Friday, December 14, 2007

The Sacred Cliché

The Sacred Cliché is the only one still applauded by critics, even though it’s as old as a seventies newscast. It involves someone with a disadvantage, whether physical (blindness, paralysis, etc.) or social (ethnic minority, female, etc.), who is put down based on the disadvantage. But it turns out that the disadvantaged person is amazingly (even impossibly) good at something, and the skeptic is completely blown away as a result. So the guy in the wheelchair can still beat him at basketball, the girl can still beat up a guy twice her size who probably has a lot more practical combat experience than she does, and so on.

I deplore this on two grounds. First, it’s patronizing to the disadvantaged person. If he has any sense, he likely knows that his disadvantage (even a social one, such as race) does not confer any super powers. He’s still average, like as not, and from my own experience I can tell you that the only super power a guy in a wheelchair has is that he can’t walk. The better approach would be to note that if the person has been told (especially if the disadvantage is social) that he’s stupid, incompetent, or something like that, again, he’s probably average, and thus superior to what the other person thinks. That can give the element of surprise. Will it be enough to take the villain? If the villain is above average, probably not. But the villain is also likely to be average, so even a slight and temporary edge can be enough.

The second problem is that it can lead to unrealistic thinking. Remember a few years ago when a guy escaped on the way to trial? (This was in Atlanta, I think.) He was a black belt in a couple martial arts, and he was built like a linebacker. His sole guard was a grandmother who was about a foot shorter than he was. When asked why they had such a guard for such a prisoner, the authorities replied that the guard had “so much spirit” that they figured she could handle him. In fiction, yes. But even fiction shouldn’t seem like fiction.

No comments:

Powered by WebRing.