Wednesday, March 23, 2011
When the laughter stops...
Nerds know all about stereotypes. Not because we embody one, but because we read fantasy and sci-fi novels, play role-playing games, watch movies, and enjoy the occasional video game or two. Without stereotypes, none of those things could exist. Stereotypes are comforting and allow us to understand a character quickly and without spending too much time drilling down to the root cause of all their personality quirks. Thanks to stereotypes, you know what sort of person a character is after a single scene, regardless of the medium. Hard-bitten tough guy? Wise-cracking playboy? Grim and merciless killer? (If a hero, by the way, the G&M Killer will have a soft spot for babies, puppies, kittens, or bunnies. If a villain, maybe hairless cats, but that’s about it.) Stereotypes free us up to get more quickly to the good stuff, whether that’s plot development or enormous explosions.
In fantasy and sci-fi, stereotypes are often applied to entire worlds or races. Of course that’s not realistic. It’s just easier. It lets us move on with the story. “Okay, desert planet, got it. Now what’s gonna happen?”
There is one stereotype that should be done away with entirely. In every fantasy world and role-playing game, you will find a race or species that is “fun-loving, care-free, and irreverent, the [insert made-up race name here] enjoy nothing more than teasing the other races. A well-timed prank is applauded as a great victory among the [insert made-up race name here].” Typically, this puckish race also gets terribly upset if someone they have “Punk’d” doesn’t take the joke well. Their reaction usually entails an unremitting attack of non-stop pranks until the poor humourless victim crawls away to die, happy in knowing that at least in death, the jokes will stop. (Imagine the horror at finding that hell is entirely run by [insert made-up race name here].)
Usually this particular stereotype manages to somehow inhabit a world that is dark and dire. At the very least, any world at all would have a race or culture that would make it their personal business to wipe out precisely this kind of laughing maniacs. And who could blame them?
So what justification exists to allow these dudes to keep on drawing breath? Why haven’t all the evil people ganged up just for a week to wipe out the Ravnos, kender, Ragabash, halflings, Pooka, gnomes, and windlings? For that matter, why haven’t the good races done it? A practical joke here and there can be considered amusing, but if every time you turn around your shoe laces are tied together, don’t you eventually lose it? You’ve had a helluva day, work was terrible, your boss chewed you out, you haven’t gotten laid in months, and you get a flat tire on the way home. Finally you walk into your own house, only to have a bucket of liquid pig feces fall on your head. Are you telling me you wouldn’t cheerfully strangle the jerk that put it up there?
Then there is the old fable about the grasshopper and the ant. A culture can support a certain number of lazy grasshoppers because the hard-working ants can handle it, but if everyone is a grasshopper, you’re dead the day after the first hard frost. It just isn’t sustainable to spend all day pranking each other. No matter how good the party is, someone eventually has to clean it all up.
Nope, it just wouldn’t work. Come up with a new stereotype. How about they only play pranks one day a year, and everyone else in the world knows to stay inside with their doors locked and the phone unplugged? We could call it... um... how about April Fools Day? Or is that already a thing?