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Good Flaws, Bad Flaws – TV Tropes

Good Flaws, Bad Flaws - TV Tropes

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A list of presently acceptable “good” flaws includes:

  • Alcoholism (except when it leads to violence)
  • Drug addiction (except when it leads to violence)
  • Tobacco use (cigars, cigarettes, and especially pipes)
  • Sexualpromiscuity (Especially for masculines. As long as it doesn’t involve children, animals or the unwilling, like rape, zoophilia or necrophilia).
  • Switch roles snobbery
  • Being too cool to socialize.
  • Being a klutz.
  • “Sticking to your guns” even when the odds seem stacked against you (Which some may argue isn’t even a flaw at all, except when it results in Idiot Ball)
  • Stupidity (as long as it stems from genuine ignorance, and not apathy or bigotry)
  • Misanthropy or cynicism
  • Emotional aloofness, especially with CuteLove Interests
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Holding ridiculously high individual standards note (Take note: this is the most common and perhaps the only private flaw ever written in a resume or job application.) , especially with snarky comments.
  • Being a Noble, Harmless or Tragic Bigot (Assuming they’re a good stud of course), especially for people who grew up a long time ago or those with Police or Military backgrounds.
  • A hottemper (except when it leads to violence)
  • Laziness
  • Cussing (except in the presence of the clergy, monarchs, aristocrats, the elderly, children, and sometimes women)
  • Self-Deprecation
  • Cowardice (except when failure to act causes someone else’s harm)
  • Weirdness and a lack of social norms, particularly in love interests
  • Clumsiness can be so endearing that it’s often the single flaw given in an otherwise flawless character

A character who’s addicted to alcohol is a defenseless victim of a substance to which he is addicted. A character who chain-smokes is a rube who doesn’t understand the dangers of smoking and ought to die of lung cancer for his foolishness (albeit, at times there are sympathetic smokers). The difference inbetween drinking and smoking in this regard is that drinking is not addictive for the majority of people and provides a significant high, while smoking is addictive for everyone and its high, if any, is very powerless. Drinking is therefore seen as the more rational act, albeit of course off thresholds for those who get addicted.

A character who has hook-up loosely isn’t always seen as flawed at all (and provides interesting plot opportunities. ) while a genuinely racist or homophobic character portrayed in any kind of positive light whatsoever is a rarity these days. (A number of comedians will pretend racist/homophobic viewpoints for laughs, but also insist that they’re only kidding. See Politically Incorrect Hero.)

Even the words people use will fall under these categories. Most obviously, shit and fuck are “good” bad words while nigger and faggot are “bad” bad words (whereas the opposite used to be the case). Bitch is a special case, being unacceptable when used by fellows to refer to women, but acceptable when used by women themselves or by people of either hookup to refer to studs, or to describe something nonhuman or abstract in an informal way.

Sixty years ago some of the entries on these lists might have been inverted because this is a cyclical trope. It is permanently switching as artists attempt to thrust the envelope and skirt the fine line of transgressive but not reprehensible. Who knows what will be seen as acceptable or not acceptable in another 60 years.

Bad Flaws can be Lightly Forgiven if the character casts them off and becomes a better person. The Atoner atones for them. The Big Bad may just have worse flaws. Sometimes they can be given the sympathetic point of view – there’s good reasons why they have this flaw. Laser-Guided Karma also assists in forgiveness, as long as they learn from their penalty. If your prejudiced hero learns about other ethnic groups over the course of his journey and, at the end of the book, determines that he can now accept people of different ethnic groups as equal to himself, well, he was an egalitarian all along, just waiting for the right practice to let him grow, wasn’t he? (Less idealistic works might have the hero retain his bad habits, but still strive to do the right thing in spite of himself.)

Related to Once Acceptable Targets. A Wank with a Heart of Jack will be marked by both types of flaw, and might use the “good” ones to deliberately mask the “bad” ones. See also: Good Smoking, Evil Smoking for an in-depth discussion of tobacco as a signifier of morality.

Feel free to add more examples to the current list, but attempt to keep it general and widely applicable. Also, feel free to add lists of examples pertaining to other cultures and time periods. Also feel free to add to the list of examples below, but keep in mind that this sort of thing is often played with and switches over time, so there are going to be very few straight examples.

Note: Please attempt to keep Fantastic Racism to a minimum unless it is very clearly supposed to be a direct analogue to real-life bigotry. The hatred of Orcs and the hatred of human ethnic minorities carry very different connotations in media (for some reason).

Examples:

Comics

  • Donald Duck in the comics suffers from a bad temper, arrogance and vanity, but has his heart in the right place. The same can be said about Uncle Scrooge, who is thrifty and heartless at times, but shows compassion towards others when necessary.

Film

  • Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino is one of the most sympathetically portrayed racists in modern media, albeit even he learns his lesson about racism by the end of the film.
  • On the “switch roles snobbery” thread, you also see this a lot in high school movies. If the popular or cool kids play a prank on the unpopular/uncool kids, it’s wrong and malicious. If unpopular/uncool kids play a prank on the popular/cool kids, it’s a funny comeuppance.
  • Tho’ set in a college Accepted is a prime example of this: at their very first meeting, before he has any private reason to dislike them, Bartleby goes out of his way to insult Ambrose and his fraternity. It’s portrayed as an underdog sticking it to some rich masturbates.
  • Of course, the cool kids are often portrayed as doing it out of spontaneous malice, while the uncool kids are often seeking Vengeance for either another prank or some other malicious act, which does introduce a moral difference beside whodunit.
  • James Bond has given up smoking (and even claims it was a “filthy habit” in Tomorrow Never Dies * Note that he then went and smoked a cigar in Die Another Day ) over time but has always been a connoisseur of alcohol and other vices.
  • As Good as It Gets: Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) manages to spout all kinds of rude remarks across the course of the film and still not drift into Villain Protagonist territory. Of course, the filmmakers do an excellent job of tempering his character. For starters, his character is an older man, even tho’ he from time to time is nastier than the average Racist Grandpa. 2nd, Udall is a Fresh Yorker, and people from Fresh York are stereotypically expected to be rude anyway. Third, the film is to a large extent a comedy, and a Cringe Comedy at that. Fourth, Udall does fairly often get called out and even publicly abjected for his politically incorrect behavior. Fifth, his behavior does improve as the film goes along. And sixth, and most importantly, Udall is a misanthropic romance novelist with obsessive-compulsive disorder, for the most part peevish toward everyone in the world (with specific bigoted remarks toward each of them according to their categories-i.e antisemitic toward Jews, racist toward blacks/Latinos, homophobic toward gays, etc.) and indeed well-meaning deep down if not for being a Jerkass Woobie.
  • Ray Levoi, the FBI-agent protagonist of Thunderheart (1992) manages to be a consistently sympathetic character despite having more than a casual contempt for Native American culture from the outset – something that was infrequent even in The Golden Age of Hollywood. Being youthful and good-looking helps (Levoi is being played by Val Kilmer in his early thirties, after all), as does his Punch-Clock Villain status when the FBI sends him to a Sioux reservation to investigate a murder and basically requires him to harass and interrogate suspected political radicals (at one point even pulling a Sioux out of his tepee during a religious ceremony, prompting the arrestee to request if he’d ever arrest a Christian while that Christian was begging in church). Most crucially, however, Levoi is part Sioux himself. While this doesn’t grant him N-Word Privileges (tho’ the full-blooded Sioux characters seem to have this, derisively calling Levoi the “Washington Redskin”), it does make him supremely confused about his identity and ambivalent toward the memory of his ne’er-do-well half-Sioux father. He’s also naturally resentful that he’s been assigned to this case specifically because of his heritage, and doesn’t want to be on the reservation in the very first place. Ultimately, Levoi does fall in love with a full-blooded Sioux woman, manages to get over his prejudices and reclaim his roots, and ultimately solves what proves to be a Chinatown-level mystery marked by corruption Inherent in the System.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • Wolverine’s fondness for cigars is part of his macho photo.
    • X-Men: Very first Class:
      • Albeit the writers desired to present Xavier as a very different person when he was youthful man, they can’t give him too many negative traits because the character is still the Big Good of the franchise, so one of his “good” flaws includes being a womanizer.
      • Hank McCoy, who we learn in X-Men: The Last Stand is one of Charles’ closest friends (and therefore his personality can’t be switched too drastically), gets lack of self-confidence as one of his primary faults.
      • X-Men: Days of Future Past: Past Xavier is no longer a cad like we eyed in Very first Class, but he has developed extra “good” flaws such as alcoholism, drug addiction, cynicism, and cussing. The dude is utterly messed up, but the writer was careful not to make the character too “bad” (Charles has to eventually become an All-Loving Hero, after all).
      • Some of the comedians interviewed in The Aristocrats (which is basically a feature-length analysis of the so-called “filthiest joke in the world”) argue the inverse of this trope, contending that good flaws are bad and bad flaws are good if you’re actually attempting to be offensive, being “good-bad” just won’t get the desired level of outrage. Since many iterations of the “aristocrats” joke involve defecating, for example, they point out that if you defecated in public nowadays most people wouldn’t indeed care and react with only an eyeroll, but if you took the fecal matter into your mitts, wiped it all over your face, and did a Blackface gag, people would be very angry.
      • Selma: MLK’s adultery plays a part in the film, contrasting with his civil rights activities.
      • Literature

        • Sam Vimes from the Discworld books claims to be a racist and a speciesist, but aside from the fact that he would risk his life for any of his citizens, he is a furious misanthrope so any racism/speciesism is just an extension of thinking everyone is a bastard. Even his outwardly promoted switch sides snobbery doesn’t prevent him from marrying Lady Sybil, heiress to one of the richest estates in Ankh-Morporkh, and having the title of Duke being bestowed (albeit unhappily) upon him. He’s also a very strong drinker who used to drink to leave behind, but has since forgotten what he was attempting to leave behind, so he keeps drinking so he won’t recall .Interestingly enough he’s been moved off Alcohol and onto cigars by his wifey.
        • William Laurence from the Temeraire books, is a Napoleonic Era Naval Officer, with the ridiculously high standards expected within that service. He moves to the Aerial Corps, which is a much more laid back affair and permits this to be an excellent hook. In some ways it’s possible to consider the Aerial Corps as a pocket ‘modern’ society within the early 19th Century setting.
        • Haymitch from The Thirst Games is an alcoholic. At the beginning, this is introduced as just further proof of his incompetency- until it is exposed that he drinks in order to mask the agony of losing everyone he loves, and failing to protect children in the arena, year after year.
        • Horatio Hornblower is horrified of heights and prone to sea-sickness, a pair of traits one might consider unusual for The Captain in a series about Wooden Ships and Metal Fellows. The sea-sickness is eventually exposed to be something the squad accepts without comment note the only sign that they know about it is that the Marine sentry outside his door has a mop and bucket , and Hornblower deals with the acrophobia by making a point of climbing the masts to see for himself whenever a sailor in the crow’s nest announces that they’ve spotted something.
        • Also, he is very emotionally detached and calculating. Played positively, these traits make him a tactical genius and very good at cards, played negatively, and he completes up having a terrible time dealing with other people brief of being very manipulative.
      • Anthony Burgess was inspired to write A Clockwork Orange because he found it fascinating that Nazis during World War II would ease off from a day of killing people by liking the beauty of Ludwig van Beethoven ‘s music. The very idea that perverse criminals could appreciate beautiful guiltless art was the reason Alex DeLarge became a Beethoven admirer.
      • Live-Action TV

        • For sympathetic characters with regular snobbery, you have Frasier and Niles, chiefly via Character Development. Frasier was originally written as a Romantic False Lead and eventual Ensemble Dark Pony on Cheers, where the entire Slobs vs. Snobs angle was very much Played Straight.
        • Similarly, Charles Emerson Winchester of Mash. Tho’ he embarked off as mostly an antagonist, he little by little became an Anti-Hero and never fully overcame his snobbery. He even had his thickest Pet the Dog moment through his snobbery during the Grand Finale when a North Korean military band is taken prisoner and he finds their playing to be horrid. So he instructs them to play classical music well.
      • Johnathan Quayle Higgins on Magnum, P.I. is very snobby.
      • House gets away with all kinds of offensive remarks because it’s clear he actually hates everyone regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc., and just says whatever he thinks will offend his target the most. As Cameron says in one gig to defend him after he says something sexist, “[He’s] a misanthrope, not a misogynist.”
      • Movie Games

        • Jonathan Ingram in Policenauts makes homophobic, transphobic (using the phrase ‘so-called women’ to describe transwomen who’d undergone a lovemaking switch at the genetic level) and sexist (oh, let’s not even begin) comments via the game, as well as exhibiting Fantastic Racism towards the Frozeners. It’s used to draw attention to how his attitudes are bigoted and old-fashioned by the standards of the era, but he never truly gets over them and is yet portrayed consistently sympathetically.

        Western Animation

        • Eric Cartman from South Park is a horrible bigot, and is portrayed absolutely unsympathetically. He still has his fans, tho’.
        • The entire list in the article description is practically a laundry list for Bender B. Rodriguez’s entire personality. He gets away with it through Refuge in Audacity and Rule of Funny, with a good dose of Karma Houdini to dodge plot-related consequences.
        • The Simpsons: Bart Simpson permanently gets into trouble for playing pranks on teachers, family members and random people in the street. However some of his behavior ranks from just being an annoying kid to juvenile delinquency, he is generally shown to have guilt or regret kick in at times.

        Real Life

        • Even more intractable is the tendency to attempt to psychologically scan a historical subject to see if he (and it usually is indeed a “he”) harbors any sensibilities that are presently abhorrent. This can be tricky for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that individuals who weren’t particularly political or weren’t social critics most likely didn’t put forward that many substantial opinions. Also, said person may merely be speaking or writing to others who do harbor those views, and pandering to them. Ultimately, despite what many seem to believe, irony and sarcasm were not twentieth-century inventions.
        • Most criminals and other people with an “evil” reputation will have a good side to them. For example, some psychopaths who absolutely feel no regret towards tormenting, raping and killing human beings will feel appalled whenever someone hurts an animal.

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