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RubyRedRhapsody's avatar

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I'm seriously puzzled about this.

You know that sort of character that you really shouldn't like, but you end up liking anyway, despite the horrible decisions they make, or their bad attitudes, or their less-than-heroic outlook on life, or whatever else? ...I'm talking about the Han Solos. The Tony Starks. The Professor Snapes. The Prince Zukos. They manage to attract a large amount of fangirls and fanboys despite being absolute jerks most of the time. In fact, I'd say they tend to get more attention than the pure-hearted-hero types that come from their respective stories. I myself, more often than not, will fall for their charms.

But at the same time, I've seen people attempt this kind of character and utterly fail at it. ...I personally think that Mako from Legend of Korra is a good example of this. True, some people like him, and they certainly have a right to like him. But personally I think he's a sloppy attempt at making a Zuko-ish character. It's like they took the one thing away from Zuko that made him likeable. So instead of being a likeable-jerk like they intended, Mako is just a plain old jerk. There must be a reason why Zuko is my favorite Avatar character and Mako is my least favorite.

And don't even get me started on Snape. How the hell does he manage to spend six books being an insufferable jerk to Harry and only in the last book do we fully understand his motives, and still be one of the most beloved characters in all of Potterdom??

....But this isn't about my fandom woes. Thing is, I have a character that falls under this trope, and I'm afraid for him. I want to be certain that I'm doing it right, and to do that, I need to know what makes this trope work.

TLDR: What makes people like jerk-ish characters? I don't even know why I myself like them and want to see more of them. D:
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Well, here and here are big 'ole essays on the subject. I think they can be read without having watched Utena first. I'm gonna have to go back and review them and see if there's any other points for me to make.

There's an essay on advertising, I might dig it up...

Edit: Oh, and here's another.
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One big aspect is how sympathetic the character is. Zuko was an antagonist for the first two seasons and he could be kind of a d**k, but his backstory and motives made him very sympathetic. He wanted to catch the Avatar not because he was evil, not because he wanted power, but because he thought it would make his father love him and welcome him back. Professor Snape... I only saw the movies, but I guess Snape also had some sympathy working for him.

Humor and charm are other factors. Dr. House is a jerk, but he's funny, clever, and brilliant so it's easy for many to like him.

Another factor is that a lot of us, deep down, wish we could get away with the things the b*****d character says and does. We wish we had a clever retort for every insult or stupid comment thrown our way. We wish we could punch anyone who was being mean to us and not have to face consequences.

Tony Stark? Fun fact about him, Tony Stark was created because Stan Lee wanted to prove he could make a d**k character who went against everything the hippie readers supported and still make said hippie readers like him. The idea was to make a corporate rich guy playboy working for the military, but, he was vulnerable on the inside, and his injury made him sympathetic.
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marshmallowcreampie
Professor Snape... I only saw the movies, but I guess Snape also had some sympathy working for him.
I read him as a straight-up Broken Bird, but I might be imbuing him with more... psychology than Rowling intended. Being suspended in front of the entire school and stripped from the waist down seems terribly traumatic to me, but it occurs to me that Rowling might have meant him to think of it as his worst memory because his crush insulted him. But then it was True Love, because Rowling has some very odd ideas about romance. And I might have read his upbringing as more abusive than it was intended to be.
infect's avatar

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I agree. Appeal to the audience's/reader's good nature. Make the unlikeable character be understood.
RubyRedRhapsody's avatar

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marshmallowcreampie
Tony Stark? Fun fact about him, Tony Stark was created because Stan Lee wanted to prove he could make a d**k character who went against everything the hippie readers supported and still make said hippie readers like him. The idea was to make a corporate rich guy playboy working for the military, but, he was vulnerable on the inside, and his injury made him sympathetic.


I've heard that about him too. No doubt Stan Lee did exactly what he set out to do.

Makes me a little jealous of Stan Lee's mad skillz. XD
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RubyRedRhapsody
marshmallowcreampie
Tony Stark? Fun fact about him, Tony Stark was created because Stan Lee wanted to prove he could make a d**k character who went against everything the hippie readers supported and still make said hippie readers like him. The idea was to make a corporate rich guy playboy working for the military, but, he was vulnerable on the inside, and his injury made him sympathetic.


I've heard that about him too. No doubt Stan Lee did exactly what he set out to do.

Makes me a little jealous of Stan Lee's mad skillz. XD


Guess everyone likes to troll sometimes. cat_rofl (especially considering, it's unlikely that Stan Lee was totally against what the hippies were supporting. But a good writer can put aside such biases, yes?)
The correct answer is "good writing," with an emphasis on character development.


See: Humbert, Humbert.
The jerk characters tend to get some of the best character development in their respective works. The hero is the hero, will always be the hero unless the writer is deliberately deconstructing them. The jerk however can be a foil to the hero, the lancer, the smart a** who makes it look like he's abandoning everyone to their fates and then sweeps in at the last moment to save the day. People like the jerk because he can be as good at being the hero as the hero while not being required to be as moral or nice.
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The jerks you describe are typically the deepest, most dynamic characters. People like characters for different reasons they would like people in real life.
A more 'by accident' liking of 'unlikable' characters is that they're the only reasonable or competent people around. When the villain or jerk is the only person not so dumb the readers/watchers/whatevers wonder how they drink a glass of water without drowning, they look like better people in comparison.
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The Phoenix Rises Again
A more 'by accident' liking of 'unlikable' characters is that they're the only reasonable or competent people around. When the villain or jerk is the only person not so dumb the readers/watchers/whatevers wonder how they drink a glass of water without drowning, they look like better people in comparison.


That isn't really what I was talking about. ^^;

I mean... Snape is a jerk through most of the books, and yet he is a beloved and deep character. But that doesn't mean that I think that Harry and Hermione and whoever else are dumb as dirt. All it means is that I like Snape.
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RubyRedRhapsody

I mean... Snape is a jerk through most of the books, and yet he is a beloved and deep character. But that doesn't mean that I think that Harry and Hermione and whoever else are dumb as dirt. All it means is that I like Snape.

They are sometimes.

Plus, Snape wasn't really a jerk; he was cranky and overly teachery. His actions were perfectly understandable and technically 'unmean' from book one. He saved Harry from a spell during Quidditch.

Zuko was similar. What he did was understandable, as was where he got his prissiness (explained rather early in the series). He was very loyal to his men, and several times aided them or Iroh instead of taking ignoring them or taking advantage of their plight to further his own means.

Both did something they thought they wanted or needed--Zuko allied with Azula and Snape with the Death Eaters-- and worked to redeem themselves of those decisions.

By the way, did Harry ever apologize for his dad and the others he looked up to as heroes for being such jerks to Snape? I know Harry didn't do it, but he does take after and hang out with the people who ruined the life of someone who saved his life.
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I_Write_Ivre
RubyRedRhapsody

I mean... Snape is a jerk through most of the books, and yet he is a beloved and deep character. But that doesn't mean that I think that Harry and Hermione and whoever else are dumb as dirt. All it means is that I like Snape.

They are sometimes.

Plus, Snape wasn't really a jerk; he was cranky and overly teachery. His actions were perfectly understandable and technically 'unmean' from book one. He saved Harry from a spell during Quidditch.

Zuko was similar. What he did was understandable, as was where he got his prissiness (explained rather early in the series). He was very loyal to his men, and several times aided them or Iroh instead of taking ignoring them or taking advantage of their plight to further his own means.

Both did something they thought they wanted or needed--Zuko allied with Azula and Snape with the Death Eaters-- and worked to redeem themselves of those decisions.

By the way, did Harry ever apologize for his dad and the others he looked up to as heroes for being such jerks to Snape? I know Harry didn't do it, but he does take after and hang out with the people who ruined the life of someone who saved his life.


See! This is exactly what I'm so baffled by! XD

You have made a very strong case about why Snape isn't a completely horrible human being. And you are right. Snape is a decent human being. Nobody is arguing that. But that doesn't mean that he isn't also a bitter jerk a lot of the time. He'd pretty much decided to hate Harry from the moment he saw him, and it's beside the point that Harry didn't always help his own case.

Come to think of it... pretty much everyone in Harry Potter acts like an insufferable jerk at one point or another! Why do I love them so much?? XD;;

...This thread seems to think it has something to do with their flawed humanity.

......As a side note, I think one of the most tragic things about the whole Harry Potter series is that Harry didn't realize Snape was a good person until after he'd died. So nobody ever got the chance to say sorry. ._.
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RubyRedRhapsody

...This thread seems to think it has something to do with their flawed humanity.

Nail head, meet steel chair directly.

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