Maybe not the biggest culprit behind the Radioactive Bad Takes on this website, but the one that’s bugging me the most lately: Please, I am begging you, learn what genre conventions are and read the text accordingly.
Fiction is not reality and pretty much every genre of fiction has certain standard ways in which it deviates from reality. And I’m not just talking about how we shouldn’t nitpick the physics of how Superman is able to fly. There will be ways in which the characters’ behavior and relationships will be informed by the genre as well and it makes just as little sense to judge them by realistic standards as it does to complain about something in Star Wars being scientifically implausible.
For example, “Adults are Useless” is a well-recognized trope in children’s literature. But that’s not because children’s authors are all going around writing adult characters who are terrible parents or teachers. It’s because the protagonist of a story written for children is almost always going to be a child, and the protagonist of the story has to get into trouble and solve problems themselves for the story to be any good. Yes, in real life, teenagers shouldn’t be fighting in a war. But if the grown-ups stepped in and stopped the teenage protagonist of your action-adventure series from fighting, there would be no story.
Does that mean the grown-up characters in that series are evil people who use child soldiers? No, because we accept a child being in these kinds of situations as a conceit of the genre of children’s fiction, and we interpret the characters and their choices accordingly. We don’t apply a realistic standard because the very premise is unrealistic to start with.
Another example: An adult hitting a child in real life is horrible. But if the child is a superhero, and the adult is a super villain, and they are in a cartoon, then we can’t read it the same way. All cartoons with any kind of action or fighting in them use violence unrealistically, and if the child and adult characters are presented as equally matched adversaries then that’s how any violence between them has to be understood. The villain might be a real bad dude, since he’s, you know, a villain, but hitting a child superhero in the context of a super-fight does not make him a child abuser, specifically.
I’m focusing on children’s books and cartoons here because I think that’s where tumblr fandoms have the biggest trouble with this but it applies to everything. Characters in a romantic comedy won’t behave realistically, characters in fairy tales won’t behave realistically, characters in police procedurals won’t behave realistically, all of them will behave as characters within their specific genre have to in order to make that genre work. The second you start trying to scrutinize every single action a character takes by realistic standards, you miss the point.
Repeat to yourself: “It’s just a show, I should really just relax.”
reminds me of how every couple years some dipshit comes along and says, ‘i’m going to FIX the romance genre! i’m gonna DEFY convention! my characters don’t get together and they don’t live happily ever after because that’s how real life is!’ and then everyone who bought their book, which was billed as a romance, judges it to be a terrible romance book, because it doesn’t do what a romance book is supposed to do. and then the author flips their shit because how dare people judge them for being bad at the thing they failed at on purpose.
Shoutout to the geniuses STILL whining about love at first sight in fairytales and Shakespeare plays. Get the fuck over yourself and learn what suspension of disbelief is.
And this doesn’t just apply to complaints, but also praise. Nobody said it better than Ursula K Le. Guin:
In the same way, critics who set out to talk about a fantasy novel without having read any fantasy since they were eight, and in ignorance of the history and extensive theory of fantasy literature, will make fools of themselves because they don’t know how to read the book. They have no contextual information to tell them what its tradition is, where it’s coming from, what it’s trying to do, what it does. This was liberally proved when the first Harry Potter book came out and a lot of literary reviewers ran around shrieking about the incredible originality of the book. This originality was an artifact of the reviewers’ blank ignorance of its genres (children’s fantasy and the British boarding-school story), plus the fact that they hadn’t read a fantasy since they were eight. It was pitiful. It was like watching some TV gourmet chef eat a piece of buttered toast and squeal, ‘But this is delicious! Unheard of! Where has it been all my life?’”