Sunday, October 18, 2015

Of Nerds, Women, Prizes And Lazy Storytelling Tropes (Or: The Unexpected Vices Of Ignorant Screenwriting)

Towards the end of the motion picture Goosebumps, my least favorite character in the entire motion picture, Champ (Ryan Lee), gets around five minutes of screentime entirely devoted to him taking down The Werewolf Of Fever Swamp via fatally biting the beast with the help of his silver fillings. Why is a character depicted in the film as a walking/talking embodiment of the conventional nerd suddenly showing such bravado in combat? It's simple really; The Werewolf Of Fever Swamp is attacking Taylor (Halston Sage), a popular girl at the school who gets two lines of dialogue and no distinct personality to speak of before she makes out with Champ.

Once that occurred on-screen, I couldn't help but placing my head in my hands. Yet again, that time honored cliche of "The Nerd Gets The Pretty Girl" is being dragged out as a substitute for actual storytelling. Instead of depicting Champ's character growth via other methods (perhaps he conquers a fear of heights during the monster-packed climax or something along those lines), the only way screenwriter Darren Lemke can think of to visually show how far Champ has come as a human being is to award him a woman as a trophy.

Here's the weird thing; this isn't even the worst example of this stomach-churning trope this year! Lest we forget Pixels, which awards Ludlow (Josh Gad) a buxom lady named Lady Lisa (Ashley Benson) who speaks no lines in the film and whose sole purpose in the movie is to be a "trophy" (literally, in this movies case) for a nerdy male character. There's no other reason for Lady Lisa or Taylor to exist in their respective movies, other than to serve as prizes for nerdy men to hold onto. To say it's bizarre to see this storytelling trend endure throughout the years is a gross (and I do mean gross) understatement.

This type of storytelling trope goes all the way back to 1984, when Revenge Of The Nerds (which I have not seen for the record) brought the concept of nerds to the mainstream as well as the concept of socially awkward geeky males obtaining uber attractive women as "prizes". Like I said, I haven't seen Revenge Of The Nerds, so don't worry, I won't comment on it being "gross" or "repulsive" or what have you, but it is interesting to note that feature being a major reason for this concept becoming such a regular feature in motion pictures. And of course, it's not at all like that was the first time the idea of nerds obtaining "out of their league" women existed in pop culture; a little known comic book character named Spider-Man was the quintessential geek, yet always managed to have ladies like Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson in his romantic life.

So why exactly has this form of character resolution managed to stick around despite its glaring flaws? Well, to put it simply, it's an easy way for a script to give a lead/supporting character resolution to a character arc and allows audience members similar to the nerdy individuals in the film have a sort of "wish fulfillment" experience, if you will. The problem with that latter idea though, is that it's a very selfish, frankly, sort of wish fulfillment, one that doesn't consider the thoughts or opinions of the women in question.

Characters like Lady Lisa and Taylor rarely get any depth prior to them being romantic with our nerdy characters, so it's hard to get invested in the romance due to how one-sided it is. Instead of feeling like the best cinematic romances (which tend to be complex, nuanced and engrossing), this kind of plot development feels like the sloppiest way possible to resolve a nerdy male characters story arc. Plus, it's rare to see the inverse of this equation, where nerdy female characters obtain attractive male romantic counterparts, which speaks to the larger issue of gender inequality in Hollywood. Basically, when you boil it down to its barest essence, the Nerdy Male Getting The Girl trope is a perfect example of lazy-ass screenwriting and the gender double standards that permeate an insanely large amount of movies. Hopefully screenwriters of future films make a move as smart as these nerdy characters and ditch this specific storytelling trope for good.

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