Home » Cinema and Television, Cultural Comment, Jan/Feb 2010

Stock Hollywood characters in dire need of retirement

23 February 2010 2,647 Views 5 Comments author: The Roommate

Here’s a situation you will all be instantly familiar with.

You’re watching a movie. Could be at the local multiplex, could be the latest rental. Could be stumbled upon during late-night cable surfing. Doesn’t matter.

This actor shows up. You might recognize him, or not. You might even be able to put a name to him (a trick I never mastered). Again, doesn’t matter. What matters is, you’ll recognize the character. You’ve seen him a million times before.  Often he’s a side-character; sometimes (and more unforgivably) he’s a main character. He will be written with a very specific and narrow set of character-traits and he will seldom deviate from the behavior you associate with said character.

Because according to Hollywood, there’s only so many personalities to go around.

And inevitably, you’ll eventually recognize these characters and groan; “Oh, it’s that guy again…”.

Well personally, I’m getting sick of them. Hollywood, for realz, take a minute from obsessively going through your back-catalogue searching for the next project to remake and take a look at that warehouse of stock characters you’ve built up. Haven’t you noticed that some of them have started to reek? Way past their sell-by date, mate.

Time to give them the faux-gold watch and put them out to pasture.

Here’s my list of Stock Hollywood Characters in Dire Need of Retirement:

(Stock character titles sometimes freely pilfered from TVTropes)

1.   Mr. Dead Meat


A staple of police-, action- and war-movies, this is the guy with the giant bulls-eye tattooed to his forehead.  There’s a couple of variations on the theme. He might be a grizzled but loveable veteran only a few weeks from retirement/ending his tour of duty. He might be a fresh-faced kid who just got married/became a father. It is a certainty, however, that he will end up dead before the end of the second act.

He’s only a minor character and we’re often given little to no information on his background except that little tidbit. And even that little tidbit is only given to us to make his death more poignant. It’s a clear case of blatant emotional manipulation. Give the audience a guy who has everything to live for, and then take it away. Even when dozens of anonymous extras are mowed down on a daily basis, Mr. Dead Meat’s death WILL receive extra attention, because we are supposed to CARE.

Trouble with today’s genre-savvy audiences is that we can spot Mr. Dead Meat a mile away. Nowadays, any character who’s about to retire, or who just got married/became a dad, unless it’s a comedy or an indie film, we EXPECT him to die (though in the case of indie films odds are 50/50). Watch South Park for a very thorough deconstruction of Mr. Dead Meat in the form of Kenny.

In the very rare case that Mr. Dead Meat manages to beat all odds and survive, then (and only then) yes, we the audience are surprised.

2.   The Libby


Any movie with a plain, but smart girl-next-door protagonist (The Hollywood version: meaning equally hot if not hotter) uses this character. She is always the Queen Bee and we all know what the B stands for. Yes, Hollywood has seen fit to give this girl not one, but TWO whole character traits. She is not just the most popular girl in school, she is also a complete bitch.

She has the best table in the cafeteria, people always make room when she power-walks through the hallways and she always has a gaggle of admirers, lackeys and minions. Many of them will cower in fear during her tantrums.

Which begs the question: How the Hell did this girl live long enough to get popular in the first place? Behaviour of this type doesn’t get you elected homecoming queen. It might get you waterboarded though. The only reason she’s in the movie is to make the protagonist seem more virtuous. This screaming, annoying caricature is there so we can root more easily for our plucky heroine. Watch and laugh as she grows ever more exasperated when the heroine foils her dastardly plans! Cheer as she gets her inevitable come-uppance in the third act! Or groan as I do, when you realize this type of stupidity should have been bred out the typical Movie High School Queen by now.

Now if The Libby is one part of a love triangle, she becomes The Veronica in…

3.   The Betty and Veronica


The hero has a choice between two women. One’s a shy Girl-Next-Door, or an irredeemable Tomboy, or his “Never noticed how hot she was” best friend. The other is the rich, shallow, bottle-blond, popular bitch. The hero will spend 90% of the movie pursuing The Veronica using whatever convoluted methods. Bribery, blackmail, all’s fair in love *cough-hormones* and war. Meanwhile The Betty will pine and sigh and clutch that childhood photograph of the two of them in the pool and whine  about how he can’t see what’s right in front of him.

And the audience is right there with her. It is so bleeding obvious to anyone but the hero who’s right for him it’s not even funny. The Veronica, like The Libby, might be the hottest piece of ass on the block but The Betty might be just as willing to put out, as the kids say, AND she genuinely cares for the hero.

But Betty, seriously. You just spent 90% of the running time on the sidelines and you’re content with only now becoming the focus of the hero’s affection? Where’s your self-respect. If a guy is that clueless for that long, he’s probably not worth your time.

Suddenly that guy in the corner who has memorized every Dungeons & Dragons stat AND knows the cruising speed of a Kuat Drive Yards Star Destroyer doesn’t seem like such a bad prospect now, does he?

4.   The Gay Best Friend


There was a time when you couldn’t trip over a single, white female in Hollywood films without being scolded by her gay best friend.  These come in two flavours: either deliriously camp or average guy who just happens to be gay. He’s always hanging out at her apartment or workplace, offering advice on matters of the heart, cheering her up with chocolate icecream when she’s down or painting her toenails.

The best friend part could have just as easily be played by a woman, but Hollywood needs to tell us that they are very liberal and that gays are people too. Great, there’s nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is that frequently, his sexual orientation has no bearing on the plot whatsoever. It’s mentioned or implied early in the movie,  and then never mentioned again. Say what you want about Will and Grace, but at least the sexual orientation of the two male characters was often used to drive the plot, instead of a cheap attempt at characterization.

In Hollywood, the gay best friend is often relegated to the status of an accessory every single white female should have, like a Gucci handbag and a pair of Jimmy Choos.

5.   The Token Black Guy


A group of friends will always have one member of obvious ethnic origins. There are variations (he could be asian or latin) but most frequently he will be black. If he’s black, he will usually have at least 3 lines of dialogue about “The Man”. If he’s married, his wife will be loud and sassy. Sooner or later the audience will find out that it is true what they say about Black men.

Welcome to Hollywood’s version of a multi-cultural society. A version in which ethnic diversity is numbered in one’s (and it’s never explained why he chooses to hang out with a bunch of honkies) and that frequently plays up the broadest racial stereotypes lest we forget that “Hey! There’s a Black guy in the cast!”. God forbid they actually make him too interesting. He might distract from the white lead.

If he’s both Black and Gay, you’ve witnessed Hollywood’s Double-Whammy of Ultimate Liberal Tolerance.

6.   Princess Chickuwannafukka


If the hero is a stranger in a strange land, it won’t be long before he runs into Princess Chickuwannafukka. Funny how the hero never seems to run into a herb gatherer or a nerf herdster. No, the girl he runs into will always be the daughter of the tribe’s chief, shaman or both. Apparently girls of such exalted station have nothing better to do than roam the countryside waiting for some white boy to trip over his own legs so she can save him.

The hero will immediately be smitten by her exotic looks, her fierce independence and her affinity with nature while she’ll be disdainful of his clumsiness and his lack of understanding for her culture.

In some cultures, befriending this guy will get you laid.

In some cultures, befriending this guy will get you laid.

Soon however, she’ll become impressed by the “size of his gun” (hur hur) or his “excellent swordmanship” (nudge nudge wink wink) or the fact that “his bird is bigger than the birds of her fellow tribesmen” (if you know what I mean). Soon her fierce independence goes straight out the window and she’s relegated to arm candy for the Great White Hope while he saves the day.

7.   The Frodo Skywalker


God help you if you are a farmboy, a blacksmith’s apprentice or an orphan of dubious lineage because you’re shit out of luck: Destiny has it in for you. You might think that your life is hard, but fulfilling and that you will eventually settle down with that tavern wench. The one with arms like a stevedore and the barely noticeable squint. You might imagine growing old with her and dying peacefully in the comfort of your own bed.

Unfortunately Destiny has other plans.

One day you’re minding your own business when suddenly, Destiny drops a magic MacGuffin in your lap and tells you you’re the one. Never mind that you never asked for that dragon’s egg, that magic sword or that really effeminate piece of jewelry, soon you’ll embark on a journey of epic proportions, gather a band of disparate lunatics and frequently experience pants-shitting terror.

Oh Ye of low station. How I pity you. It seems you can’t even herd your geese to the marketplace without Destiny pouncing and seizing you. Just like it did with thousands of farmboys, manure rakers and orphans before you.

Just once, I would like to see a farmboy seize Destiny instead. And throttle it.

8.   The Lovelorn Vampire


Somehow, Hollywood took a murderous creature of the night and turned him into a potential love-interest.

You all know what I mean…

Edward fuckin´ Cullen

Edward fuckin´ Cullen

Please, fuck off.

No, seriously. Just fuck off already!

9.   The Chief


Congratulations, you’ve finally made it. After years of walking the streets, taking the exams and rising through the ranks, you’ve finally reached that coveted position. You are the Chief. You’ve got the desk, the bullhorn and the authority. Oh, and you’ve also got a pair of renegade cops who seem bent on making your life Hell.

It seems that you have forgotten what being a cop is all about the minute you sat down behind that desk. Sure their methods might seem a bit unconventional and sometimes dangerously close to the line, but they are still getting things done. You, however, will ignore that. You will yell at them, demote them and/or take away their badges.

Until they crack the case and leave you looking like an incompetent prick.

If both cops are white, you will be black. If the cops are black, you will be white. If the cops are mixed, you will be a woman. But you will always be a short-sighted desk jockey.

10.   The Sam Jackson


There are two actors in Hollywood who greatly resemble each other. You might have even mistaken one for the other. One is Samuel L. Jackson, a noted character actor with an impressive resumé. He has done outstanding work in films such as Jungle Fever, Pulp Fiction and ehm… Black Snake Moan.

Then there’s Sam Jackson. Whose entire career seems to be based on playing Sam Jackson.

Whenever the script calls for a loud, tough, angry black man, Sam Jackson is the go-to guy in Hollywood. Inevitably, at some point or other, he will have just about had it with these motherfucking sharks/Sith/snakes/Spirits, motherfucker. And then lots of kicking of ass and profanity will follow.

The scary part here is that Sam Jackson seems to be getting far more roles than poor old Samuel L. Jackson lately. It’s getting harder and harder for Samuel L. Jackson to land a decent acting gig. So come on, Sam! In the name of Brother solidarity, slip the odd part Samuel’s way, will ya?

Honourable MentionThe long suffering wife (inspired by PT forum poster and collaborator Numbles)

I look like a fucking meringue. Suffering? You don't know suffering...

I look like a fucking meringue. Suffering? You don't know suffering...

“She will fall in love with the main character’s dreams and then grow to hate him when her husband achieves those dreams. Maybe her nagging has a point. If she didn’t annoy him to the point where he needs a successful career just to avoid her, there would be no movie.” –Numbles

It’s true. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were shown to have a life outside of that marriage, but no. She exists solely to remind the hero he’s taking his sweet time achieving his dream. To paraphrase C3PO:  ”They seem to be made to suffer. It is their lot in life”.

Edited by Tracy McCusker.

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