Do flaws make good characters great?

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by LobsterAfternoon, Nov 21, 2012.

  1. Gotham Central

    Gotham Central Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Personally I loathe McCoy and have never understood why people like him. He's flawed to the point of generally being unlikable.

    To me, a great character is one that not only has flaws but is able to overcome them and change and grow over time. One of the best characters in Trek overall was Nog. He has the most well rounded character development of anyone in Trek.
     
  2. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    So what? Being rich doesn't make slavery okay to practice.

    What on Earth makes you thinks she would have had any choice but to do whatever he wanted her? He was her slave. It's not like she could call the police if he tried to force himself on her. She had no legal rights.
     
  3. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    Gotta disagree there. McCoy is one of my favorite characters in Star Trek. He's colorful, cantankerous, humane, emotional, funny, and never boring.

    "You are a hedonist, Doctor."

    "Damn right I am!"

    I seem to recall an ancient article by Harlan Ellison in which he stated that McCoy was the only Trek character he would actually want to have dinner with . . .

    When it comes to fictional characters, "boring" is the only flaw that really matters. :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2012
  4. sbk1234

    sbk1234 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    While I don't agree with your take on Dr. McCoy, I have never thought about Nog that way, but I do have to agree. His character definately grew. One of my favorite bits with him is when he's explaining to Sisco why he wants to join Starfleet, and how he doesn't want to turn out like his father. Really good stuff.


    But McCoy is still awesome!
     
  5. AggieJohn

    AggieJohn Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    Flaws don't make a good character. The over coming of flaws make a person worth remembering. Its the notion of why Batman is better than Superman. If your perfect then doing great things is to be expected, because its easy for them. But if your mortal and suffering and still manage to do right and great things its speaks more about who you are. Kirk is a bit of a horn dog, but he manages to rise about his biological tendencies to be a great captain/man, a symbol for other starfleet officers to inspire too. He shows that character can overcome our human weakness.
     
  6. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    Honestly, I think it has less to do with making a character more heroic or likeable or a good role model than about making them more realistic and believable.

    In real life, very few people are perfect and without flaws. So good, believable characters shouldn't be too perfect either.

    Give me interesting over nice any day.
     
  7. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Generally, discussion of characters in terms of "flaws" is hopelessly confused. There are real flaws, the kind that normal people have. If you believe realism or tolerance for humanity or both are desirable, these are the well-written characters. You might call them great characters if you find yourself invested in their struggles with their flaws, because their struggle speaks to your own life.

    This is not quite the same as liking them. A character like this might in fact arouse many mixed emotions, which is usually an unpleasant. This may seem the opposite of good writing, or entertainment. But reallly, can anyone really explain how a roller coaster doesn't mix quite unpleasant emotions into a whole that many regard as entertaining?

    A tragic hero can come to a bad end, and insofar as we identify with him or her, how can that be entertaining? See Aristotle for a start on this answer.

    On the other hand, there are fake flaws, like Kirk's caring too much for his ship. Or crew. (Was the distinction really that clear?) In particular, the flaws of villains are generally fake, because the great villains of today possess one overwhelming virtue: They are strong. Winners are strong. Winners are the people you want to identify with. Sure the villainous might get their comeuppance at the end, to resolve any interior issues with any residual morality. But til then you get to identify with their acting out all the impulses we must suppress, or face the consequences.

    Villains of this sort exemplify the kind of moral values upheld by businessmen and all the different kinds of people who support empire. As might be expected then, the businessmen who make TV and movies, and the businessmen who buy ads, and their employess, official and unofficial, therefore tend rather to extol this kind of villainy. And antiheroes are favored as well.

    If you look at the ratings and audiences, it is not quite so obvious that flaws are so highly regarded by the majority of audiences. There are plenty of reactionary heroes, but, is it really true that they have flaws? In fact, I'm not at all sure that many even have fake flaws, the kind that really turn out to be disguised virtues needed for victory, the only true value...for some.

    There is an esthetic divide. Some people dislike anything about reality, or about losing, or about pretty much any human being they cannot personally identify with (both fictional and real, sad to say.) These people tend to sharply reject any real flaws in both heroes and villains. Other people tend to prefer reality, and at some level prefer that even their entertainment on some level should connect them to others, instead of leading them to self-absorbed daydreams.

    Heroes and villains with fake flaws or none, whose appeal lies in their badassery, their coolness, are more apt nowadays to be hailed as great characters, aping the semiofficial views of the commercial media.

    However I must note that even on a technical level, the distortions of plot and dialogue required to make the hero/villain (there's not really a distinction for this kind of writing) so badass, so cool, generally are Rube Goldberg devices. It is hard to see how anyone can defend that kind of writing in good faith. Which is why the confusion about "flaws" is so essential, lest discussion imply your or my taste is inferior.

    On the one hand, the honest proponents will clearly say that reality means that morals are an obstacle. On the other, the honest proponents will clearly say that the implication of an inferior taste and misunderstanding of humanity (or worse, deficiency) is indeed implied.
     
  8. Drago-Kazov

    Drago-Kazov Fleet Captain

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    She had no legal choice but i am pretty sure Jefferson gave her a choice otherwise there wouldm had been no romance. I doubt Jefferson needed to go around and rape women, he proabably had plenty of willing sex partners.

    It does not make it so but he probably had more nuanced views about blacks despite being a slaver himself.
     
  9. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The DNA evidence available does not prove Jefferson fathered Hemings children. Therefore some people have hypothesized the father to be another Jefferson, one visiting the household. Apparently they envision Hemings as a freely available amenity, like a candy on the pillow. I have no idea how that wouldn't be worse for Jefferson's humanitarian reputation. Like it or lump it, Jefferson's republicanism had an inconsistency on race, which was merely glossed over.

    The endless variety of human beings is such that Sally Hemings may have been bold enough to say no, knowing that Thomas Jefferson would, despite his legal "rights", have taken "no" for an answer. She may have been tacitly accepted as a family member (she was if I remember correctly Jefferson's wife's half-sister) and felt comfortable in a kind of sororate marriage in her sister's place. Or she may merely have felt that this way her children would have a chance at freedom, so put up with unwelcome sexual congress, which would not destroy her virtue thus making her worthless. She may even have had sexual appetites that she satisfied by the nearest most attractive male.


    Any of these things would have felt less like rape to both parties. None of them may have taken place, and maybe Jefferson bit her breasts and bruised her vagina every time he performed on her, leaving her weeping in pain, fear and shame.

    The question is whether an inability to give legally valid consent means any intercourse is therefore rape. By this view, the victim is always nothing but a victim. One implication is that the victim should have been courageous enough to fight back. Another implication is that the victim doesn't have any power at all, which is not literally true, and devalues the humanity of the people. And another implication is that the the victim should have no sexual feelings, which really dehumanizes them.

    Also, the black and white view of rape tends to diminish the impact of the term by overuse. Inequality of power is the rule in history and practical constraints on consent are still very common. If a woman having intercourse with a husband she doesn't really love because she's going to keep his paycheck in the family, by this standard she has been raped. But what do we call assaults marked by violence, sexual sadism?

    And if we merely go by the legal capacity to give consent, then no Jefferson was a rapist, because Sally Hemings had no consent to give or deny, being a slave. But a horny sixteen year old girl can't give consent, and therefore is raped every time she has intercourse.

    Jefferson was a slaver. Every minute he abused every slave he owned. But singling out Sally Hemings as a special victim has more to do with puritanism than anything else.
     
  10. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    On what basis do you conclude that a slave-owner would do such a thing? If he were big into giving her choices, he would have freed her.

    What makes you think there was a romance? On what basis do you conclude that Jefferson ever felt the need to obtain the consent of the women he held in captive bondage?

    The desire to rape someone has nothing to do with not being able to find willing partners.

    "More nuanced views about blacks?" To what do you refer?
     
  11. Arpy

    Arpy Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Are you you because you're flawed or because you're flawed and not flawed and interesting and just plain there?


    EDIT:

    Also...
    I guess I find some flaws tiresome. You know they're only there because the writer wants to make his life easier. Sure real people are racists, but Kirk, Scotty, Picard? Not all real people are racists even after a lot of trauma and you'd imagine people like these being like them.

    Picard's breakdown in "Family" was great immediately after BoBW, but you'd figure by "I, Borg" he'd be over it, and certainly not bigoted. Stewart was dazzling to watch in FC as Ahab, but at the same time at another level, it was tiresome and I was glad it was over soon enough.

    Kirk and Scotty being racists in TUC felt like a slap in the face. The magic of Trek was gone in those moments and I felt like I was watching just a movie.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2012
  12. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    The reality of the situation is that people who are traumatized often relapse into traumatic states years and years afterwards. It's not something you just "get over."

    I question whether or not the concept of "bigoted" or "prejudiced" applies to the Borg. The Borg are not a people, after all -- the Borg is, in essence, a massive artificial intelligence that has brainwashed and enslaved numerous individuals.

    I don't know what to tell you -- except that people are not perfect, and often harbor prejudices of which they are either unconscious or of which they disapprove of in themselves; that's just a fact. And it's also a fact that Kirk and Scotty overcame their prejudices, even to the point of saving Klingon lives. They may not have been perfect, but they did the right thing, and that counts for something too.
     
  13. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    Okay, I have to ask: Is there such a thing as an unflawed character? And would anyone really want such a thing?

    I mean, seriously, do we really want characters who are right all the time, who never make mistakes, never act rashly, never misjudge people, lose their tempers, fall in love (or lust) with the wrong people, always behave properly and honorably at all times, always get along with everybody, come from perfectly happy families, and don't have any blind spots, prejudices, or vices?

    That doesn't sound very fun or intriguing to me, or like most STAR TREK characters that I can think of. You want characters without flaws, you might as well replace the whole cast with robots . . . and not the exciting, malfunctioning kind! :)
     
  14. Dream

    Dream Admiral Admiral

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    Too many flaws and we would get a loser like Harry Kim.
     
  15. Nightdiamond

    Nightdiamond Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Interesting topic.

    I would use the word "interesting" as opposed to great when talking about serious flaws.

    Some of the most vile characters can be the most popular. It's so ironic, like a guilty pleasure.

    Dukat was a rapist and sexual exploiter- no way around that one. Those women were rounded up and brought to him and his officers. It was made clear they were to show the proper "respect" or else.

    Dukat was a very immoral person, he just covered over his actions by acting polite and genial.

    The ones doing the exploiting, like Dukat, usually live in their own reality, totally oblivious to how immoral their actions are.

    Hell, Dukat thought he deserved a statue in his honor, and didn't know why the Bajorans didn't build him one. :lol:
     
  16. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    Or, you could argue, Kim could have used a few more flaws just to make him more interesting! :)
     
  17. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Being a loser is the only flaw Kim has that matters. No other "flaw" will make him interesting to the people who hate losers. Not even Timeless will make up for that. The animus against identifying with losers is so powerful that people will hate Harry Kim despite the fact that he was a token who in seven years had maybe twice the episodes Reg Barclay got. Paris supposedly had flaws and was twice as boring in many times more episodes (much to the detriment of the Voyager series.)

    And as a matter of fact the hero winning all the time is in fact quite satisfactory for quite a large number of people. It doesn't matter if the hero allows them to forgive themselves their favorite vices. That's merely a matter of personal taste and of no real interest.
     
  18. Arpy

    Arpy Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    No they overcame their prejudices to find out what skulduggery was afoot wanting to find both their own Federation brothers and Klingon devils who were participating in the assassination/coverup. More to the point, not till this movie, Meyer's second retrocon were any of these characters showing any problems with their old foes. Hell in the previous movie they were drinking and chasing after Klingons and Romulans. Nichelle Nichols was asked to say some fascist line like Yeah but would you want your daughters marrying one of them and she a 21st century woman refused because she saw that it was prejudiced today in the 21st century, let alone in the more sophisticated 23th. Retro-bigotry installed by Meyer trying to show the US-USSR rivalry and frankly, did we give a shit about the Russians not being human beings?
     
  19. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    They overcame their own prejudice because they saw, with the assassination of Gorkon, what the ultimate result of that kind f bigotry would be: Violence and war.

    This bothers some people. It never bothered me. Why not?

    I never met my paternal grandfather; he died when my father was around eight years old. But I grew up hearing stories about him, and one of them was the apparent contradiction of his prejudice. He had a number of guys he liked to hang out with, repair cars with, and drink bear with; one of these guys was a black man. At the end of the day, he would invite all of them over for dinner, or vice versa -- everyone except this black man. Yet aside from this, they often hung out with each other and acted like friends.

    Yet when the evening news came on and reported anything negative about anyone who was black, he would then begin ranting about how he couldn't stand black people, using the n-word, and generally behave like the unrepentant racist he was.

    So I grew up understanding something: Racism and prejudice can live side-by-side with manners and etiquette, and with feelings of apparent conviviality and gregariousness.

    Yes, Kirk and company were sharing friendly drinks with Klingons in Star Trek V. But the lessons of real life taught me long ago that this doesn't mean they couldn't harbor extremely prejudiced feelings.

    Oh, I think there's plenty of precedent in TOS for concluding that Kirk and company have prejudices against Klingons. Chekov's behavior in "The Trouble with Tribbles;" Kirk's "you Klingon bastards, you've killed my son" scene in Star Trek V; his prejudiced ideas about what Kahless the Unforgettable must have been like, which the Excalibans based their re-creation of Kahless upon; etc.

    I mean, if you don't think that a film that's essentially about the difficulty of peoples who have been raised to hate each other as the enemy, learning to overcome their histories and end their conflict -- if you don't think the end of the Cold War -- if these aren't valid, interesting stories that are appropriate for Star Trek, I just don't know what to say.

    But I do. I think that Star Trek had always used the Klingons as its USSR stand-in, and I think that it's completely appropriate for "the Wall comes down in outer space" to be the TOS crew's swan song. I think that it was true to the spirit of TOS, and I think it was a really wonderful film. When I think of a good Star Trek film and a good Star Trek story, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is one of the stories that comes to mind for me.
     
  20. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    An observation: there are, I suppose, a few "flawless" characters out there. Doc Savage comes to mind, and maybe the Lone Ranger or Zorro or Emma Peel, but if you look closely those stories are often more about the people whose lives are effected by the larger-than-life hero (or heroine) than about the hero himself. The Doc Savage adventures are largely told from the POV of Monk or Ham or some more fallible sidekick, who presumably easier to identify with than Doc himself, who comes off as a rather remote, aloof figure.

    In my experience, "flawless" characters are usually most effective when viewed from the outside--by awestruck spectators, damsels in distress, dumbfounded bad guys, etc. At least that's how I often like to write them.

    That approach doesn't really work with Trek, where (at their best) the characters are more down-to-earth and realistic. Kirk drinks coffee on the bridge, is occasionally subject to anger or self-doubt, needs a vacation once and awhile, and even has a mid-life crisis or two. I like to think Trek is about smart, capable, but very human individuals doing a tough job in space, not pristine examples of human perfection.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2012

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