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Why do stupid characters tend to be male?

Discussion in 'Film & Television' started by Dark Squiggle, Nov 14, 2018.

  1. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Troubadour

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    I may be wrong, and I may be disgusting for asking this question, but I just saw the Futurama episode where Fry (the show's main male character, possibly main character and definitely the show's idiot) becomes female.
    Neutopia (Futurama) - Wikipedia
    I thought to myself "obviously Fry must be male, no woman could be that stupid", and then I realized that I know about the same number of not-very-smart women as I know not-very-smart men. This is a thing in movies, books and TV but not in real life. (Yes Futurama has Amy, but she's shallow, not stupid, and the writers let you know she is playing dumb at least most of the time.) I am not saying that there are no stupid female characters, just that they are scarce. I also noticed that the "competent voice of reason" character tends to be female as well. One Piece's Nami, Simpsons' Lisa and Marge, Discworld's Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching, Futurama's Leela... the list goes on and on.
    Is this because writers fear being cast as sexist? Is this some narrative with a deeper source? Just wondering if anyone had thoughts about this
     
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    In a word, I do think you are wrong. But there's no point in even discussing it until someone does a full tally of all movies, TV, and books produced in oh let's say the last fifty years. Until there are numbers, the premise cannot be established.

    As for defining what constitutes stupid, I leave that as an exercise for the student.
     
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  3. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Troubadour

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    It could be what I am watching, but The Simpsons and Futurama hinge on Homer's and Fry's respective stupidity. The early Discworld books hinge on Rincewind's stupidity and cowardice. I don't know of any female character who possesses such stupidity.
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    One can always produce a sample, but that doesn't mean the sample is statistically (or sociologically) significant. Impressions are not conclusions, though they can provide the basis for a hypothesis. But until we all agree on a definition for stupid (good luck with that) and there is a statistically reliable sample made across media, we are as William James had it, merely rearranging our prejudices. And to jump from ground that is not merely shaky but perhaps non-existent to speculation about fears of appearing sexist is much further than I intend to leap.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Well that's interesting. I've long attributed that quote to William James, but a stroll around the Internet turns up no reliable attribution. Huh. One thing I know is, you just never know. You may quote me.
     
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    It's true. And there's a couple of reasons for this, some more legitimate than others. For example, as animated shows, the Simpsons and Futurama make the "stupid character" the butt of a lot of physical jokes, and if the stupid character were a woman, it might look and feel to many like they're making fun of violence towards women. Another thing that writers often do when they want both men and women to watch the show, they want the lead character to be male, but then make him the "dumb dad" so that he's "non-threatening" to female viewers and so that it's easier for him to share the spotlight with other characters - that's especially true in family or workplace comedy, where the man might otherwise be the "head of household" or the "boss."

    But y'know, all the shows you mentioned are also male heavy, shows that target a male audience, and there are plenty of female heavy shows with a female stupid character, you're just not watching them.... because you're male.

    My least favorite "stupid character" is the girl from Annedroids because damnit, she's surrounded by incredible science and doesn't seem to care at all.
     
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  7. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Maester

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    Not forgetting the entire cliche of Dumb Blondes which is heavily focused on women. The movie Clueless comes to mind as a big one. Though with Futurma and the Simpson's, more then a few characters, male and female, get their part in being stupid. And with what Devor said it all depends on what you watch and read, plenty of stupid to go around.
     
  8. I think it depends on genre and audience maybe? The "dumb blonde" is still a trope.

    Many YA protagonists are very stupid, but that is not intentional...
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    So... the "dumb blonde" is still a thing, for sure, especially in dating comedies. But the "dumb blonde" isn't usually the same as the "stupid character." The stupid character is also known as "the fool" and plays a different role as a trope, not only as comedic relief, but also one of "dumb optimism" that keeps things upbeat even during darker moments when the sane people would give up. The dumb blonde tends to be even stupider, and annoying, like the character is being punished for being "physically perfect," and because of that you don't want to keep the dumb blonde around very long.

    That is, as a trope (where the dumb blonde is just a name and can be male or even brunette) ... and y'know, putting aside the obvious sexism and stereotyping for a moment.

    Edit:

    As an example, Phoebe Buffay in Friends is the "Stupid Character" or the Fool, not the "Dumb Blonde," so far as the trope is concerned. Whether she plays into the stereotype of a dumb blonde is a separate question from this perspective.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2018
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  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    Well, in Clueless, Silverstone isn’t stupid, she’s naive, which leads to stupid actions, but the character is intelligent. I enjoy this sort of character, but stupid characters not so much.

    One need not study 50 years, you’re talking modern trends. A similar trend can be seen in the portrayal of adults as not necessarily being stupid, but just incompetent to the point of absurdity. Children are wise and not just do they think they know it all... they turn out to actually know it all! (exaggeration, but not by a bunch) This could potentially be drawn as an extension of the don’t trust anyone over 30 era. And this plays into the most narcisistic traits of youth, where of course we knew everything and all the adults were screwed in the head, heh heh. Alas, it was not so.

    Another has been the growth of the African-American as the Mentor... Where Morgan Freeman thrived in Bruce and Evan All Mighty, the ultimate mentor, God. Oprah in a recent movie, but even 20 years ago when writing a screenplay and I had an African-American mentor figure, people had begun to view this as a maybe-to-start-to-avoid cliche in the industry... although, like all cliches! It is still well-used.
     
  11. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

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    One possibility, they spent all their ability points on strength. LOL. IMHO it's a simple character weakness. I think it's a little political correctness, that women and "minorities" aren't made to be the "stupid" characters, because in many older stories that was the default character weakness-ie discrimination. Also people try to avoid the "cliche" character.
     
  12. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I find it is somewhat just the current trend. Maybe it will change again, I don't know. I can recall when it was not the trend, but I've seen a few come and go in my years. If I have to point at the most direct cause, I would say politics and the current trends that drive that as well.

    Pushing all that aside, I think it works better for males, cause males tend to be more simple minded. Big louts with clubs don't have to figure out the complexity of things if they can just smash it. I think that is partly just the world in which men live, their roles as protectors lends itself more to quick decisions, not needing much thought, acted on in a physical way, and so braininess did not have to be a quality, where as women tend to live more in a world were social constructs and social interactions have to be mastered, that tends to lend itself to them not being very dumb...especially when paired against less thoughtful males. Beauty and the Beast is not a new idea. Man as beasts and women as having some power over them is as ancient as men and women themselves.

    I just saw the series Space 1999, which I remember enjoying when I was much younger. I can attest the lead woman in that one did not come across as one of their important thinkers. She nurtured well, but that was a lot due to they way women were portrayed in a different time.
     
  13. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    I blame ‘Get Smart’ and ‘Inspector Gadget’, then sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond. Simpson’s certainly set a bar that cemented the trend. I don’t know, the bloke from Mary Poppins was pretty dumb to start with. What’s my point? No idea.
     
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