Top 5 Bullies in Fiction

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Everyone’s had a bully at some point of their lives. If not, then you probably are / were a bully ( if so: not in the face, please ). Either way, we can all relate to bullying, which is why bullies are so familiar in fiction. The stereotypical bully is bigger than the protagonist, an athlete and most of all, monstrously violent. And yea, many times a bully really is just a brute with a gland disorder, but they are people as well. People who can fuck you up. So i decided to compile a list of some bullies who are particularly noteworthy.

5. Terry Filkins – Drillbit Taylor ( 2008 )

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This school is boring. Watching you freak out amuses me.

Fun Fact: This film was written by Seth Rogen and John Hughes under his pen name “Edmond Dantes” . Yes: “Breakfast Club – Sixteen Candles – Home Alone” John Hughes. This was also the last film he was involved with before his death. The premise: three nerds hire a bodyguard to protect them from two bullies. As a final film it’s…ok. Owen Wilson has his moments but the nerds are fairly trite and nothing else stands out either…except for the main bully, Filkins. Whereas the nerds in the film are a little too generic to be interesting, Filkins’ takes the equally generic bully stereotype to new heights. He begins as a standard bully, stuffing nerds into lockers and whatnot, but then quickly shifts into outright insanity. It turns out that he’s an extremely wealthy emancipated minor, which in the film’s logic means he can get away with destroying a student’s laptop, driving a car through people’s yards, attempting to run over people in broad daylight, and cutting off a man’s arm with a katana ( offscreen, unfortunately ).

Normally I hate the casually violent bully cliche because it’s hard to imagine in a modern school where adults are more reactionary. But the combination of Seth Rogen’s brashness and John Hughes’ 80’s nostalgia makes it more of an homage to the cliche itself. Rather than pretending as if he’s a normal bully, the film portrays Filkins as a violent psychopath who couldn’t and shouldn’t possibly exist in a modern school. His comeuppance at the end of the film is due to him chucking a sword at the nerds in the middle of a partyThis guy is so committed to being a bully that he’ll literally murder someone in front of several witnesses. I don’t care how you feel about bullying, that’s admirable.

4. Alan White – Freaks and Geeks ( 1999 – 2000 )

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” You like Bill Murray? Oh yeah? Bill Murray sucks! “

The stereotype of the bully is so ingrained that few writers actually question it’s validity. Bullies are the jocks. They’re the big men on campus. Everybody likes them, right? More often than not, no. Kids who often become bullies are often just as marginalized as the people they pick on. One of the few bullies to embody this is Alan White from Freaks and Geeks. Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s short lived dramedy series is well known for subverting many high school tropes. The designated geeks’ oppressor Alan is even more odd than they are. Skinny and awkward, the “threat” of Alan is more due to his aggressiveness than his physicality. The pilot of the series builds up to a fight between the geeks and Alan, which amounts to this:

After such a pathetic show, Alan’s bullying became more verbal, throwing out brilliant jabs such as changing the name Sam Weir to Sam Queer. Ah high school. The character gained some depth in the episode Chokin’ and Tokin’. Thinking his allergies aren’t life-threatening, Alan tricks one of the geeks into eating peanuts, leading to him become hospitalized. Whoops. Concerned, Alan visits him in the hospital and has a candid moment while the geek is unconscious ( you can watch the actual clip here )

” I’m sorry. I was just goofing on you. It’s not like you guys were ever nice to me. In the 4th grade i used to think you guys were really cool. I remember when you guys brought a model of the Saturn 5 in for show and tell and I asked if I can shoot off rockets with you and you said no. So i’m supposed to be nice to you? I like comics and sci fi too but you never ask me to hang out. “

We see a great commentary on one of the often overlooked causes of bullying: the cycle of victimhood. Alan, clearly lacking social skills already, perceives the geeks’ probably unintentional dismissals in the past as rejection. Afraid of being vulnerable, he strikes back against them in order to justify his alienation. This blurs the nerd / bully distinction, since it forces us to view the protagonists as part of a culture of abuse. Earlier in the episode, two of the three geeks abandons plans to attend a convention. When one of the other characters in the series, a fellow geek with weight and odor issues, offers himself to go, the geek seems less than excited. Later on, he claims he can no longer go due to an issue at home, but it’s suspect whether or not he’s just blowing him off. Alan’s view of the geeks now has a bit of credence to it; it’s possible that their desire to be insular marginalized him. This scenario highlights the often murky milieu of high school power dynamics.

3. The Tannens – Back To The Future Series ( 1985 – 1990 )

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” Make like a tree and get out of here! “

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Nowhere is that more true than in the Back To The Future trilogy.

Back to The Future ( 1985 )

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To start, lets look at Biff Tannen: the definitive bully. He hits every single trope: he’s bigger than the protagonist, he’s a jock, he’s popular ( for no apparent reason ), he’s dumb, he extorts favors, he’s a rapist ( ! ), he’s a racist, and most of all, he’s a murderer ( at least in one timeline ) ! Tom Wilson puts in an underrated performance as Biff; he manages to be as funny as he is threatening, vacillating between being just obnoxious and being a physical threat.

Back to the Future 2 ( 1989 )

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He also portrays the settled nature of an older, more sinister Biff well in the second film. Rather than being a negligible schoolyard bully, he becomes a deeply corrupt sadist. This version of Biff is a Mr. Potter-esque figure who’s so evil that it permeates all of Hill Valley, turning it into a dystopia.

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Wilson’s performance as his great- grandson, inventively named “Griff”, is wonderfully uncanny. The implication is that he’s a cyborg, which comes through in his staccato movements and manic pitch. He’s a futuristic fantasy version of the schoolyard bully: Biff was a slow, Archie-style meathead while Griff is a robotic speedfreak.

Back to The Future 3 ( 1990 )

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The Tannen line stretches back to the Wild West, where Biff’s ancestor was a cowboy ( the closest thing to a bully in that backdrop ). Fittingly, Wilson based his performance on Lee Marvin in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? ( 1962 ). Lee Marvin’s titular Liberty Valance begins the film by robbing an honest lawyer ( Jimmy Stewart ) and then beating him savagely just for talking back. Likewise, Buford Tannen has a massive sense of entitlement that makes him think something as minor as a $80 dispute is worth murder. Overall, this family shows that evil is sometimes in the blood.

2. Butch Deloria – Fallout 3 ( 2008 )

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” I could be out there and kicking butt in my own gang and everything. The Tunnel Snakes could ride again! Or, y’know, slither again. Whatever! “

Most media that depicts 1950’s American youth incorporates the gang subculture of ” Greasers “,  a primarily Italian and Hispanic social group associated with hot rods, leather jackets, and their titular greased hair.

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Given Fallout 3 1950’s influences, it was natural for them to draw upon this culture for the Lone Wanderer’s lifelong tormentor. We see this primarily through his design, but also through a deconstruction of the archetype. For example: his obsession with hair makes him want to be a barber, which a career assessment test refers to only as a ” hairdresser ” to his chagrin. Butch is generally characterized as a chump: when his room is infested with giant roaches, Butch enlists the Wanderer to save his mother because he’s terrified of them. You can also beat the shit out of him and his entire gang as a teenager. It’s funny to think that in a post-apocalyptic world where violence becomes a norm, the resident gang-banger is a a bit of a pussy.

In spite of ( and partially due to ) these aspects, i feel as if Butch is a pretty interesting character. As with Alan White, the character is marginalized from the insular vault community. His mother is a promiscuous alcoholic, which led him to be born not knowing his father. This is probably the cause of his asshole behavior. Once the character makes it to the wasteland, he becomes interested in expanding his vault gang, the Tunnel Snakes. Which consists of just him and the wanderer at that point. At least the jackets are pretty cool.

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So why is this guy such a big deal? Well honestly, he isn’t in the canon of the game; he’s statistically the worst partner you can have. His starting weapons are a switchblade ( being a gang-banger and all ) and a 10 mm handgun. Mind you, this is a game where powered armor exists. The only unique thing he offers the player is, I shit you not, free haircuts.

Despite his gameplay shortcomings, i always felt the character had great potential as a foil to the Lone Wanderer. Like the Wanderer, he’s a teenager from the vault without battle experience. He also has a missing dad as well. Whereas the wanderer wants to leave to find his Dad, Butch just wants freedom. If Fallout 3 was more character-driven, he’d probably be the most interesting guy in the game. One of the primary themes of the Fallout series is letting go of the past and looking to the future. That fits in perfectly with Butch and the archetype he draws from: in West Side Story ( 1961 ), the greaser hoods have all been marginalized into their paths by their race and economic backgrounds. Even Fonzie from Happy Days, a heroic greaser, was shown to have redeemed himself from a tragic urban back-story with a missing father and gang connections. Imagine a story that powerful, but with laser guns! And i’m not the only one who thinks the guy has potential; some players have even modded Fallout: New Vegas ( 2010 ) to include the overlooked Butch Deloria. Hopefully, the actual game creators could take note and include the guy in the future of the franchise.

1. Eugene ” Flash ” Thompson – Spider-Man ( 1962 – Present )

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Puny Parker!

In a heroic tale, antagonists elevate a protagonist into heroism. For superheroes, this is mostly accomplished by supervillains. Given that the Spider-Man franchise draws much of it’s appeal from how the fantastic affects the mundane, Peter Parker also got a high school bully. As you can tell from the panel, the initial conflict in their first appearance ( Amazing Fantasy #15 1962 ) was pretty standard: Thompson was a popular and attractive jock and Peter was an unpopular and unattractive bookworm. While now a cliche, it’s important to remember that there weren’t as many bully / nerd stories then, which makes the conflict more specific. Despite being a smart dude, Peter does lack several heroic qualities. In the mundane high school world, the primary qualities he’s lacking are humor, confidence, and sexual charisma.

The Amazing Spider-Man #2 ( 1963 )

Umm...yea. Great comeback.

Umm…yea. Great comeback.

This is something most modern media don’t get about these archetypes: while audiences are often either “nerds” themselves or sympathize with nerds, that doesn’t mean nerdy characters are inherently admirable. This is a problem in media such as The Hard Times of RJ Berger, The Big Bang Theory, and the aforementioned Drillbit Taylor that create one-note nerds who never grow into compelling heroes. In contrast, once Peter Parker’s dangerous and thrilling lifestyle as Spider-Man allows him revisit his conflict with Flash from a competitive position. Peter is able to return Flash’s insults, fluster him with his bravado, and get his girl to make eyes at him.

The Amazing Spider-Man #13 ( 1964 )

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The conflict between the two isn’t always the same in every iteration; several versions portray their relationship more violently. While Flash does threaten Peter, their relationship almost never incorporated violence in the original series. Both Spider-Man film series turn Flash into a psychopath who would beat Peter’s face in for sneezing on him. This of course sets up the inevitable fight where Peter beats his ass and we all cheer. Stan Lee, rather than going for immediate gratification, builds a relationship between the two that remains playfully combative through clever wordplay and one-upmanship. While not witty, Flash’s combination of machismo, deluded confidence, and goofy Steve Ditko-drawn mugging makes him pretty funny.

The Amazing Spider-Man #25 ( 1965 )

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Granted, they have a formal boxing match at one point that turns out exactly as you think it would.

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Slowly, Flash begins to realize that Peter is more admirable than he originally thought.

The Amazing Spider-Man #39 ( 1966 )

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Flash himself became more admirable as well; his obsession with Spidey makes him want to be a hero himself. He later joins the military, loses his legs, becomes an alcoholic, and gains the Venom symbiote. Comics are weird. In a totally not gay way, Flash is sort of like Lois Lane, given his Peter-hate-that-turns-into-respect and admiration of Spidey. A combative yet not-overly-malicious teenager relationship is a hard thing for modern writers to do, which makes all the more impressive how well Stan Lee handles it. Flash challenged Peter, but as a shortsighted rival and not as a sadistic thug. Likewise, rather than backing down or becoming violent, Peter finds the inner strengths he’s always had to measure up. Their mutual growth embodies the constant progression of The Amazing Spider-Man series throughout the decades.

So what have we learned from these characters? Bullying is wrong…except when part of a well crafted story.

To read some more of my pop-culture lists:

10 Underrated Movie Characters That Fans Really Hate

10 Cover Gimmicks That Cheapened Great Characters

10 Stupid Attempts At Rebranding Comic Characters

8 Most Iconic Slasher Movie Death Scenes

10 Thankfully Obscure Spider-Man Villains

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Three Forms Of Comedy In Justice League

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In a way, comedy is the art form of the masses. Most people can’t play the cello or perform ballet, but almost everyone can make someone laugh ( hopefully, not during sex ). Not everyone knows why people laugh, however. There are a legion of theories on comedy dating back to Ancient Greece, but for the sake of argument, i’m going to narrow it down to just narrative comedy. Let’s say there are three forms of comedic plots that come out of mainstream media: situational, character-based, and farcical.

To compare and contrast these three forms, i’ll use the animated series Justice League Unlimited as a base. For some background: Justice League Unlimited was a series that ran on Cartoon Network from 2004-2006. It was the culmination of the extensive DC Comics animated universe created by character designer Bruce Timm, writer Paul Dini, and writer / producer Dwayne McDuffie. Why this series? Because it’s fucking awesome! More importantly, while listening to the DVD commentary for one of the episodes ( yes, people do that sometimes ) i was intrigued by an offhand remark by series lead artist Bruce Timm who noted that, unintentionally, they released three episodes that almost perfectly fit the three forms of comedy around the same time. This is especially funny since JLU is definitely NOT a comedy series ( at least most of the time ). I decided to re-watch those episodes to examine that claim…

1. Situational

I’m pretty sure most of you have heard of the film pitch of “X meets Y“. This is reflective of the “dartboard” approach to screenwriting, where writers literally just combine random ideas in order to create a concept. When done poorly, the results are awful. For example: ” Urban black culture meets Sci-Fi “.

Homeboys In Outer Space (1996-1997)

When done well, it can create hilarious spins on familiar stories. Much of the comedy from Shaun of The Dead ( 2004 ) derives from the fact that the main characters seem to be right out of a lighthearted romance film…yet they’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Hilarity ensues. The film Analyze This ( 1999 ) revolves around a psychiatrist’s relationship with his new patient…who just so happens to be a mob boss. Hilarity ensues.

The central idea  of situational comedy is “humor derived from incongruity” ( and yes, i just made that up ). When things don’t quite match up, they can be funny. The most common form of this is “fish out of water” plots which put easily identifiable character-types in situations they shouldn’t be in. Situational comedy leans mostly on dialogue and chemistry, since the disconnect has to be established by characters interactions. For example the series Frasier builds a lot of its humor from the snobby Crane brothers interacting with their working class father and friends. The biggest threat to this concept is if the initial premise becomes the only joke that can be made. One of the most maligned examples of this trope is “white guy / black guy” films where all of the humor can be summed up quite quickly…

In short, a good situational comedy BUILDS off its incongruity.

The Episode – Kid Stuff ( August 11 2004 )

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The Premise – Mordred, punk-ass son of the sorceress Morgan Le Fay from Arthurian legend, obtains a macguffin known as the “Amulet of First Magic”. The amulet gives Mordred ultimate power, which he uses to get back at his mother and all adults of the world ( which includes the Justice League ) by banishing them into some kind of limbo dimension. Morgan Le Fay, seeking to undo her son’s spell, finds a way to counteract the magic…by turning the League into little lads and lasses! ( i’m sorry )

How does it work? – Interestingly enough, most of the plot is played fairly straight. The situation is portrayed as fairly dire: the entire adult population is stuck in limbo for eternity and their children are left to fend for themselves. Even the heroes themselves attempt to play it straight. I say ‘attempt’ because once they’ve been reduced to ten-year-olds, they fall victim to the realities of how a ten-year-old would act in this situation.

Each character trait of the heroes is modified to a ten-year-old’s sensibility. Green Lantern’s militancy turns into dorkiness. Superman’s nobility turns into farm boy naivete. Wonder Woman’s confidence turns into flirtatiousness. Batman’s grimness turns into smartassness. What’s great about this characterization is that it saves the episode from going to the obvious “spinoff babies” direction by not having all jokes revolve around one note “aww that’s cute” humor. For example, for awhile in the series Wonder Woman has been implied to have an “interest” in Batman, which he seems to ignore because he must be the gayest man in the universe. This comes up in one scene when the heroes decides to pick teams to fight Mordred:

What makes this situation funny is that they’re STILL acting in-character, it’s just that their characters are being viewed through an exaggerated lens. Wonder Woman flirts more openly than usual, Bats is more dismissive than usual, and Supes is more oblivious than usual. Even Lantern’s jokes manages to fit in-story since he alludes to becoming more corny at the beginning of the episode. The plot of Kid Stuff manages to take a humorous AND canonical look at each character’s personality through their childhood selves.

2. Character

Some people are just naturally funny ( *cough* like me *cough* ). These guys are able to enter a room and have everyone laughing without much setup. People like these are producers’ wet dreams, because it means they can bank on a film or television project just by finding these guys. More often than not, character-based comedy draws from comedians, since they can carry shows single-handedly. The 90’s had a whole slew of these types of comedies; Martin, Seinfeld, Home Improvement, just to name a few. Often times, the character ( or characters ) is someone who is outlandish in his or her own right. A perfect film example is the The Nutty Professor ( 1963 ).

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See? I don’t even have to explain to you why that character would elicit laughter. Character comedy doesn’t ALWAYS have to be outlandish to work; characters can just be humorous in a believable way. The protagonists of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia manage to be both despicable, yet relatable. Their flaws are all based in reality: Dennis is a narcissistic guy who peaked in college, Dee is an entitled loser who has delusions of grandeur, Charlie is a slovenly pauper who’s struggled his whole life, Mac is an insecure conservative oblivious to his own hypocrisy, and Frank is Danny Devito. Good character comedy produces likable protagonists that keep us engaged. Bad character comedy creates protagonists who are so removed from reality that it’s difficult to connect with them ( a common criticism of Monk and the aforementioned Martin ).

The episode-The Greatest Story Never Told ( September 11 2004 )

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The premise – Rookie Leaguer Booster Gold is called to join in an epic conflict with the universe’s most powerful wizard…as crowd control. However, during the conflict he uncovers an equally important catastrophe, which he takes on since he’s the only unattended Leaguer. And also because he’s trying to get laid.

How does it work? – First, i’ll explain the origin of Booster Gold to you non-nerds: Michael Jon Carter was a failed football star who became a janitor in the far off future. While working at a superhero museum, he had the brilliant idea to steal several pieces of high end technology ( including a living computer named Skeets who became his sidekick ) and take a one-way trip to the current time in order to become a famous superhero so he can become rich and famous.

That by itself is a hilarious set-up for jokes. It’s like if Criss Angel was a real-life Angel who became a magician to get a free hotel room. Much of the humor of this episode comes from Booster’s superficiality: at one point he gives advice to Martian Manhunter on how he should get himself a catchier name ( which is a solid point ). When the Manhunter tries to get him to realize that being a superhero is about more than just fame, Booster agrees and asks ” How much do you pull in a year, after taxes? “. Now arguably, this is somewhat of a situational plot as well: Booster’s self-serving nature is incongruous in a world of superHEROes who should be the opposite. However, most of the episode focuses on him alone, negating many comparisons with the other Leaguers. Instead, we get a lot of jokes about how much of a loser he is. In addition, there’s great voice acting from actor Tom Everett Scott ( Dead Man On CampusBoiler Room ) as Booster and veteran voice actor Billy West ( STIMPY! ) as Skeets:

3. Farcical

Now, i know some of you have been reading and thinking” Fuck you Rob; comedy isn’t about structure! Comedy is just doing funny things!” First off, don’t curse so much. Second of all, you have a point. Some stories eschew specific plots and characters in favor of “free-form” comedy. This is where we get to ‘farce”, which means “a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations”. As you can imagine, farce is easy to do for comedy, because all it requires is something that’s momentarily funny. The issue is the “momentarily” part. Remember when “THIS IS SPARTA!” jokes were funny? Imagine an ENTIRE film based around that?

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Exactly

Farce is probably the easiest form of comedy to fuck up because it requires a body of individual bits of humor to support it. This requires an extensive grasp of “quick comedy” ( one liners, slapstick, etc ). I think this is why older works tended to grasp this comedic form better ( The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, Airplane! ) since they had their roots in silly vaudeville acts. The best modern day examples would probably be shows like Family Guy and Adventure Time, which have almost no grip on reality. As with any form of comedy, works don’t have to be ENTIRELY farcical, farce can still exist in degrees. For example, Seinfeld was mostly character and situationally driven, but occasionally incorporated outlandish elements such as the famous “Bubble Boy” who had a heated rivalry with George Costanza.

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One of the best ways to incorporate farce is as a “narrative crescendo”. One of the best examples is the film Tropic Thunder ( 2008 ). It incorporates farcical elements throughout the film, but it isn’t till the film’s climax where ( SPOILER ) a character intercepts an rpg with a TIVO ( END SPOILER ) that it becomes completely divorced from reality. Overall, farce is both the simplest and the trickiest category of comedy.

The Episode – This Little Piggy ( August 28 2004 )

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The Premise – Wonder Woman’s archnemesis, the goddess Circe, turns her into a pig. Batman has to find out how to get her back to normal. No seriously.

How does it work? – How could it not work? This is the craziest idea in the history of the series. First off, making Batman the protagonist allows for every situation to become even funnier because of how serious he is. In the picture above, Batman is caressing a pig tenderly. No more needs to be said. Secondly, the scenario leads to a bevy of of corny-yet-effective pig puns. ( a slaughterhouse worker jumps on Wonder Pig and utters the inevitable “that’ll do, pig” line from Babe [ 1995 ] ). Notably, what i’ve mentioned so far covers only character and situational comedy. So what makes it farcical? Several things. Each scene in the episode has it’s own internal logic that creates either a character comedy or a situational comedy ( or both ) in itself. When Batman loses the Wonder Pig, he has to call a guy called ‘B’wana Beast‘ who has never been mentioned before and looks like this…

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…to track her down. At one point, Batman thinks to venture to the RIVER STYX to question FREAKING MEDUSA about Circe.

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Medusa sounds like Patty and Selma from The Simpsons and tells Batman to ask Circe for her curling iron back. Most ridiculous of all, when a character ponders Circe’s whereabouts, we get a musical number with Circe accompanied by a full band and backup dancers.

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Did she conjure that up? Is she a club regular? None of this is explained, it just happens. This all builds up to a final battle at the same club in which Batman makes a bargain with Circe in order to return Diana to humanity ( or I guess amazon-ity ). What horrible request does Circe make of Batman?

That’s it. That’s all it took to resolve the whole plot. She turned a woman into a pig and fought a huge battle just to ask for that. That, my friends, is farce.

While i wouldn’t call them reflective of the entire series, i would say these episodes reflect what’s so fun about superheroes in general. Each episode highlights how these tales can be vacillate between dramatic AND funny. In addition, they also help to show how humorous writing is almost always smart writing.

Here’s some other funny moments from the series:

For more posts on superheroes:

Batman as a Heroic Psychopath

Superstitious and Cowardly Cops: Police Corruption in Gotham City

Ben Affleck as Batman: Why So Serious?

Superman as Defined By Lex Luthor

The Lois Lane Effect

Flash: The Quintessential Superhero

From Comic to TV: Green Arrow as Adapted Into Arrow

Journey of Peter Parker From Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

The Best Spider-Man Issue Ever / Why Spider-Man is a Classic Anti-Hero

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Iron Man 3 Review

For more posts on televison:

Top 5 Bullies In Fiction

The Walking Dead: The Governor as a Well-Intentioned Extremist

Slave Ownership As Seen Through Roots