Matthew Branch is giving up on finding worthy role models on Television — here’s what he has to choose from.
I am a cinephile. I especially love the art of character creation. A perfectly constructed character thrives in our cultural narrative with as much life as a real person. Sometimes more. Everyone can easily rattle off their favorite characters from film and television. Unfortunately, shaping a character is a difficult process, and one which has led to a watering down of the human condition as it is represented on TV.
Of paramount importance in creating a character, is making him relatable. As a man, I look to male characters in search of shared interests, motivations, emotions, and struggles. To that end, I often give up in frustration.
There are only nine men on the television any more, and none of them are men I aspire to emulate.
Of all male characters portrayed in film, this one needs the least introduction. He is the broken shell of a man, the bad guy we all love to hate. The Villain is most often the embodiment of a singular evil motivation we, as viewers, can all collectively agree is, well, bad. Greed, envy, power, and chaos are the most common incentives for The Villain. He is simply an antagonist – a placeholder for evil, who shares no semblance to any men we know in real life, and who will most certainly die in the end.
This is the bad guy we all know. He is loud and mean and emotionally compromised. He’s the one who kicks the stray dogs in your neighborhood and doesn’t understand that merging on the freeway should operate like a zipper – one car after another. He curses too much, wears asshole clothes, and drives an asshole car. In film and TV he is the boss, the school bully, the angry ex-boyfriend, or the cheating husband. He takes many forms, but his underlying purpose is the same; he is the guy we all want to punch in the face in real life, but never do. Sometimes he wins, but only the small victories.
The Weasel is a special breed of man who we almost hate as much as The Asshole. The Weasel is the underling of The Villain or The Asshole. He is a bottom feeder, who hasn’t the power, character, or strength to foster his own success and happiness. Satisfied to serve someone mightier than himself, he slinks through life. He has a slimy personality and depends on manipulation. He is willing to say and do anything to win over the approval of whoever has power over him in the moment.
The bad-boy trope is legendary. The good at heart, but tough-skinned guy who can’t get his life together wins women’s hearts but inevitably fails under the weight of his own character flaws and lack of emotional depth. He was hurt so the world must hurt. Women want to fix him. Men want his stoicism, reputation, and motorcycle, but that is about it.
The Oaf is a lovable idiot. He is quickly becoming one of the most common male television personalities. He is the father on so many sitcoms, the doofus in the background of infomercials who can’t operate a roll of paper towels. He serves little more purpose than comic relief and to give viewers a masculine object to simultaneously like and feel sorry for. The Oaf has a fairly good life but his looks, laziness, clumsiness, or lack of intelligence holds him back from reaching his aspirations.
The man we love to see win, but rarely seems to do so under his own power. The Underdog has little confidence and less self-advocacy. His ascent to greatness requires a catalyst beyond his control, and constant external motivation. While he usually prevails, often with the assistance of The Best Friend, he simply can’t do so on his own.
The Pretty Boy:
Simply put, The Pretty Boy is eye-candy. His only purpose is to look good in comparison to the other men on screen. Rarely is he attributed anything other than a rocking body. He plays the small but critical role of reminding all men that no matter what you do, there is a better looking guy out there who can steal your girl with a smile and eighteen-pack abs.
The Best Friend:
This is the only male character with the integrity and moral aptitude we feel good about relating to. But the most defining characteristic of the best friend is that he is a supporting character. He is the one who makes the ultimate sacrifice. He consistently puts others before himself. While his exceptional loyalty and kindness often benefit everyone around him, he can’t seem to make center stage. He is a walking reminder that nice guys finish last.
The Action Hero:
Kicking ass and taking names in the service of justice, love, and America. The Action Hero has the uncanny ability to take multiple hits and keep on swinging. He doesn’t cry and only bleeds when he wants to. We root for him because he is extraordinarily good at everything he does, not because he is necessarily a good person. His inter and intra-personal skills are in absolute shambles, but it is always okay, because he doesn’t need help.