Jesus follow the hero's journey. It's just very interesting and what it teaches us is morality. And these stories are the ones which last. They have role models and they have characters we can relate to, which is why we love them so much.
     
  12. olivia_the_lamb

    olivia_the_lamb Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't think that the main characters need to be good role models.

    But the problem with Bella is that she's portrayed as a good role model. They never examine how truly destructive her behaviour is or how unhealthy her relationship with Edward is... and I don't mean just because h is a vampire. And there are tons of young females (and older ones.. and males) that do not know that Bella is not a good example of a woman and that Edward treats her like shite.
     
  13. LyannaWolfBlood

    LyannaWolfBlood Ella Dictadora

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    I agree with Liv. The problem with Twilight is that many teenage girls (and others) don't just like it, they obsess over it and think Bella/Edward is the perfect romance without realising how deeply creepy it is. Admittedly, romance novels creating idealised versions of relationships is hardly a new phenomenon, and Meyer has no obligation per se to write her story any way other than she sees fit to, but I do personally hate the fact that there are impressionable teenagers out there who might, for example, get the idea that it's OK for your boyfriend to restrict what you do because he thinks it's too dangerous for you.

    I do think that that's a slightly different question than the OP though. My problem with Meyer isn't that Bella should be a role model; it's more complex than that. First of all, Meyer seems to think that Bella is a role model. As Liv points out, she sets Bella up as a role model and never examines the destructive nature of her behaviour or her relationship. I don't think Meyer herself perceives that destructiveness. That is a very different situation from one such as ScreenXSurfer describes, where it's clear that the character isn't meant to set a good example to anyone.

    Secondly, there's the very specific nature of the objection I have to Meyer's work. The image it creates of women and their relationship to men is really not something I want young girls (or boys, for that matter) to pick up. Twilight wasn't written in a cultural vacuum and there could be real world consequences if vulnerable pre-teens or teenagers believe that it is healthy or desirable to interact in the way Bella and Edward do. This is heightened by the fact that at one point men and women did interact in a somewhat similar way to Bella and Edward - decades ago. I'd like to think we're past the idea of women as the passive recipients of paternalistic male guardianship but apparently we're not.

    In short, I don't believe that lead characters in books have to be good role models for society. However, I do think that a combination of factors with respect to Twilight (namely, authorial encouragement of the idea that Bella is a good role model + the impressionable age of its audience + the almost obsessive nature of its fandom + the cultural legacy of male/female relations) make it a particularly problematic case. In my opinion Stephenie Meyer had every right to write Twilight however she wanted, but I still can't help but wish she'd chosen to write it differently.

    It's also worth pointing out that good writing mostly avoids this problem anyway. A well-written character will always have their flaws, and a good writer would never portray their own character as "perfect". I like Plotspider's version of what a good role model consists of:
     
  14. Ser Land

    Ser Land New Member

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    I didn't mean that. Although while writing I don't think whether someone would relate or not with a caracter. I have people in high enough regard, that I don't consider them to be all the same. I may write about likeable characters or I may write about unlikeable characters, but the decision will be that of each reader, because I don't like to portray good or bad people. I try to write about people who are good AND bad, because they can do both. If most reqaders dislike that, well, too bad. Many great books aren't as famous as lesser books, yet it was those same books that made a better impression in me.

    What I meant was that moral obligations are limiting to a writer, just as they are in real life, but though they are necessary in the latter, they most certainly aren't in the former.

    EDIT: Now, about Twilight...I have only watched the first movie, and a waste of 2 hours it was, yet I got under the impression that Bella is so subservient and overall dependent of the vampire guy that she suits perfectly as the anti-christ of the feminist movement.

    Think about it; in one hand you have the feminists preaching for women emancipation, while in the other hand you gave the Twilights of this world subconsciously turning them backwards to the ways of old.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2011
  15. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    QFT.

    I obviously agree with the whole "don't restrict a writer" thing, as I'm a creative writing major. However, I believe that the problem with role models (or lack thereof) in books is not necessarily the content of the books themselves, but rather the fact that people (both "nowadays" and "back in the old days") have not been taught how to think critically for themselves.

    Twilight is a perfect example of this, as Lya pointed out; many young girls are falling for the Twilight trap not necessarily because the author is a terrible writer (which I'd happily argue for in a different thread), but because they are conditioned from an early age to look for that kind of relationship--seemingly perfect, but fraught with tensions and problems underneath. For that matter, the Western society as a whole is conditioned to search for relationships, period. There are a truly unfortunate number of young girls and women who feel as though they are not validated as people unless they are involved in a romantic relationship. Young men also have this problem, though it seems that for the most part, it's associated more with ego (when they are deliberately looking for "a girlfriend"), while with women it's associated with a sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

    Returning to the Twilight example, however, few people would obsess over Twilight or regard Bella/Edward as role models if Edward physically abused Bella (unless, of course, Stephanie Meyer somehow managed to portray battered woman syndrome as a positive thing, which I wouldn't put past her :rolleyes:).
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2011
  16. Ser Land

    Ser Land New Member

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    So as society as a whole(mainly through family and school) isn't able to educate people, taht role should be filled by authors? Don't you think that is ridiculous? Are authors being paid for that work? Are they endowed the power that comes with the duty? No. They aren't, and they shouldn't.

    Plus, if authors start masking society's faults, then how are we to acknowledge our society's shortcomings? Free authorship is crucial, if for nothing else, to reproduct and possibly analyse those shortcomings. Only thus can a society grow.
     
  17. Cascador

    Cascador Who's Anakin?

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    who said anything about masking it? Of course it is often essential and interesting to show what reality is like, again to teach our children, (depending on the book), but you can still have one character that stands out. A role model isn't essential to a story, but again like I said that depends greatly on the story itself.
     
  18. olivia_the_lamb

    olivia_the_lamb Moderator Staff Member

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    Authors have been educating societies in MANY ways since the beginning of written language.
     
  19. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    I don't think a single person's argued that it's an author's job to provide role models for characters.

    I'm pretty sure Milton's Areopagitica sums it up: "When God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing..." (I'd quote more but I can't find my copy of it at the moment.) He's referring to Adam, of course (this message is almost identically-echoed in Paradise Lost), but the point I was trying to make last night was this. (I don't think I was exactly coherent about it, so sorry if it seemed like I was stating that authors need to be role models).

    Essentially, both authors and audience have not only the right but the responsibility to exercise their reason, and since "reason is but choosing," they are required to make an informed, thought-out choice of their own. However, there are two major problems that we are then confronted with: 1) that many people are not taught to exercise their reason, much less apply it to a text, and 2) young children are often incapable of it (at least in-depth) for various reasons. As I believe Tabris pointed out, a children's/YA author does need to be conscious about his or her intended audience. I'm fairly confident in saying that 95% of parents do not want their very young children reading about mass murderers or even thieves, at least until they are taught that killing and stealing are wrong. They most likely also do not want children reading about alcoholics or drug-addicts. As a result, not a single children's book include any of these concepts. Few YA authors do.

    However, ultimately the responsibility lies with the parents--if they don't want their kids reading that stuff, it's up to them to say, "I don't want you reading that" (and then of course dealing with the consequence that the more you tell a kid "Don't do that," the more they'll do it). It is not the responsibility of the author to censor himself unless he does so of his own free will, and it is not the responsibility of the publishing/legal community, and definitely not their right to do so.

    Also: I'm 95% sure that genre fiction's the only place you could even ask this question. In actual fiction (Dan Brown et al do not count), characters are so flawed that it's easy to identify with them. Certainly, the classics don't care. There's obviously many readings of Milton's Paradise Lost; I'm personally not a fan of the Lewis school of thought, and think that Satan's a lot more sympathetic of a literary character than God is. Frankenstein (another one of those books that most high schoolers are forced to read once in their lifetime) is definitely not a role model either. And those are definitely books that I would recommend to people, precisely because they provoke you into reasoning and choosing for yourself, rather than having a set moral standpoint of "This is good. Try to live up to this. This is bad. Don't do that."

    tl;dr: Think for yourself. No one else has the responsibility to do that for you. The best books will force you to do so.
     
  20. Mad hatter

    Mad hatter Old member, New account

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    Not at all, its a piece of fiction. They can be whatever the author thinks will make that piece of fiction work