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Jobs can tell us a lot about a person, but the fact is that very few jobs really showcase our true colours. Some of us will be lucky enough to snag that legendary "dream job," but most of us work because we have to, and that can mean anything from slapping a grin on our face when dealing with a customer we secretly wish we could disembowel with a teaspoon, to accepting a job well below our ability level because we need to pay the rent.
Our hobbies, however, can say a lot more about what we like and what qualities/skills we possess; after all, they're totally voluntary, and we may even be prepared to spend a lot of money in order to do something we enjoy. This is echoed in the media, where the mention of a character's favourite pastimes can provide a shorthand for their personality.
The weird thing is, once this hobby is revealed, a character's social circle tends to disregard everything they previously knew (or supposed) about their friend. If the Girl Next Door is revealed to be a kickboxer at the weekends, her associates will instantly assume that she's only "pretending" to be a wholesome sweetheart and is actually an Action Girl. On the other hand, if the school bully is revealed to attend piano lessons three times a week, he can expect a sudden upturn in his romantic success, as the ladies decide that his unexpected musical talent proves that he's a sensitive soul at heart, and hides it beneath a thuggish exterior.
If, on the other hand, the hobby is introduced as the same time a character is -- for example, "Hey guys, meet Marie, we met at the sci-fi convention last week" -- it's the viewer who knows what to expect in terms of personality. Sometimes this will be exploited in An Aesop about not jumping to conclusions, especially if the person whose hobby is being mentioned is a main character. If they're a one-shot or side character, however, don't expect too many surprises; writers seldom spend time on revealing the complexities of a minor character's psychology, and are usually quite happy to let the stereotype stand.
Occasionally, the hobby will provide a "punchline" for the character because it is completely at odds with their personality. This may lend them credibility, as in the case of the Nerd who's also a skateboarder, or be a bit of an Achilles Heel, as with the Alpha Bitch with an astonishingly large collection of comic books.
In Real Life, a hobby's demographic encompasses all sorts of personality types...but the world of fiction normally prefers to keep things simple, so the stereotypes endure. However, works where the writers really did do the research -- or where the pastime itself is an integral part of the story -- will be much more sympathetic.
Also worth noting is the fact that the associations and connotations of both hobby and stereotype will vary from place to place.
As a general rule, an interest in sports indicates athleticism, charisma, competitiveness and enthusiasm. Most sports will be seen as a male domain, and any woman entering into them will be part of a You Go, Girl! storyline. However, a few sports will be seen as ladylike and feminine, implying quiet strength, gracefulness and determination rather than the supposedly "masculine" attributes listed above.
- Baseball: Often regarded as a Game of Nerds, even by its own fans, though it can also show that a character is their setting's equivalent to the All-American Face.
- (American) Football: Players will either be good, all-American boys or the Jerk Jock. In recent years, it tends to be the latter. Either way, ego issues will probably come into play at some point; between cheerleaders and celebrity status at their school, football players will probably get above themselves eventually, and have to be brought down a peg or two. As a spectator sport however, American football is universal, resulting in many armchair experts passing comments on the game, and many, many male bonding episodes.
- Football/Soccer: In the UK, this is seen as a normal, wholesome hobby that every male should be into: knowing the offside rule is tantamount to Being A Man. As with American football, boys will usually play it when they're younger and be content just to watch it as they grow up. If a young boy isn't into football, expect it to be a plot point (and probably a major source of conflict between the boy and his dad). Japan shares this view to a certain extent, with football players in anime being good athletes and all-round decent guys. In the USA however, soccer is viewed as fairly sedate and boring, with American Football filling the role of the "everyman" sport. In fact, the "soccer player" in American works tends to be a totally different character, usually a foreigner in the "Pelé" mold, while soccer fans tend to be depicted as pretentious yuppie types. Girls' soccer is also sometimes shown in American works, indicating the character is athletic without the You Go, Girl! plots that are obligatory when a girls' football team is featured in British media. Can also be used as part of their nationality, working class British characters in American works will often be football fans.
- Golf: Generally reserved for the rich and/or professionals such as doctors, although working-class characters will sometimes visit the golf course either as caddies or because they aspire to a higher rank in society. Golfers are generally portrayed as smug and boring. They are also often shown as being prone to cheating, with underlings being warned not to beat the boss at his favourite game. Note that in works by older authors, such as newspaper comics, golf can also be viewed as an activity for the everyman, although it is considered leisurely and relaxing rather than particularly athletic. Almost always associated with middle aged or older men; while younger men (or women) might play it as part of the plot, it's rarely their hobby.
- Tennis: Like golf, only for younger and more athletic people.
- Horse Riding: is largely dependent on the type saddle used - English, Western, bareback, or side saddle in period pieces. Whether a woman, given the option, rides or avoids side saddle is a rough indication of her view on stereotypical gender roles. English saddle riders are often upper class, snobby, and possibly Not Good with People, brusque and impatient. Polo playing or fox hunting can be used to demonstrate a savvy character who expresses disturbing brutality in socially acceptable or discreet ways. Western saddle riders are often practical working class people, hands on and free spirited. Young horse riders are portrayed more sympathetically, seen as enthusiastic and genuinely loving their four-legged friends, the odd Spoiled Brat ("I want a pony!") notwithstanding. The Pony Tale, of course, broadens the personality types considerably... although it still likes to employ the stereotypes as well.
- Alternatively, if the horse rider is a female love interest, this is to show that she is a free spirit, a woman who yearns for freedom and adventure. The male will usually undergo a Secret Test of Character in the form of befriending the lady's steed, or taming a particularly wild one in her collection.
- How a character rides matters as well - whether they're disciplined, fastidious, passionate, competitive, or domineering. How they treat their horse will definitely show what they value.
- Riding disciplines often cue personalities in barn-centered works, particularly English (Western is usually just Western).
- Dressage: Quiet, disciplined, and focused. Most likely to be a snob.
- Showjumping: Flashy, athletic, vivacious.
- Eventing: Hard-working, courageous.
- Rugby: Has a bit of a mixed reputation. On one hand, as an English Public School staple, it's seen as a "serious" sport practiced by the elite of society - one witticism runs "Rugby is a game for Thugs played by Gentlemen; Football is a game for Gentlemen played by Thugs." On the other hand, however, it's tough, physical and the injuries can be pretty horrific, making it a sport for the hardy working class man. Characters can therefore vary between the "sportsmanship at all costs, old chap" schoolboy and the unstoppable macho man. If American football is mentioned, a rugby-playing character will sneer at it as "not a proper sport": despite looking very similar to American football, rugby is played without the copious amounts of protective equipment.
- The mixed reputation is because there are two kinds of Rugby: Rugby Union, with the stereotype of being for gentlemen, and Rugby League, the working-class variant. However, they are very similar games: the easiest way to tell them apart is that there are 15 players on a Rugby Union team, and 13 on a Rugby League team.
- Skateboarding: The premise of the rebel, skateboarders are usually cool and street-smart. They may be Book Dumb through a lack of interest rather than lack of talent. They are often reckless, and rack up quite an injury list, but bounce back fairly quickly.
- Cricket: Often the domain of intelligent but eccentric types, frequently concerned with fair play. Often rather posh as well, although they tend to be a bit less smug than their golfing counterparts. Can also be a sort of Commonwealth equivalent to baseball as a Game of Nerds. Similarly to football, Cricket is often associated tied to nationality. Upper class or intellectual British characters in American works will often be Cricket fans. On the rare occasions that they appear Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi characters will almost certainly be Cricket fans.
- Ice Hockey: Often depicted as the most rough and tumble sport where fighting is all but encouraged and the players are hulking bruisers with teeth missing. For some variety, there is the Wayne Gretzky type of a small, but phenomenally skilled and fast player who skate rings around his opposition, even if it's his goon teammates who cover his flanks as he breaks for the goal. If a character is Canadian, this hobby tells you nothing, because most Canadians love hockey.
- Basketball: This is usually reserved for the inner cities or colleges. If a white guy plays on the playground, that's a sign that he has connected with the poor but talented ballers that live around the playground. But remember, White Men Can't Jump.
Combat Sports / Martial Arts
While practically everyone in a pre-modernity setting will be expected to be masters of at least one form of martial art, in the modern world fighting is viewed as a semi-barbaric pastime, crude and denotative of a violent personality. Combative hobbies are often used to exhibit the character's inner fire, and symbolic of their fighting spirit, whether they be a business executive or a schoolgirl. A fighting hobby indicates a self-sufficient or independent personality. If a fist-oriented sport, will always be shown as a way to relieve stress.
- Fencing: Symbolic of Europe and the aristocracy, which has its roots in the rapier being a "gentleman's weapon" in the olden days. The bourgeois, conceited rich man will often be seen fencing in his spare time, sometimes killing his opponents if he is being set up to be particularly evil. Fencing is also used as a measure of intelligence - no dumb character wins a fencing match. If sympathetic and female, the fencer will usually be a Lady of War if she's an Action Girl or a Upper Class Wit if not. The Socialite, Non-Idle Rich, Blue Blood, or Royals Who Actually Do Something might fence. If from the working or middle classes, only pretentious college students at Strawman U or plucky protagonists challenging the Old Boys Network would fence.
- The style of fencing also indicates the personality and relationship of the practitioners. Of the three types of fencing, foil is the most often displayed; it's governed by a complicated right of way system that is often set in parallel to a witty debate ("Lunge! Parry, riposte!") Epee rules, on the other hand, has no right of way, so that it is as important to avoid one's opponent's blade as it is to be the first to strike. Sabre, which allows for whipping blows with the side of the blade, is the most brutal. Your miliage may vary as many sabre fencers will be quick to point out how only the top half of the body is the target area, the requirements of priority, and how consistent speed in all three weapons requires sacrificing raw power. An out of hand match that ranges all over the stage will also show whether or not a character is resourceful or how equally matched the two combatants are. And foil has a more complicated priority system than the other two and a much smaller target area, requiring small accurate movements. Epee frequently requires high precision as well; the ability to hit anywhere means the opponent can do the same, and an exposed wrist may as well be a point ceded to a skilled opponent. All in all, foil most closely mimics the logic of a duel, saber is quite aggressive, and epeeists tend to use unorthodox, sneaky attacks at any exposed part of the body.
- Kendo has its own extensive signifiers, including five stances that indicate the level of aggression in the practitioner. Whether a character consistently chooses one will show their strong-headedness, while a wise character may choose a posture appropriate to the situation.
- The rapier's status as a "gentleman's weapon" is a definite case of Hollywood History; in the early Renaissance, the rapier used to be the weapon of highwaymen, street-side duelists, muggers, and murderers. Fencing masters were seen as criminals. Fencing academies were outlawed by the British as a source of great violence as these were the province of no-holds-barred fighting using shields, daggers, cloaks, firearms, grappling, and every dirty trick they could dream of. Eventually, the aristocracy took to dueling and the image of the swordsman was cleaned up, but before then, calling someone a good fencer was a grave insult - like calling someone a good cocaine mule. Media don't portray it that way in period pieces as a Necessary Weasel; accurate portrayals of the complex and brutal swordsmanship of that era and the dangerous, gang-like life of these men would seem like a Deconstruction to audiences raised on much more romantic depictions.
- Boxing: Reminiscent of the mid-twentieth century, when Muhammad Ali was a national hero and watching two men beat each other to a pulp was the single joy of the middle class. A present-day character who boxes in his spare time will be a down-to-Earth man with a backbone of steel, one who never gives up. Will frequently be seen hitting the bag to relieve stress. Very occasionally presented as a pasttime for the manly upperclass type, such as in English tales of boarding schools. One real life example is Brian Blessed and the Dalai Lama of all people.
- Judo: Largely a pastime of female characters, since most writers don't know that this was also a favorite hobby of the Nazis. Women's judo classes are used to show that while a woman may not be an Action Girl, she certainly has the potential for it. Often, a male protagonist will challenge her to a fight, which will end with the girl flipping the man onto the ground. Practicing Judo is often accidental foreshadowing that the character will be needing a miraculous escape from physically threatening events in the near future.
- Brawling Not boxing but rather any street fighting club where there is one rule: "Anything goes". Usually a past time for ruffians and hoodlums, the fights are merciless fights to the point of exhaustion or death and is often are seen as resourceful yet pessimistic, forced to partake in such bloodsports as a means to express their distaste for the world and the only that soothes them is a schoolyard brawl.
- Other Martial Arts: People who are training in these can be one of two types. Villains are learning to bully others with a teacher who sneers at mercy. Heroes on the other hand are shown doing are usually honestly learning to acquire discipline at the instruction of a good sensei who ideally wants them to be Martial Pacifists, ever hoping to avoid violence but ready to kick butt with the best if necessary.
There's an unfortunate assumption in the media that if you weren't able to make your artistic hobby into a career, it's because you simply weren't good enough. Most of the hobbies listed below have a "thwarted artiste" element to them. The fact that some people simply want to keep their hobby as a beloved pastime rather than a stress-inducing job is usually overlooked. Even if it isn't, being "artistic" is synonymous with being an impractical dreamer. Children, however, can draw or write to their heart's content: they're allowed to dream, and it's often implied that this talent will eventually become their job. Arts are usually split evenly between men and women, although they're probably more "acceptable" hobbies for women (since most of the men who undertake them will get paid to do so...)
- Drawing/Painting: The pastime of true dreamers, passionate and perceptive. Girls will be genteel and soft spoken, losing themselves in the worlds they create with their paintbrush. Guys get a rougher deal -- they're grandiose and melodramatic, thinking of themselves as the next Monet/Picasso/Van Gogh despite a probably glaring lack of actual artistic ability. Modern or post-modern art can provide a punchline in itself ("Er...what is it???) Then there's the "tortured artist" - gothic, self-obsessed and nihilistic, expect a woe-is-me tirade at least Once an Episode. Other artists may paint possessed by their emotions, showing a sensitive and easily overwhelmed personality.
- Cartooning: Amateur cartoonists in fiction are usually male and tend to have an active sense of humor. They're often a Cool Loser or The Slacker. Most of their characters are probably thinly veiled caricatures of their friends. They are even more likely than other artists to get lost in their fictional worlds, to the extent of hallucinating that their characters are in the room talking to them.
- Music: If you play an instrument, or sing, and aren't part of your local philharmonic orchestra...chances are that you suck at your chosen instrument. Neighbours will plug their ears, dogs will howl, cats will wonder who's calling for help, but the musician will be deaf to any and all criticism. Self-absorbed, and totally convinced of their own musical prowess, fictional entities who count music among their hobbies are pretentious and haughty. Instruments that nearly always sound terrible when you first learn to play them (such as the violin or the clarinet) are popular for comedy. The one exception seems to be the piano, which nearly always denotes a secret virtuoso talent and is rarely heard being played badly. However, if the musician is skilled yet doesn't play for crowds there may be chances they may be a Broken Bird or something keeping them from bringing it out to others to enjoy. On the other hand, though, if you play the drums, the electric guitar or the electric bass, you automatically become a magnificently awesome wielder of The Power of Rock.
- The kind of music that you listen to will also often signify something. Listening to classical music or opera will mark you out as an intellectual and/or a snob, cooler intellectuals will listen to jazz and blues. Rock will usually denote you a rebel, while liking modern pop is often the preserve of the popular teenager. Listening to country is almost unheard of, and most assuredly makes you a redneck from the Deep South. People who do not listen to music don't exist.
- Writing: Much like drawing and painting, denotes a dreamer. However, since writing "overlaps" into the intellectual as well as the artistic, characters will be more able to voice their thoughts and speak up, so they're less introverted. Often showcases a wry sense of humour and an ability to observe and analyse people. One of the most positively portrayed hobbies...after all, guess what kind of person is creating the story..?
- Different story (sorry, awful pun...) if they like to write poetry however. If it's not Emo Teen angst, it's an insult to the English language, full of bad rhyming schemes, malapropisms and no sense of metre. The wannabe poet is more akin to the wannabe musician than their storytelling counterpart, and a good poet is a rare creature indeed. When one is found, though, they have many of the same traits as a female painter.
- Songwriting is another matter as a fusion of writing and music. If the character is a dedicated songwriter as opposed to a performer, it means the person is a really creative quiet type, even if he has to be content writing advertising jingles. Furthermore, this profession means you can easily have him begin a musical number as he tests out his compositions by singing and playing them and usually displays so much talent that you wonder why he is not a performer himself. Of course, that move can be a plot too as the songwriter follows the example of Carole King and Neil Diamond as he decides to try to make the jump.
- Theatre: Five major categories are found here.
- The Acting Snob: Practices the Stanislavski method. Is often neurotic, and may randomly jump in and out of character. Is generally not into the fame game. Uses words like 'motivation' and 'objective'. Detests anyone not considered "a true actor." Can be just as snobbish as the Broadway Diva or the Movie Star. Prone to thinking he/she is the greatest thing since Meryl Streep. Often form their own group-within-a-group in theater circles.
- The High School Techie: Is usually stoned out of his/her mind, with several piercings and brightly dyed hair. Often wears black clothes even when not actually teching. Likes explosions and stage fog. Opposite type may be the over worked, under appreciated Type A grunt.
- The Broadway Diva: Does musical theatre. Can sing and dance with the best of them. Is either the Alpha Bitch or Spoiled Sweet. Generally cannot act to save his/her life, or gets locked into one particular character type. If male, is virtually always gay.
- The Movie Star: The Rich Bitch All Grown Up. Steals all the best roles, but has very little actual talent. Cares more about this hour's fashion statement than learning her lines. Dislikes looking anything but flawless while onstage. If a main character, usually gets her comeuppance in the end, unless the movie is Notting Hill.
- Accidental Ingenue: Stumbles into auditions and blasts the director away with their raw and unharnessed, unpredicted talent. Gets the lead. Because of their lack of previous experience, usually modest and earnest worker, but with a hobby that will become a conflict.
Puzzlers, gamers, tech-heads...call them what you will, people who undertake these hobbies like to think. Like the artists, they're normally pretty introverted, but they're happy to brag about their I.Q. if asked. Their physique suffers for their sedentary nature though, and these folk aren't usually physically strong. Some may even be adverse to daylight/going outside, although they usually have a support group in the form of their chosen subculture.
- Chess: Quite simply, Smart People Play Chess. Patient, brainy, enigmatic...boring as heck. The chess player has a lot of mental prowess, but a limited social circle and little knowledge of the "real world". Speaks slowly and thoughtfully, and can be a master tactician, if called upon. Maybe that's why some of them toughen up, graduate to supervillainy and become very formidable foes indeed.... In eastern works, this may be replaced with [Go]
- Then there's the street chess players, usually elderly or very young. May play outdoors at the park or for cash. These will be the beat the odds types, smart yet kept down a lack of societal mobility or a refusal to compromise. Often told they could make something of themselves.
- Computer Games: Most kids will have a nodding acquaintance with the Playstation/Wii/Xbox etc. but some have become masters of the console. Obsessive, anti-social and caught up in a world that doesn't really exist, there will almost certainly be a plot about convincing them to join the real world. That goes double if they're a PC gamer, and triple if they're into online roleplaying games. Then they're liable to forget their real name, and become totally convinced that they are Zaxxathor, Devourer Of Baby Unicorns.
- Game Programming: As above, but even more geeky and introverted (if that's possible).
- Crossword puzzles: Like chess and reading, this is generally a quiet, solitary affair. Given the differences between crosswords in the United States and Great Britian, the reflection on the character depends on where the work occurs. See Crossword Puzzle for details.
- Reading: Since it's more passive than writing, and not "creative" as such, it falls into the intellectual category. Readers are quiet and don't like being disturbed; you'll find them in the library hissing "Sssshhh!" as The Hero and his Five-Man Band do battle with the monster that just jumped out of that scary looking book. Often an intellectual snob, shown reading books far above his/her peers' ability level. A prerequisite hobby for the TV Genius, unless he's solely a mathematical type. Children caught reading generally have a high level of imagination, and depending on how surreal the show is, the characters may end up interacting with the worlds from the child's books.
- Or, on the other hand, she (and it's almost always she) will be a Cute Bookworm who is too shy to make many friends and so escapes into the world of fantasy with her books. Expect an aesop about opening up and living in the real world, though she is likely to be portrayed very sympathetically the whole way.
- Tabletop roleplaying: a character with this hobby will always be a Nerd and/or Geek, usually a very stereotypical one.
- Tabletop wargamers and historical reenactors: will be just like the role-player, except he's borrowed someone far cooler's fatigues and doesn't really Dare to Be Badass, or worse, is an old ex-troop obsessed with their glory days.
Some people just defy categorization...
- Collecting: Oh dear. In media-land, collecting is creepy. It shows obsessiveness and single mindedness, possibly also rabid passion when some sought-after trinket appears on Ebay. Much depends on what exactly is being collected: stamp collectors are boring, train spotters are boring and slightly scary, ceramic pigs are quirky and silly and weapons...well, let's just say "Uh-oh" and leave it at that. Sports memorabilia, however, is acceptable and healthy, as are film/celebrity collections as long as they fall below the "scary stalker" line. Dolls of any kind equals serial killer.
- Fortune Telling: Fictional people don't have "a passing interest" in the tarot. They don't just draw the line at knowing their star sign. They are completely obsessed with the notion of "luck" and the movement of the planets, and won't get out of bed unless Jupiter says it's all right. Don't expect them to be otherwise sane and rational -- they're almost invariably the Cloudcuckoolander crossed with The Ditz. Unless, of course, they're the cynical Con Man (or woman), fooling gullible punters out of their cash. Fantasy tales, however, are more forgiving, and Anime and Manga tend to show fortune telling in a positive light, with mild "dreamer" overtones.
- Crafting: will usually indicate someone down-to-earth. A jewelry maker will be female and extravagant. A woodworker will be male and make simple toys for children. In some cases, moreso with bad characters, expect the crafter to give handmade gifts to friends who then have to pretend the item is the greatest gift ever. Crafters tend not to be quite as creative as other artists, preferring to stay simple and neat.
- Improving Physical Appearance: Theoretically this can be as valid a hobby as any. However most who indulge in this are presented as foolish and vain; The Dandy if male, or a Brainless Beauty if female. Sometimes it is allowed as a minor eccentricity to an upper-class hero or heroine, perhaps to make a statement. Interestingly, it is seldom presented as a hobby in itself for some reason or another.