I have issues with heroes. Generally, I tolerate them. Sometimes I like them. Sometimes I hate them so passionately I start actively rooting for the bad guy, no matter how evil they are. But very rarely do I love them.
Yet I find myself drawn to stories about heroes. I like high fantasy, I like stories about good and evil. I want there to be dramatic, end-of-the-world stakes. I like my stories with a hero in them, I just never like the hero I’m given.
So, a few nights ago, after watching Avengers: Endgame, I was thinking about how Marvel has ten thousand heroes, and yet my favorite characters, are, unsurprisingly, Loki and Bucky. (I’m on the verge of liking Nebula, if they’d only give her a little more character development.) I like most of the heroes just fine, but I’m not always invested in their stories.
I began to wonder why I had so much trouble with heroes.
And then I thought about butterflies.
I used to hate butterflies. I’d dodge whenever one tried to touch me. I shuddered to see one. My family always thought I was afraid of them, but it wasn’t fear, so much as a deep disgust. You’d think I’d want them dead, but no, just the opposite. I hated dead butterflies worse than live ones, and I’d always spot the dead ones, a single wing lying on the ground.
I remember learning, as a kid, that a butterfly’s taste buds were on their toes and if they landed on you and you pulled your finger down too hard, their toes would rip off. I learned if you touched their wings, you’d rub off their scales and they couldn’t fly. I saw a nature documentary about a rainforest with a bird catching a blue morpho butterfly; the narrator explained that the bird had to rip off the wings before they ate them alive, and I covered my eyes. I remember going through a monarch migration and seeing butterflies smash the car window. I think I screamed.
I hated butterflies because they were fragile. Because they died.
I didn’t really hate them.
I hated seeing them get hurt.
And this logic translated to heroes. Maybe I didn’t hate heroes, per say. Maybe I loved them. Maybe what I hated was seeing them mistreated, misused, even mislabeled.
So I thought about what heroes I really, really loved and connected to. My idea was to first, figure out what made a good hero using my own personal examples, and then to figure out why I hated the current platter of heroes being served to us.
The results surprised me. As it turns out, I have ridiculously high standards.
Warning: Spoilers for Wreck It Ralph 2 and Signs
There’s a moment toward the end of Wreck It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet, when an insecurity virus picks up Ralph’s insecurities over Vanellope potentially leaving him to live in the Internet game Slaughter Race. The virus creates a horde of mindless, needy Ralph doppelgangers, who chase Vanellope and the real Ralph. As they are racing away, Ralph looks at the army of monsters and says something to the effect of, “Huh, from this angle I can really see how destructive my insecurities can be.” The delivery suggests it’s a joke, a wink at the audience.
This moment broke me.
And I couldn’t figure out why, for the longest time. All I knew was that I felt an irrational sense of rage, growing stronger and stronger. Then, this morning, while pondering it in the shower (because this is what apparently occupies my mind first thing in the morning), it occurred to me that this line marked the moment when my suspension of disbelief broke.
So what’s the big deal with suspension of disbelief?
I wrote a complaint about Beautiful Creatures and how it failed to appeal to my “inner teenage girl,” and one of my criticisms was that it didn’t have any “hot men” in it. But this complaint sort of made me uncomfortable, because: A. It seems shallow and B. Who’s to say Beautiful Creatures didn’t have a hot male lead? It’s not as if there is one type of “hot.” What appeals to one person does not appeal to the next.
Continuing the trend of bad paranormal romances, I also watched The Covenant on Netflix, which was an equally terrible story, but, as I was telling my friend Rita, if it got nothing else right, at least it knew to cast “hot” guys. I ended up feeling more affection for this bad movie, because at least it knew its audience and tried to cater to them.
But this got me thinking. If you’re reading or watching something in the YA fantasy romance genre, do you feel you’re owed a hot male lead to fangirl over? After all, a lot of the appeal of fantasy and romance and books and movies in general is to have something you desire but aren’t likely to get in real life, be it an adventure, superpowers, or a “hot” romantic prospect. If an adventure book doesn’t provide you with a good adventure, doesn’t it fail to deliver on its promise? If a romance doesn’t provide you with a hot lead, does it, too, fail to deliver the goods?
I have a confession. I liked Twilight.
It was not a perfect book or movie, but what it did really, really well was appeal to my inner teenage girl—this creature that still resides deep within me, buried underneath all these intellectual thoughts and theories of stories, that just likes what she likes. The writer part may gnash my teeth at the poorly paced romance, but the teenage girl side loves the thought of a beautiful guy stopping a car with his bare hands to save me.
When the studios got their hands on Beautiful Creatures, they all but announced that they were hoping for the “next Twilight.” A $9 million opening weekend and $19 million domestic total made it clear they didn’t succeed. Thanks to Netflix, I finally got the chance to watch the movie and after the credits scrolled I was dumbstruck with confusion. “Who was this movie made for?” I asked myself out loud.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.