Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why Depressing Male Characters Are the New Prince Charming

From Prince Hamlet to Mr. Darcy to popular culture’s Edward Cullen, depressing male characters have been charming heterosexual women and homosexual males for ages. There’s something about their sullen faces, pale skin, and “the world is hopeless” attitude that just draws us in. Readers have always loved their damsels in distresses; it’s time that we acknowledge that it’s just as easy to fall in love with a tragic prince. Quiet, misunderstood, and with a metaphorical rain cloud over their head, these male characters tend to do a lot of thinking. They contemplate societal responsibility, life and death, and aren’t buying the whole rosy-colored-glasses thing. Their deep thinking and quiet nature make them come across as philosophical; they observe the world as by-standers and point out the wrong being done. However, very few of them ever rise up to be “the macho hero”; they often take the place of the outcast or underdog. They don’t care for fame or money; instead, these characters thirst for a different passion whether it is romance or knowledge or societal acceptance. They don’t mind being invisible, and I think, as readers, we identify with their need for love and acceptance. At the same time, we feel a wave of pity and sympathy for these characters that have constant internal conflict. Depressing male characters with a deep, dark secret are the most alluring. Though not my favorite, Edward Cullen from the Twilight Series is a prime example. His “secret” is that he’s really not a normal seventeen year old; other than the fact that he’s filled with angst, he’s actually a vampire. This dark secret gives the character a more sinister, animalistic side. It makes him “beast-like”. The internal struggle of loving his damsel in distress counterpart, Bella Swan, and wanting to eat her, makes him seem “tragic”, “deep”, and quite frankly, “dreamy”. But this feature of deep inner turmoil is not unique to Edward Cullen; it’s actually a spin-off of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. Prince Hamlet also “fights his inner beast”. Though this Shakespearean character is not cursed by physical disfigurement or supernatural abilities that set him apart from the rest of the human race, his passion and “madness” (whether the madness is real or staged is up for debate) is the “beast within”. He is torn inside, wanting to kill King Claudius to avenge his father (this is the beast-like quality) but at the same time wanting to keep his morality and rational (the human quality). His sorrowful soliloquies and philosophical questions regarding the universe make him seem untouchable, and therefore desirable.  In turn, his conflict with his own inner beast makes the reader want to “save” him. After all, every manic pixie dream girl needs a depressing male counterpart (you’d understand if you’ve read my previous blogs). Finally while these depressing characters lack vivaciousness and seem mostly lethargic, their choice to sit back quietly and think rather than to rally up the crowd to fight reveals something about ourselves. It is not easy to be courageous and heroic, most of us are cowards who see evil in the world but fail to change it, and we identify with their apprehension to take action. It does not mean that we do not care; it does not mean that we are heartless. It simply means that we are human. We fall in love with these sullen male characters simply because they are human. They accept that they are not fearless and that they make mistakes; this makes these characters seem genuine, and therefore, lovable.

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