Why the biggest lesson Gravity Falls teaches is not to compare yourself to others
The first thing we’re introduced to in ‘A Tale of Two Stans’ is something we’ve been theorizing for ages; that they were, in every sense, the Dipper and Mabel of their time. We fell in love with the idea that history repeats itself, and that the Pines family saw themselves in one another. And they do.
Make no bones about it, the similarities are there for a reason. We see them, and so do the characters. But comparing people is what put them through so much, when you think about it.
Stan always felt inferior to Ford; and Ford, in turn, felt superior mentally. They both felt that they would be together forever, because Stan couldn’t live without him. Ford probably felt like a hero, taking on the duty of caring for his younger sibling; and Stan has admitted he didn’t know where to go next without his brother.
He never once thought he could find a job near the college Ford wanted to go.
He never once considered he may be able to get into a school nearby, if he worked hard enough.
Because, to Stan, there was nothing he could do that would be as close to amazing as Ford. And people like Ford were the ones who went places.
In fact, his whole family thought that way. Never forget that his father already had Stan’s bags packed for him. Even if he hadn’t accidentally destroyed the project, he would’ve been out of there days after Ford left, because he wasn’t worth keeping.
Even at the beginning of the summer, the twins are comparing themselves to Stan.
Stan and Mabel are the emotive twin. Mabel may prefer expressing herself with art rather than crime, but, in essence, they’re the same. And she realizes that. It keeps her up at night later on in the series.
Dipper, however, sees the person he wants to be in Stan.
Not a criminal, nor a con-man, but a strong male figure who loves his family fiercely. Someone people depend on, even if he’s just as likely to blow it as he is to keep his promise.
That isn’t, however, what Stan wants for Dipper.
“You see it? That why I’m hard on Dipper. To toughen him up. So when the world fights, he fights back.”
He pushes Dipper, not so he’ll be like him, but so he’ll be strong enough to take on life and the people who try to hold him back. He wants to help him succeed.
They also compare each other.
Mabel feels stupid compared to her brother, the mini-genius who has his life planned out ahead of him.
And Dipper feels awkward and foolish socially compared to his sister.
But, as time goes on, they realize how silly they’re being, Dipper and Mabel.
They become stronger people.
Not so much these two. Not at first.
And let me be clear; Dip and Mabel stopped comparing each other, but they starts comparing themselves to the Stans.
Mabel, the more carefree of the two, fears this the moment Ford comes out of the portal. She listened to the story. She knows how they ended up.
She sees him slip through her fingers with ease, and it never dawns on her that she could just ask to stay with him. She’s too busy comparing- Ford wants someone smart, someone good with fancy long words, someone who’s not her- that she never thinks to ask.
Dipper isn’t above the same offense. He feels accepted with Ford; and unlike Stan, who is someone Dipper want to be, in a sense, Ford is the person Dipper looks up to. Sure, he wants to be strong, but he’d kill to be half the hero Ford is in his mind.
Dipper listened to Stan and Ford’s story too, but, judging by the actual narrative compared to what really happened, it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea; splitting up.
He could grow into the person Ford is. Be the guy he’s always wanted to be. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Stan was successful, living the life he always wanted; running from the cops, scamming folks, never paying taxes, etc.
…Mabel will be fine. Stan was.
(Way)too long, didn’t read; It was only when the Pines family accepted their own strengths and looked past what they thought they should be that they became happy.
I rewatched the episode “boss Mabel” where Stan goes to a game show. I Always thought that with all that interdimensional satellite TV shit, Rick would have watched the show. Luckily he didn’t watch the end of it.
This was a fucking pain in the ass to draw and to paint. I swear I’m gonna learn how to use a tablet or i’m gonna loose my hand, for sure.
Also, if I misspelled something, let me know. English is not my first language.
do you think Mabel and Dipper fit the messiah/machiavel trope? cuz I do, and it makes me cry
Okay, I’ve never heard of this trope before so I had to do a bit of research. What I’ve gathered is that the trope is a type of teamwork, usually in the political sense: the shining charismatic leader and the vicious, cunning enforcer who supports the leader and/or their cause. The Messiah is the light and the Machieval is the shadow behind that light. The Messiah usually adheres to morality (like Jesus whom the term originates from); the Machieval favors expediency over morality (like Machiavelli whom the term originates from). Which all does sound like the kind of dynamic Dipper and Mabel have. Outside of the dynamic, I’d even say the individual titles, Machieval and Messiah, fit their characters too.
The Messiah in a narrative context is usually “the visionary, the leader, the savior, the person who may be literally god touched, or just god touched in the sense of the charisma, depth, and power of their vision or capacity to lead/embody that movement.”
Mabel is a natural born leader, there’s no doubt. Its easy for her to reach out and connect with others on an emotional level, and even inspire others to change for the better. She’s incredibly charismatic and charming, and her power even at 12 years old is enough to attract the attention of Gravity Falls’ villains, the gnomes and Gideon, who are insistent on making her their Queen. Seemingly effortlessly she can inspire others to help make her visions (trying out her idealistic version of management running the Mystery Shack, creating and constructing an entire sock opera in a week, etc.) a reality. All qualities of a good leader.
But a Messiah is more than a leader; they’re a savior. Mabel is also capable of seeing the good in others and offering forgiveness even if there’s no real evidence of this being true. She deems Pacifica and Robbie worthy of redemption. In NWHS she looks into Stan’s eyes, the windows to his soul, and judges him to be a good person worthy of being trusted and forgiven, despite all the bad things he’s done. After hearing Ford’s story in AToTS, Mabel basically instantly forgives the man and starts seeing him as another Grunkle she loves dearly, and wants nothing more than for Stan and Ford to forgive each other as she has forgiven them. When Dipper wants to rush into adulthood and becomes blinded by the supernatural, Mabel keeps him a child and reminds him of what’s truly important.
And like a Messiah, Mabel strives to be a good person. Yes, she’s flawed because she’s human. She can be aggressive and self-centered and impulsive. She can be blinded by her infatuations. She avoids emotional confrontation and would prefer to live in optimistic denial when she’s scared and life gets hard. But Mabel wants and tries to be a good, kind person. She goes out of her way to compliment others or brighten their days. She tries to do the right thing in any given situation, often playing morality police to Stan and Dipper. And when she’s wrong, she usually acknowledges that and apologizes. Mabel truly genuinely cares about other people and doing the right thing, and that’s more than most people can say.
Symbolically, Mabel takes on a Messiah-esque pose when she lets go of the button and essentially allows the universe to decide her, and everyone else’s, fates. In Weirdmaggadon she is literally seen as an icon of hope, inspiration, and guidance for Dipper and Gideon, and possibly Wendy and Soos as well. Her being alive and representing doing good, striving to be a good person despite her flaws, and having the ability to defeat Bill on her own (who is basically the “Devil” in this story) is what motivates them all to help find her and save her during the apocalypse and thus save the universe. So, yes, I think we can all agree that Mabel fits the Messiah trope quite well.
The Machiavel is a “term given to people who function in pragmatic, vicious, cunning ways. This is the person who holds the knife to the throat or the guns under the table. The one who blackmails, bribes, and does all the things that should never have to be done but must be done for the things they love.”
Dipper is not at all afraid to get his hands dirty to get what he wants and usually won’t hesitate to do what (he feels) must be done in a situation, even if that’s an immoral action. He’s a guile hero, ambitious, relying mostly on his wits, cunning and pragmatic with a grayscale sense of justice, all qualities that are very Machiavellian in nature. There are many, many examples of Dipper favoring expediency over morality shown in canon.
Like in Fight Fighters (lying and cheating to win a fight), Boss Mabel (ripping people off for money), The Golf War (cheating and sabotaging his sister’s competitor by manipulating others into doing what he wants) Sock Opera (making a literal deal with a demon to get what he wants), Society of the Blind Eye (using a memory erasing gun to erase the society member’s memories to prevent them from erasing anyone in town’s memories again, essentially committing the action he’s condemning the society for), A Tale of Two Stans (coming up with the idea to use the same gun on gov agents despite knowing the potential consequences the memory erasure could have on the agents’ sanities), the Stanchurian Candidate (mind-controlling his great uncle for political reasons, an action that’s literally compared to that of a villain in the show), etc.
In Headhunters, Mabel remarks that Dipper is her sidekick, and this is sort of true. Dipper usually plays more of the supporter/enforcer role than the visionary like Mabel, which is an interesting perspective for a main protagonist and narrator of a story to have. Mabel generally has the ideas, and Dipper generally helps make them happen. He’s usually the one that constructs a plan to make sure Mabel’s idea is a success in situations where they work together like that. He’s strategizing and cheering her on behind-the-scenes when she’s up front in the spotlight working her magic. And he’s planning to tear down anyone who gets in their way. The episode I believe that embodies this dynamic best is Golf War.
Mabel wants to beat Pacifica at golf. Dipper supports Mabel and her goal. He decides manipulating the lilliputtins and cheating is the best course of action for Mabel to win the match. Mabel disagrees at first, trying to play morality police to Dipper, pointing out cheating is wrong, but Dipper convinces her to trust him against her better judgment. They go through with his plan. It backfires. Mabel says that rivalries are stupid and offers Pacifica friendship, and so forgiveness. Dipper does not apologize to anyone, nor acknowledges that what he did was wrong. Throughout this whole episode, you have Mabel as the leader, the public figure, the one playing the match, and later the savior as she deems Pacifica worthy of forgiveness, and Dipper as the enforcer, the planner, the one standing off to the side, the one ensuring Mabel wins and doing whatever he feels is necessary to achieve that. The Messiah and the Machiavel.
And in fact, their physical positions on the castle emphasize this dynamic as well. Mabel is in the center like the King (or Queen), addressing the lilliputtins after being told Dipper’s plan, and Dipper is standing a little behind and beside her, closer to where the knight’s stationed (even borrowing the knight’s trumpet to garner everyone’s attention to Mabel).
Dipper and Mabel balance each other out, which I’m not sure is something that plays into the Messiah/Machiavel trope exactly, but is a large part of the twins’ dynamic. Mabel lets Dipper know when he’s taking things too far, and Dipper lets Mabel know when niceness isn’t gonna cut it, when someone doesn’t deserve her kindness. That’s not to say that the two are flat out opposites, however. The Messiah, like I said earlier, is still human. They have moments of selfishness and cruelty as Mabel does. And likewise, the Machiavel has moments of selflessness and kindness as Dipper does. Neither is one extreme or the other. Mabel may have a bigger heart than Dipper, but that doesn’t mean Dipper doesn’t have a heart at all. He does. He’s just more cynical and pragmatic (and arguably angrier) than Mabel is.
Nor is it true that Mabel is always in the light and Dipper is always in the shadows. Generally you see them more in this way, but Mabel is capable of stepping back and happily supporting Dipper when he has an idea too or wants to take the lead, which is part of what makes them a good team. Mabel isn’t as ruthless as Dipper and Dipper isn’t as big-hearted as Mabel, so they can’t take on each other’s tropes in a reverse dynamic where Dipper is the leader and Mabel the supporter. But they’re both human, and they both try to help each other make the best choices.
So, yeah, I guess Mabel and Dipper fit the Messiah/Machiavel trope for the most part. This wicked fanart from Boss Mabel really shows that kind of dynamic between them too, with Mabel in the boss chair (the throne of sorts) and Dipper standing a little behind and beside her again like a bodyguard or second in command, whispering in her ear.