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August 11, 2008

Scrappy Doo Syndrome

I think it's usually called "Cousin Oliver Syndrome," after the kid they tried to bring in to save The Brady Bunch. But I'm talking about a very slightly different syndrome here: not the cute kid they bring in to young-up the aging cast, but rather the subgroup of Cousin Olivers who intrude annoyingly into every plot by being stupid and aggressive, and putting themselves and everyone else into danger.

Like Scrappy Doo.

I just identified this one recently in the third installment of "The Mummy" movie franchise (with Brendan Fraser) in which they introduce a now-adult son, Alex, who looks about five years younger than his dad, and is bratty and aggressive without intelligence, charm, or any other sort of stature a fictional character requires to become sympathetic. Because he's now an adult, he gets to share all the ass-kicking with his parents, plus acquires all of the romance part. But he's an annoying Scrappy Doo who distracts and detracts from the characters we're really interested in and adds nothing.

Another recent Scrappy Doo is the Iskierka character in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, a fire-breathing young dragon utterly without charm who puts everyone in danger because of her thoughtless bloodthirstiness and greed. She was introduced at the end of the third book and has been a drag on the series ever since. (Naturally, she comes in at a point when Temeraire begins to lose the sweetness of innocence and is ready to assert himself as an equal partner in his relationship with Laurence. She's there to make sure we still have our young-dragon hit.)  Novik manages to balance her personality among a number of others, but there's no pleasure in reading about her for me.

This is the same problem with Dawn Summers in the Buffy series. No teenager is really that annoying. She was an adult's idea of a teenager in a show that was about the teenager's idea of a teenager: she was a whiny, stupid teenager incapable of learning lessons, and affecting everyone adversely with her years-long acting out, in a show in which all the other characters had started out as kickass, mature, responsible, knowledgeable, sophisticated, and witty teenagers. Dawn was a box of rocks who, despite being raised by an older sister who fought demons for a living, could never learn not to go wandering off by herself at night. I guess that's supposed to be humorous. You know: irony.

The thing is, the pleasure of young characters--children or teenagers--in a book, or film, or TV show for adult audiences, lies in watching them learn and grow and make choices. The milestones for youth are very clear to adults, and there's a great satisfaction in watching youthful characters pass these. But part of the satisfaction is in watching them pay for their mistakes, or exchange some of the innocence of youth for the sadder wisdom of experience.

Youthful characters who never grow or grow up are inserted into series and franchises as permanent cute vendors. Somehow they are expected to bring the youth-freshness ingredient to the bake-off over and over again because Hollywood seems to think that a character merely embodying the most obvious characteristics of youth (cuteness and whininess) will automatically charm us or call forth our tenderness. They also seem to think that a permanent state of youthful idiocy is funny. But Hollywood thinks a lot of things that aren't so. Hollywood never seems to learn that the youth-freshness ingredient is a combo of a cute face and a satisfying bildungs-arc.

(At least with Novik we can be sure that Iskierka will grow up. I hope it happens soon, though.)

What are your most hated Scrappy Doo characters? (Plus, check out this article on TV's most hated characters, and this one on seven signs your TV show has jumped it.)

Cross-posted on EnterBrainment.

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Comments

Great post. I hate anytime a series (movie/film) introduces a child into the mix. You know it's eventually going to ruin it.
The latest Superman movie? Ruined because of that little kid. I actually liked the film...but if they dont do a total re-imagining of the series where will they go now with the kid?
The kid is the new girlfriend. Meaning, you know at some point he's going to end up in peril and the hero is going to have to save him. Then, the hero is going to get in some sort of trouble...then the child is going to rescue the hero.

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