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So you're working on a book, and you like your hero character so far, but he's just too... clean. How can you dirty him up a bit so that he's more interesting? You need to add some character flaws. Careful, though. The right flaws will make your character more accessible to your audience and bring him to life, but the wrong flaws will make your audience despise him no matter what heroic acts he accomplishes. There are good flaws, and there are bad flaws.
A list of currently acceptable "good" flaws includes:
- Alcoholism (except when it leads to violence)
- Drug addiction (except when it leads to violence)
- Tobacco use (cigars and cigarettes)
- Sexual promiscuity or deviancy (as long as it doesn't involve children or the unwilling, like rape, zoophilia or necrophilia)
- Audiences can be particularly forgiving if some kind of Fan Service is involved.
- Reverse snobbery
- Being too cool to socialize.
- "Sticking to your guns" even when the odds seem stacked against you
- Stupidity (as long as it stems from genuine ignorance, and not apathy or bigotry)
- Misanthropy (when used humorously)
- Emotional aloofness, especially with Male Love Interests
- Lack of self-confidence
- Holding ridiculously high standards, especially with snarky comments.
- Husband abuse, especially the Armor-Piercing Slap.
- Being a Noble Bigot or an Innocent Bigot, especially for people who grew up a long time ago or those with Police or Military backgrounds.
- Immaturity, in women.
- A bad temper (except when it leads to violence)
- Using curse words (except in the presence of the clergy, monarchs, aristocrats, the elderly, children, and sometimes women)
While a list of flaws that are currently "bad" includes:
- Ethnic prejudice (unless, of course, the victims of one's prejudice are Acceptable Targets)
- Sexism: misandry or misogyny as the case may be.
- Homophobia (Except in some religious literature)
- Actual snobbery
- Domestic Abuse
- Immaturity, in men
- Compulsive Gambling
- Obsessive meddling
- Self-serving phoniness
- Pedophilia and Ephebophilia
- Religious Fanaticism or Frantic Nihilism
- Greed and/or Flaunting Money
A character who's addicted to alcohol is a helpless victim of an addictive substance. A character who chain-smokes is a rube who doesn't understand the dangers of smoking and ought to die of lung cancer for his foolishness (although, occasionally there are sympathetic smokers). A character who has sex freely isn't necessarily seen as flawed at all (and provides interesting plot opportunities...) while a genuinely racist or homophobic character portrayed in any kind of positive light whatsoever is a rarity these days. (A number of comedians will pretend racist/homophobic viewpoints for laughs, but also insist that they're only kidding. See, however, Licensed Sexist.)
Of course, 60 years ago some of the entries on these lists might have been inverted. And in fact, this is a cyclical trope, constantly changing as artists try to push the envelope and hit that edgy sweet spot of transgressive but not reprehensible (i.e. just edgy enough to make your grandmother mad, but not you; you're in the movie watching demographic).
One major exception to this trope is this: A character who has a "bad" flaw is allowed to be the hero if the experiences of their journey inspire them to cast off this flaw. If your prejudiced hero learns about other ethnic groups over the course of his journey and, at the end of the book, decides that he can now accept people of different ethnic groups as equal to himself; well, he was an egalitarian all along, just waiting for the right experience to let him grow, wasn't he? (Less idealistic works might have the hero retain his bad habits, but still strive to do the right thing in spite of himself.)
Related to Once-Acceptable Targets.
Feel free to add more examples to the current list, but try to keep it general and widely applicable. Also, feel free to add lists of examples pertaining to other cultures and time periods. Also feel free to add to the list of examples below, but keep in mind that this sort of thing is often played with and changes over time, so there are going to be very few straight examples.
Note: Please try to keep Fantastic Racism to a minimum unless it is very clearly supposed to be a direct analogue to real-life bigotry. The hatred of Orcs and the hatred of human ethnic minorities carry very different connotations in media (for some reason).
- Clint Eastwood's character in Gran Torino is one of the most sympathetically portrayed racists in modern media, although even he learns his lesson about racism by the end of the film.
- On the "reverse snobbery" thread, you also see this a lot in high school movies. If the popular or cool kids play a prank on the unpopular/uncool kids, it's wrong and malicious. If unpopular/uncool kids play a prank on the popular/cool kids, it's a funny comeuppance.
- Though set in a college Accepted is a prime example of this: at their first meeting, before he has any personal reason to dislike them, Bartleby goes out of his way to insult Ambrose and his fraternity. It's portrayed as an underdog sticking it to some rich jerks.
- Of course, the cool kids are often portrayed as doing it out of spontaneous malice, while the uncool kids are often seeking Revenge for either another prank or some other malicious act, which does introduce a moral difference beside whodunit.
- James Bond has given up smoking (and even claims it was a "filthy habit" in Tomorrow Never Dies) over time but has always been a connoisseur of alchohol and other vices.
- Sam Vimes from the Discworld books claims to be a racist and a speciesist, but aside from the fact that he would risk his life for any of his citizens, he is a raging misanthrope so any racism/speciesism is just an extension of thinking everyone is a bastard. Even his outwardly promoted reverse snobbery doesn't prevent him from marrying Lady Sybil, heiress to one of the richest estates in Ankh-Morporkh, and having the title of Duke being bestowed (albeit unhappily) upon him. He's also a very heavy drinker who used to drink to forget, but has since forgotten what he was trying to forget, so he keeps drinking so he won't remember .Interestingly enough he's been moved off Alcohol and onto cigars by his wife.
- William Laurence from the Temeraire books, is a Napoleonic Era Naval Officer, with the ridiculously high standards expected within that service. He moves to the Aerial Corps, which is a much more laid back affair and allows this to be an excellent hook. In some ways it's possible to consider the Aerial Corps as a pocket 'modern' society within the early 19th Century setting.
- Haymitch from The Hunger Games is an alcoholic. At the begining, this is presented as just futher proof of his incompetency- until it is revealed that he drinks in order to mask the pain of losing everyone he loves, and failing to protect children in the arena, year after year.
- Horatio Hornblower is terrified of heights and prone to sea-sickness, a pair of traits one might consider unusual for The Captain in a series about Wooden Ships and Iron Men. The sea-sickness is eventually revealed to be something the crew accepts without comment , and Hornblower deals with the acrophobia by making a point of climbing the masts to see for himself whenever a sailor in the crow's nest announces that they've spotted something.
- Also, he is very emotionally detached and calculating. Played positively, these traits make him a tactical genius and very good at cards, played negatively, and he ends up having a terrible time dealing with other people short of being very manipulative.
- For sympathetic characters with regular snobbery, you have Frasier and Niles, chiefly via Character Development. Frasier was originally written as a Romantic False Lead and eventual Ensemble Darkhorse on Cheers, where the whole Slobs Versus Snobs angle was very much Played Straight.
- Similarly, Charles Emerson Winchester of M*A*S*H. Though he started off as mostly an antagonist, he gradually became an Anti-Hero and never completely overcame his snobbery. He even had his biggest Pet the Dog moment through his snobbery during the Grand Finale when a North Korean military band is take prisoner and he finds their playing to be horrid. So he teaches them to play classical music well.
- Johnathan Quayle Higgins on Magnum, P.I. is very snobby.
- House gets away with all kinds of offensive remarks because it's clear he actually hates everyone regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc., and just says whatever he thinks will offend his target the most. As Cameron says in one episode to defend him after he says something sexist, "[He's] a misanthrope, not a misogynist."
- Even more intractable is the tendency to attempt to psychologically scan a historical subject to see if he (and it usually is indeed a "he") harbors any sensibilities that are currently abhorrent. This can be tricky for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that individuals who weren't particularly political or weren't social critics probably didn't put forth that many substantial opinions. Also, said person may merely be speaking or writing to others who do harbor those views, and pandering to them. Finally, despite what many seem to believe, irony and sarcasm were not twentieth-century inventions.
- Jonathan Ingram in Policenauts makes homophobic, transphobic (using the phrase 'so-called women' to describe transwomen who'd undergone a sex change at the genetic level) and sexist (oh, let's not even start) comments throughout the game, as well as exhibiting Fantastic Racism towards the Frozeners. It's used to draw attention to how his attitudes are bigoted and old-fashioned by the standards of the era, but he never really gets over them and is yet portrayed consistently sympathetically.
- Eric Cartman from South Park is a horrible bigot, and is portrayed absolutely unsympathetically. He still has his fans, though.
- The entire list in the article description is practically a laundry list for Bender B. Rodriguez's entire personality. He gets away with it through Refuge in Audacity and Rule of Funny, with a good dose of Karma Houdini to dodge plot-related consequences.