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My most hated fictional protagonists
The vast majority of time, whenever we read a book or watch a movie or TV show, we sympathize with, if we don't actually like, the protagonist. This is because the writer controls our exposure to the character and can present the character in a sympathetic way, even when the character has attributes we don't like.
Some other stories deliberately make the protagonist unlikable or unsympathizable. But again, the writer is controlling our perspective, only now they're presenting the character in an unsympathetic way.
But once in awhile, a storywriter will intend to write a sympathetic protagonist, but fail. That's what this post is about. This post is a list of fictional sympathetic protagonists I hated and actively rooted against.
Toru Okada, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles
Toru Okada, from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, is my fourth most hated protoagonist. Actually hate might be a strong word, and I suppose my hatred mostly isn't actually personal against Toru. It's mostly that I didn't want Toru to ever come into contact with anyone. Toru was basically a bum who had a house thanks to family, and was as ineffective and useless a main character as I've ever seen. But somehow, in the rare times he ever did anything, everyone he came into contact with ended up with major psychological trouble, at least until some shady people recognized his "talent" and exploited it.
Toru, by virtue of being the one of the most ineffective and useless people ever written down, was the one who deserved the psychological trauma he was causing others. Not that the other characters were any good—in fact, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles is probably the only book I've ever read where I didn't like a single major character (note: until Wheel of Time)—but they were at least doing something.
Jack Tripper, Three's Company
Jack Tripper and the Three's Company gang basically exhibit what I like to call sitcom-think. Basically it means that as soon as you suspect someone might disapprove of something you did, you go to ridiculous extremes to prevent that person from finding out, and oftentimes the scheme is obviously not something that can be sustained. To a certain extent this kind of thinking to drive half-hour sitcom plots so a lot of sitcom characters have it, but Jack Tripper takes it to an unbearable extreme, and he never learns anything, ever.
There are other sitcoms where people never learn anything (Seinfeld is a classic example) but in those, the character is at least somewhat high-functioning in their default state. Jack Tripper is the kind of character whose whole reason for existing is to learn a lesson. In other works, that's the sole reason this kind of character would be a protagonist, and you can never feel a catharsis until that character learns their lesson.
But we never have a catharsis in Three's Company because Jack never learns, in fact he never even faces any seriously negative consequences at all.
I realized how bad I hated Jack Tripper when I was watching Three's Company once, and realized that I was actively, from the bottom of my heart, rooting for the thug Jack was trying to avoid. I'm not just saying that to be edgy or to exaggerate: I really, from the bottom of my heart, wanted the thug to beat up Jack Tripper.
Aron Trask, East of Eden
I am not sure whether John Steinbeck actually wanted us to like Aron Trask, per se, but we definitely were supposed to symathize. I didn't. In fact, I think one of the most delightful things I ever read was the scene were Abra burned all his old love letters.
I hate to say it, but Aron represents (to an extreme extent) some of the faults I see in myself, so maybe I'm being unfair. (I should mention that I am talking about the Aron from the novel; in the movie a lot of the subtext on Aron came to the surface, giving him more of an edge which actually made him less nauseating.) Aron is the prototypical fragile pretty-boy. As a youth Aron was shielded from reality, by virtue of being the favorite by everyone on accont of being so pretty and sweet. As a result he became one of those people who believes anything can be overcome by the power of love—not just any love, his love specifically—and is genuinely wounded to his very core when reality happens and everyone doesn't share it. And—this is the nauseating part—his reaction to reality is to double down and get even more idealistic and then get even more wounded when his efforts still produced no results.
I can only imagine what his evenings with Abra were like, she being forced to listen as he got more and more crazy and earnest over how powerful their love was and that it could overcome anything.
Nikolai Rostov, War and Peace
My most hated character of all is Nikolai Rostov from War and Peace. I read War and Peace the very boring summer before I headed off to college, and I may have misunderstood Tolstoy's intent. But Tolstoy seemed to intend Nikolai and his sister Natasha (also not one of my favorites) to represent normal average people who were swept up in the events of the Napoleonic Wars, but in fact they were pretty much just the redneck trash on the lower-end of Russian nobility. Honestly, the Rostovs in general could very well have been a reality TV family with all their drama.
You might have noticed a theme in characters I don't like: they tend to be ineffective people who react to difficult circumstances with even more ineffectiveness. Nikolai is no exception: he pretty much sucked at everything he tried. But what made Nikolai truly insufferable was that, not only did he think he was just a great guy in every eay, the other characters did too.
So. Nikolai Rostov, in his actions and thoughts, is probabaly the biggest pussy ever set upon paper, but the author, all the characters in the book, and Nikolai himself, thought that he was this great awesome guy. As a result, everything he did wrong (which was, in fact, everything he did) was forgiven... because he was such a great guy. And we are supposed to feel sorry for this great guy when all this bad stuff happens to him—a good portion of which was his own fault—and oh, by the way, when he backstabs his own cousin, breaking his promise to marry her so he could marry an heiress (who deserved better) so he could get weasel out of the gambling debt he got himself into, we're supposed to think, "Ah, there's a guy who got things done in the end."
I wanted to strangle him right through the page.
I highly suspect Tolstoy intended for the in-universe sympathy for Nikolai to be ironic. I hope so, because other than the Rostovs, War and Peace has a lot of good characters and was a great story. But if it was ironic he played it perfectly straight: maybe until the epilogue where Nikolai's nephew has no respect for him but does respect Pierre and his father Prince Andrei.
Faile, Wheel of Time
Oh God, Faile. It's not much of exaggeration to say I stopped reading Wheel of Time because of her. Even without her, I'm sure I would have stopped at some point because she's just the worst of an entire cast of awful characters who I was starting to see would never get better. But the moment I decided to put the book down forever, it was largely because of Faile, and she made everyone around even more stupid than they already were.
It was Chapter 16 of the fourth book; it was probably the worst thing I had ever read in my entire life, a long argument with her boyfriend who loved her for some reason and was trying to make her hate him so she didn't accompany him into danger. It was ten relentless pages of this awful argument, neither one of them managing to communicate even the tiniest bit of understanding, and she stayed at an intensity level of 11 the whole time.
I did actually finish it, and intened to read on, the but the coup de grâce came right after, when the one remaining main character who hadn't yet done anything stupidly melodramatic (Lan) panicked like a baby when he found out his crush was going to go on a mission, after 3+ books of being nearly completely implacable.
If not for Faile, I probably could have dealt with Lan's melodrama and at least made it to the end of the fourth book. But I didn't read past the end of that chapter.
Tags: hate, literature, protagonists
Last Edited: 7 May 2020, 3:37 PM
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Wheel of Time
So, thanks to this nice little pandemic, I have a little more free than usual, and I thought it would be a good time to take in a long series. So I chose Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. Big mistake.
It actually wasn't bad as far as quarantine fodder goes. Quarantine books don't really need to be good so much as they need to pass time well. Wheel of Time was absorbing, read easily, and wasn't mind-bending or too disturbing. But the characters, my God the characters.
I hated just about every character in the book. My favorite characters are the ones I only disliked.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, is abjectly stupid. Almost always when someone did something smart is when some kind of magic overwhelmed their intentions and they ended up doing the right thing reluctantly and often now knowing how they did it. Furthermore, few of the characters were credible; their personalities were malleable to the needs of the story. The one thing you could trust about the characters is that if their personality changed it was only to make them stupider. It's like Jordan had no idea how to create drama other than for people to fall into ridiculous traps or refuse to believe people who were trying to help.
I pushed through to about a fifth of the way into the fourth book, giving it a chance to get better, but finally I read a chapter so awful I had to stop. Though in truth it had been coming for awhile.
Since I didn't finish, I do wonder about the future books in the series. I lost all interested in finishing (especially given the reputation of the books to drag on as the series progresses) but it's possible, especially once Sanderson took over.
I'm exaggerating a little, but not much. The problem with these books isn't that characters make stupid decisions, it's that they make nothing but stupid decisions. It's the sheer relentlessness of these simpleminded drama devices used over and over again.
It's regrettable, too, because apart from the characters there was a lot of good stuff in these novels. The worldbuilding was fantastic. The different countries and their cultures were interesting. The backstory was very interesting, and the way details of history were revealed, and how it affected the present-day plot, was great. The mythology was terrific; if they hadn't been terrible characters for the most part, the Forsaken would have been great villains just due to their circumstances. I didn't even mind when Jordan went off on long descriptions (they weren't that long).
Even the characters had their moments. I was amused how often Nynaeve (who I disliked and therefore was one of my favorite characters) resolved problems just by punching people, for instance. But all in all, the characters were just so awful I couldn't read on.
Tags: fantasy, hate, literature, wheel_of_time
Last Edited: 7 May 2020, 3:15 PM
I am a mental powerhouse when I'm dreaming
Last night I had a dream, and I don't remember why but at some point in the dream I uttered the word "mathish".
In the dream, it occurred to me that the English suffix "-ish" might be descended from the same root as the Greek suffix "-ικος" (aka, "-ic", a suffix which we borrowed into English and use extensively). In the dream I recalled a linguistic rule that causes k sounds to turn into sh (softening: a k or g sound followed by a vowel where the tounge is forward in the mouth often ends up turning into an s, z, sh, or th). I recalled that in our word mathematician, the "ic" is pronounced "ish", so this process still happens today. And, still in the dream, I wondered if Latin had a similar suffix, and recalled the word amicus ("friend").
When I woke up I looked up the origins of those suffixes and sure enough I was right.
My only mistake was, there was a minor wrinkle I didn't anticipate: "-ish" actually descends from a composition of two suffixes, but one of them was indeed the same one that became "-ic" in Greek.
Tags: dream, english, greek, latin, linguistics
Last Edited: 30 November 2019, 4:09 PM
An issue management system for my life
Some people make schedules. I say, hah. (I also say, that'd be great if I could ever manage to stick to one.)
However, I have something better. Take a look:
That's right, I've installed an issue tracking system for my life. Some of you, my Faithful Readers, might recognize this as a Trac page. (I've blurred out the actual tickets because they're kind of personal.) Now, I organize my life by creating tickets and as I accomplish the tasks, I close them.
The best thing about this is that it leaves the schedule open. The onerous list of stuff I need to do sits there waiting for me, gently guilting me and reminding me, but it does not demand action. I get to it at my own pace. It works for me.
Someone sharp-eyed and good at reading blurred text might notice that I list my anxiety level about the task in ticket's Severity field. (Column two to the right of the blurred one.) That helps keep me grounded and in perspective.
Tags: issue_management, life, tickets, trac
Last Edited: 15 May 2019, 9:01 PM
Yeah, I spent an entire Saturday upgrading this blog to use Python 3. What a great use of my time.... This includes about 5 hours I spent switching the site to use FastCGI as the entry point instead of Passenger, only to switch it right back to Passenger. (Kind of glad I did, actually, as the FastCGI required a delicately tuned set of mod_rewrite rules. However, it can cause an annoying delay when first loading my page because Passenger has to spawn a new interpreter to use Python 3, and to make matters worse my hosting provider kills the interpreter after only a few minutes.)
Anyway, there's (kind of) a reason for it. I have a separate need to host a different web application, which would have required me to set up a new Python environment, so I figured I might as well take care of the blog while I was at it. (I'll cover the new app in a later post for my Faithful Readers.)
Another good thing: I diagnosed an issue where every page load was sending upwards of 50 queries to the MySQL database. Now it sends only a few. That usually makes it faster even if it has to spawn a new Python 3.
Tags: blog, hosting, python, python_3
Last Edited: 14 May 2019, 11:38 PM
Some people who know me may realize that I have an odd diet concerning sugary foods. Basically, for 2/3 of the year I don't eat most sugary foods; for the other third I do. The point of this diet is not to give up sugar, but to eat less of it.
This has worked well for me. I generally stick to it, and as a result I think I've at least halved my sugar consumption. I regard it a permanent part of my life, and have no plans to ever go off it. In this blog post I will shares the intricate details of this diet.
The main rule of the diet is that, for the most part, I can only eat sugary foods in the following months. (These are called the Allowed Months):
I don't officially limit my sugar consumption in any way during Allowed Months. Unofficially I don't really drink sugary beverages any more. (Maybe the odd milkshake, or a craft soda once in awhile. I almost never drink juice.)
All other months (which I call the Limited Months), my consumption of sugary foods is limited. In general, I think of these as sugar-free months, but they're really not. As I said, this is not to prohibit sugary foods but to reduce. In practice, I allow myself certain exceptions.
Here are the exceptions I allow myself during all Limited Months:
In addition to these permanent rules, I usually also give myself a monthly exception. The monthly exception is usually a broad category: "ice cream", "maple syrup" (unlocking pancakes), "12 ounce bottles of craft soda", or something like that. Sometimes, if I feel like I didn't do well during the previous month I won't give myself this exception, but most months I do.
Here's the thing about the monthly exceptions: I won't simply shift all the sugar consumption to that one item. What I try to do is consume the exception at the same rate as I would during an Allowed month, and drop all other sugary foods. (At least that's the theory; I'm sure I end up at the upper range most months.)
And finally, I waive the limits for sugary foods on major holidays.
In spite of the numerous exceptions, I have not stuck to this diet perfectly. I have eaten sugary foods for comfort here and there. I've waived the diet in certain situations (like when travelling). I used to not bother at all when I visited the family, since they always used to leave all kinds of chocolate and candy laying around the house, and at that point it's hopeless. (Though they don't leave chocolate out so much any more, no idea why.)
However, by and large this has been successful. At least for me, the exceptions give me a bit of an outlet and allow me to be strong in the face of temptation most of the time. It's a lot easier to give up something when you know you'll be able to take it up again soon.
I've been doing this in some form since 2011, about eight years now.
When I first started, I was like a statue of stone. I gave up the sweet foods absolutely during Limited Months, did not cheat at all, and gave myself fewer and narrower exceptions. Then, when Allowed Months came, I went crazy. I'd eat as much sugary food as I could, knowing that soon it would be a Limited Month again. I ended up eating more sugary foods than I otherwise would have during Allowed months (although it was certainly still less overall when you averaged it woth the Limited Months).
But as time went on, a very interesting thing has happened. I started adding new exceptions, and also ended up cheating more. But during Allowed Months, I got less and less crazy. Temptation had a smaller and smaller effect on me over time.
Now, I hardly eat more sugar during the Allowed months than I eat during Limited Months, and I eat a lot less sugar in any month. About the only difference now is that I might buy a candy bar while visiting a convenience store during a Allowed month, but won't during a Limited month.
Basically, by sticking to this diet, I gradually learned to moderate.
I have a few tradtions associated with this diet. The first sweet I eat on an Allowed Month is always a King Size Kit-Kat. The last sweet I like to eat before I go back to Limited Months is an ice cream sandwich from Diddy Riese, but I don't do that all the time (especially since I moved away from the Westside). And on holidays I usually limit myself to thematically appropriate sweets, so for Halloween I'll only eat candy, for Thanksgiving, only pie.
Tags: diet, sugar
Last Edited: 25 February 2019, 4:44 AM
My 2016 Ballot
Ok, its 2016, time to reveal my ballot.
The ballot proposititions were actually pretty intelligent this year. Only two of them were retarded (and misleading), and one more was dubious. The rest were actually decent, not that I agreed with all of them, but at least they were well thought out and addressed actual perceived issues.
I didn't pay any attention to any races except for President of the United States (more on that below), so I only voted on the propositions.
My general strategy on propositions to vote no unless I feel like there's a good reason for yes, especially for constitutional amendments (since they can't be overturned by the legislature), and there were a bunch I of them this year where I fell back on them.
There were some measures as well for Los Angeles County and the City of Santa Monica.
Anyway, voters have approved all of the tax increases and bond issues on my ballot, which I think is pretty weak-minded of the electorate. Geez, citizens, I'm not saying all taxes are bad, I voted for a few myself, but push back a little. And don't be duped into thinking the school districts in Santa Monica need to sell bonds to keep classrooms in repair. Come on.
President of the United States
Clinton or Trump, talk about a bad choice. In elections for people, my philosophy is that a person who's got a big advantage in votes will tend to be too secure in their jobs, and so will not be all that afraid of doing shady things. Worse, an official might think they have a "mandate" of some sort, which they argue gives them the freedom to take whatever measures are necessary. This scares me. As such, whenever the outcome of an election is not in doubt, I prefer to use my vote to reduce the margin of victory. No matter who it is, or which party it is, the closer the vote is to 50-50, the better they'll behave.
The presidential election is bit different for two reasons. One, the electoral college. Two, the candidates.
There was no question that Clinton was going to carry California. However, when it comes to behaving, I'd expect the electee to pay attention to national vote counts more than state vote counts, and at national level Clinton only had a few percentage point lead in the polls. In a normal election, based on that small percentage, I would have reverted to my standard practice for elections that are in doubt: to vote for whoever is most likely to defeat the worst candidate.
Unfortunately, that meant Clinton. Trump is probably not going to be the anti-Christ everyone says he's going to be. Proabably. But there is a small chance he is the anti-Christ, and I didn't want to take that risk. So I was hoping--well "hoping" is too strong a word. Let's just say my carefully considered decision was that it was preferrable for Hillary Clinton to win.
But this was not a normal election. Because of the electoral college system, that small percentage lead she had was apparently good enough for a decisive victory. That's what all the pundits were saying. And because I lived in California, which had no chance of not choosing Clinton, my vote was not going to affect the election. Which meant that reverting to my in-doubt strategy was unnecessary. In fact it was actually good: because Clinton, the person who I'd decided was preferable to win, was going to win both California and the electoral college handily, I was free use my vote to reduce her vote totals. So my plan was to vote for Trump.
Day of the election, I walked into the ballot box and had a thought: what if Trump does win? Then I'd be voting to increase his margin of victory, and I don't want that either. I knew that the pundits had all but handed her the election. I knew that "everything had to go right" for Trump to win, and that he had to carry all those tossup states, and even if he had a 50/50 chance of winning those states (and he didn't) then he'd still have only about a 1/30 chance of winning. But I also know Hillary Hate. I know because I have it. I can't even utter the words, "I am rooting for ---", she is so odious. But I am a rationalist, and if I'd been living in a state where the electoral votes were in doubt I would have given her my vote to help defeat Trump, in spite of how I feel about her. But not everyone is like me. A lot of people vote with their guts, and an awful lot of people hate her guts. I decided in that ballot box that Clinton is not the shoe-in everyone was saying she was, and the election was in doubt after all.
I ended up abstaining.
Tags: california, election, voting
Last Edited: 16 November 2016, 9:25 PM
Food Trucks Suck
There. I said it.
Food trucks are as supposed to be as much a part of LA culture as hot dog stands are for New York. Well, New York wins this one. My experience with food trucks is that they: 1. are slow, 2. serve tiny portions, and 3. aren't any better than a walk-in eatery. Also, lately, they 4. are expensive, and 5. have incredibly long lines because every hipster thinks they're the greatest food in LA.
I suspect a lot of the older food trucks that serve the neighborhoods actually are very good. Certainly they filled an important niche, since they served food in places and at hours that people otherwise couldn't get food. They were operated by people who were from the areas they served, had native knowledge of great ethnic foods, and rapport with their customers.
But now that food trunks have become trendy, the experience has become diluted with mediocrity. I'm not saying that trendiness, by itself, leads to medocrity. But in this case the thing that became trendy was a bad way to serve food. Food trucks have tiny inefficient kitchens. They aren't designed to serve a lot of people quickly, and they aren't designed to serve a wide variety, but that's exactly what people are trying to use them for.
For now, people are impressed enough by the "experience" to not notice they've stood in line for twenty minutes to get a small portion of food that's not very good at a high price. If the food was actually good or unique, as with the old neighborhood food trucks of yore, maybe it'd be worth it, but these days most aren't. So how long will this trend really last?
Tags: food, food_trucks, los_angeles, rant
Last Edited: 25 October 2015, 9:22 PM
Game of Thrones "Predictions" #8
Ok, so A Feast for Crows ends and it reveals that it and the next novel are divided spatially rather than chronologically. Fair enough.
As Martin started wrapping up the threads it got marginally more interesting. For the first time a character who I was pulling for and who had significant converage was snuffed out (or so it seems; more on that below). This was something I was expecting to happen once or twice per novel, based on the reputation of series, but this is the first time it happened with me. Since I thought Ned, Catelyn, and Robb were all stupid, I wasn't really too attached to them. We had a scare with Bran but I wasn't a fan of him either. Renly's death was disappointing but since we didn't have a lot of time to build sympathy it wasn't as hard-hitting as it could have been. However, though I wasn't exactly enjoying the Brienne chapters, I was certainly pulling for her, so this is probably the first death that had impact.
I was hilariously wrong is a bunch of past predictions, which I detail here:
But I was right on for a few:
Tags: gameofthrones, literature, predictions
Last Edited: 4 April 2015, 12:48 AM
Game of Thrones Predictions #7.1
Jaime's aunt, from a position of knowledge, all but told him that he and Cersei were not Tywin' children. This didn't exactly blindside me; I had always thought there was a connection between the Lannisters and the Targeryens but I kind of felt like it was more of a "they go way back". But now that I am told Jaime and Cersei are illegitimate a bunch of things (dramatic story elements) fall into place, or seem to.
So quick prediction: Jaime and Cersei are the children of Mad King Aegon. Thus making Jaime both a kingslayer and a kinslayer. So much is explained: why Cersei and Jaime were into each other (it's a Targaryen trait), it explains Joffrey's madness (although that could be just be a random result due to incest, but it seems that Targeryens madness goes beyond that and that Joffrey had that particular brand of it). It explains a lot of the drama behind Jaime's appointment to the Kingsguard. Aegon didn't just want to screw over Tywin, he wanted his own son around. It kind of explains Tywin's animosity toward Tyrion and coolness to Jaime: Jaime wasn't his son, and the Imp was, highlighting Tywin's own inadequacy as a sire.
Not regarding who J&C's actual father is, some people have got to know they're illegitimate, if his aunt knew. Who? Jaime obviously had no clue. Cersei doesn't seem to know (I can think of no situation where she belies anything). Predictions:
Ironically, this strengthens Tommen's claim (relative to before). This may suggest Margery has it in for Jaime too, who of course has prior claim over Tommen.
Tags: game_of_thrones, literature, predictions
Last Edited: 18 March 2015, 3:49 PM
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