I’ve started thinking about male characters. Sort of.
I’ve been thinking about how some characters—ones who are almost archetypes—get distorted once they reach the pop culture canon. Right now the ones I’m thinking of are Sherlock Holmes and Captain Kirk.
Sherlock started as a guy with an incredible mind who didn’t know how to person very well but still cared very deeply about the disadvantaged and unprotected elements of society. He’s become a selfish manchild. There are variations of him—RDJ’s thrill seeker, House’s misanthrope, BC’s self-described sociopath—but it has no basis in the original. So why did we decide this was better? Why did we decide that a genius is above the rules of polite social interaction? What purpose does it serve?
Something similar has happened with Jim Kirk. I mean, watch the original show if you disagree. He’s intensely loyal, a creative thinker, a bright guy. He literally picks flowers on more than one planet. He’s read Milton. There’s basically no quicker way to anger him than to treat one of the women in his crew as second-class. He’s willing to show mercy to an opponent he’s defeated. But what’s his reputation in pop culture? A womanizer—which is just a different kind of selfish manchild.
I’m not saying that good stories can’t be told with these archetypes. I’m just saying that they don’t really resemble the original. Copy after copy gets less and less nuanced, till the original is completely foreign to these new versions even when they bear the same name.
And they’ve become so prevalent that there’s nothing interesting left in them.