Weary of Underdog Heroes

(Excuse the spree of colour. Enjoy it, if you will.)

I wrote Captain’s Paper because I was tired of underdog stories. I love a good accidental everyman hero, like everyone, if the transition is effected with due subtlety and credibility, but I can’t pretend I’m a big fan of the underdog triumph. Sorry, but it’s been done too many times and it’s too rare in real life (well, the way it’s often presented).

Take Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

RudolphtheRedNosedReindeerWhat made him great? He had an unusual appearance; that’s all we know. One day, Santa took pity on him. ‘Then all the reindeer loved him’—are reindeer so fickle, so near-seeing, so prejudiced of soul? Yes, it’s nice Santa did his good deed of the day and made the life of a persecuted individual good forever after. Yes, it’s the best moment of Rudolph’s life. But whoever wrote this song had a pretty pessimistic view of reindeer society, in my opinion.

Captain’s Paper follows Drina Connelly, a girl born, bred and accustomed to achieve. All she craves is success. The story deals with her learning to anticipate failure as a legitimate possibility and understanding that it isn’t the extinction of all happiness. And in the end, yes, she fails. She’s not superwoman.

I watched Planes last night. Irritation of irritations! Dusty Crophopper has worked in the fields all his life, dreaming of becoming a magnificent, rich, famous, successful racer. What little boy doesn’t? And then his dream comes true, he woos the gorgeous girlfriend, pulverises the snooty rival, effortlessly gains the loyal best friend and Kenobi-type veteran mentor. Utterly, utterly predictable, right the way through.

I hope that expression on his cropdustin' face is irritating you half as much as it's irritating me, for the sake of my point.

I hope that expression on his cropdustin’ face is irritating you half as much as it’s irritating me, for the sake of my point.

Yes, I have a problem with that.

What I’m getting at is this film is sending bad messages to children. True, Dusty persevered till he got what he wanted (except the faltered-arrogance sequence before the final showdown in which his friends remind him of WHO HE IS and WHAT HE’S THERE FOR). But, like, (yes, I typed that) only 0.0001% of boys who idolise Wayne Rooney even get close, and girls who aspire to look like Barbie dolls…oh, don’t get me started.

Tell me, am I being pessimistic?

That was one of the greatest strengths of Cars (the first). Cocky, one-sided, blasé famous racer Lightning McQueen plunged helplessly into this Radiator Springs place, where no one knows or cares for his reputation or origins. This story tells children that there’s more to life than dreaming. There’s living, too. You don’t have to beat the baddie or show the world (well, okay, sometimes you do).

Now isn't that a nice smile?

Now isn’t that a nice smile?

Perhaps I’m biased, because Lightning’s journey of self-discovery reflects my own ideal one. I love to see big characters humbled and forced to accept their insignificance, far more than strong characters saving the day. Call me sadistic.

What I don’t mean is UNDERDOGS SHOULD STAY UNDERDOGS or YOU CAN NEVER CHANGE FATE (although, hypocritically, I could probably discuss at length why this is true). What I mean is, MUST YOU  WRITE ANOTHER UNDERDOG STORY???

There are many underdog heroes before whom I’d happily grovel. Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein (excuse me, Sir William Thatcher), I’m winking at you. Dusty Crophopper, I couldn’t care less.

The beautiful Heath Ledger (1979-2008). He was only twenty at the time, but such a subtlety and confidence to his acting, without the usual arrogance. But then I have a bias to all characters called William.

The beautiful Heath Ledger (1979-2008). He was only twenty at the time, but such a subtlety and confidence to his acting, without the usual arrogance. Still, in 2014, we walk in the garden of his turbulence. (But then, I have a bias to all characters called William.)

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