Five Infuriating Common Tropes in Sci-Fi/Fantasy
- Mystical love connection – there’s almost always either some strange magic or meant to be that instantly connects a man and a woman in modern sci-fi/fantasy. Its instant, its magical, there relationship doesn’t build or grow, its just magically there. And if they don’t LIKE this relationship, then they have to deal with it for mystical reasons – soulmate, bonded pair, magic love drugs, betterment of the kingdoms, blah blah blah. Any drama just serves to obfuscate the fact that its an instant twue wuve has occurred. Not only is this unrealistic, but its also an unhealthy representation of relationships and the work that goes into love. Its also just terrible storytelling. It makes characters less compelling and realistic and less interesting.
- Guy + Girl cannot be just friends – If the protagonist in most sci-fi/fantasy is friends with a member of the opposite sex, you can bet that there is or will be romance there. There’s unrequited love or they just didn’t realize that they loved each other all along. The idea is that guys and girls cannot be just friends, which is incredibly destructive on multiple levels. First, its heteronormative and assumes that the characters must be heterosexual. Second, on the rare chance that we do get a guy/girl friendship, its usually because one of the characters (most predominantly the guy) is gay. Which leads to the third issue, which is that it generates an assumption that you cannot like a person for who they are and respect them and share common interests and NOT pine for them if they are of the gender you are attracted to. This devalues opposite sex relationships and sets them up as something to be suspicious or wary of. A member of the opposite sex can’t just be your friend, because that’s not how it works. Obviously, they secretly want something (relationship/sex/to use you for other means). Screw that, as I have had a multitude of friendships with members of the opposite sex my entire life and there has been 0 sexual interest there. In some cases, there has been sexual interest and we handled it like human beings who liked and respected each other. We discussed it, decided what to do and got over it.
- Alpha Males – In so much sci-fi/fantasy these days, the men are overbearing and “you will do what I say because I am right, look at me roar”. They often move dangerously or aggressively. They command. Most times, this is supposed to be seen as sexy and attractive. They aren’t actually dangerous, you see, they just really care about you. It also relates to the whole concept of taming the beast. Only his true love can calm his raging beast. This aspect is SO dangerous to perpetuate in a society where domestic violence is so prevalent, especially since women are still the predominant victims of partner violence. It normalizes behavior that should cause a person to be alarmed. Those behaviors (often explained again by magic woo woo) are normalized and considered acceptable, which makes domestic violence more acceptable when it appears in the real world. Stalking, controlling, screaming, intimidating, demeaning behaviors are not sexy and they are not excusable.
- Misogyny – This is strongly tied into the alpha males. Misogyny is often present in sci-fi/fantasy worlds. Generally, its not there to actually challenge misogynistic beliefs. Instead, its used to demonize characters or allow other characters to pretend to be better/progressive because they aren’t that way. We get a lot of “well, in that setting it was like that” or “it exists in real life”. Yes. Yes it does. And sci-fi/fantasy is a deviation from reality so lets envision a better world that isn’t so destructive to men/women. Very few stories where misogyny appears actually challenge misogyny, but instead just perpetuate it.
- Plucky Headstrong Females – This is right up there with alpha males, its just the other side of the spectrum. There are often plucky, headstrong female characters, some of whom are actually genuinely competent and more than actually aren’t, who run headlong off into danger to prove a point of how capable they are to their alpha male, only to wind up needing to be saved because they didn’t think through their path. These characters have witty quips for days and are always going on about how grown up/independent/self-sufficient etc, they are, and then they blumber into things idiotically. Even if they aren’t saved by their alpha male, they manage to mystically survive the situation because serendipity. I don’t mind a character starting off this way, but the character should learn, grow and develop and not rush headlong into stupidity to prove something. Somehow, this rarely happens. This is all, of course, under the guise of them being strong female characters, when in truth, they actually aren’t.
Finally, one of the most frustrating things about these is that they don’t contribute to storylines. They’re not compelling storytelling. They’re lazy, stand ins that use imagery that we know from the real world to establish characters in quick, easy ways that the audience understands without actually building convincing characters. They’re destructive to the real world as they are part of a greater culture and they’re destructive to their own stories.