We were kidding around about this last week in the comments, but it got me to thinking. We all do this. But, interestingly, no two of us ever do it in the same way.
What I mean is, compulsive pedantry.
Which sounds really dirty when you say it like that. But it just means the irresistible urge to correct people, to point out annoyances and inconsistencies and cliches, to be “that guy.”
I used to think it was confined strictly to nerd culture, but I found out taking a little informal survey this last week among friends and co-workers that EVERYONE does it. We all have our areas of expertise that, when some popular piece of entertainment gets it wrong, we can’t help but yell AAARGH and complain about it to anyone within earshot. Our friend Jeff mentioned it last week in connection with historical inaccuracies in Timeless, and he wasn’t wrong, but it made me laugh bnecause he prefaced it with saying that he didn’t want to be THAT guy.
None of us wants to be That Guy. But sometimes… we just can’t help ourselves.
I thought it might make a fun column, asking folks what brought out the “that guy” impulse in them. The need to grumble about something that no one else in the audience cares about. I got an AVALANCHE of responses– seriously, you’d think people had been wanting to get this stuff off their chests for years. Here’s a sampling.
Star Trek scribe and award-winning SF novelist David Gerrold said: “The hero walking away from the exploding building behind.”
“Uh, no — if he’s not going to appreciate the explosion, he should be throwing himself to the ground to avoid getting hit by flying fragments.”
I have to admit I never thought of that one but he’s right. Come to think of it, there was one where the hero and his girl DO stop to admire the explosion… “Wine, Women, and War,” the second episode of The Six Million Dollar Man.
In that one, Lee Majors and Britt Eklund have just escaped the villain’s missile silo by clambering out a handy vent, after having set one of the missiles to explode. They pause at the exit to watch the arms dealer’s HQ go up in flames.
Except… it’s a NUKE. I think there was an actual mushroom cloud, even.
They’d have been ash. Along with a major chunk of the island of Maui. Haven’t thought about it in years but now I’ll never NOT notice it….
Our old friend Pol Rua mentions these two…”I saw an interview with Peter Weller a few years ago where he talked about his pet peeve, which is people having conversations in cars in movies or on TV. The whole time it’s happening, he wants to scream ‘For fuck’s sake! Keep your eyes on the road!’
And now I can’t not see it.”
Well, hell, me either, now. And I imagine all of you, as well. Thanks, Mr. Weller.
Pol adds, “I think mine is the fact that, anytime anyone wants blood, they cut open the palm of their hand. WHY? You are FULL of blood, but by all means, why not cut open an area of your body that will take longer to heal and will impede your ability to do almost everything? AAAAH!”
Iluustrator Chris Kohler co-signed that one. “Holy shit, yes. Every time, I’m like – what about your shoulder, or your back, or some other broad section of skin that you can just wrap or slap a band-aid on, without impeding the rest of your activity? Stupid Klingons.”
As it happens Chris had one of his own: ” ‘Before we can team up, we must have a dick-measuring argument/fight in order to figure out we’re on the same side.’ So to speak, this needn’t be only a male trait.”
He adds, “Then every so often you see a Tony Stark and a Bruce Banner immediately develop a science bromance rather than fighting, and it’s awesome and ADORABLE.”
Speaking of the Avengers, our friend Perry Holley said, “Is it too obvious to mention the ‘criminal mastermind imprisoned in a cell with a see-through wall’?”
I said I thought everyone must be tired of that one by now. Perry replied, “I don’t think that one is going away until perhaps it gets parodied in a popular comedy/satire. ‘Wait, so the guards can see you poop?’ ”
I admit to wondering about that myself. Even evil geniuses deserve a little privacy in the crapper.
Colleague Jim MacQuarrie has two: “1. Every superhero movie has to be an origin story, because we have to slog through Campbell’s Heroes Journey like a forced march. 2. The hero and villain’s origins need to be tied together so that ‘they created each other’ and are locked in a co-dependent death-spiral.”
Now, the first one is a common complaint– John Trumbull even made it the focus of a column— but the second one strikes me as valid.
After all, if it bothered a lot of people then moviemakers wouldn’t have kept doing it for decades, would they?
Our friend Chris Nowlin chimes in, “Especially when the villain had to kill the person’s parent. For which I blame Burton’s Batman. But it still annoys me about Daredevil. And Spider-Man 3. Can’t Daredevil just want to stop Kingpin because he’s bad? And both recent takes on Fantastic Four had to involve Dr. Doom in the experiment that gave them powers. The latest even had Sue not go on the mission so Doom could.”
Mr. Nowlin is a mathematician by trade, and he has his own to add: “I have a pretty huge pet peeve when it comes to movies about scientists or mathematicians. Where they can only display the brilliance of the main character by making every one else seem like idiots, forgetting that it really takes a team of really talented people to accomplish things. More generally, I dislike movies where one character does all the things that really a team of people with differing talents would do. Imitation Game was a terrible offender and I found the movie irredeemable. The war was won by Turing despite his idiot team giving him nothing but grief. (A separate issue with Imitation Game is that Turing seemed not at times to understand very basic things which he obviously did understand.)”
“And while I like Hidden Figures overall, it is also shows annoying hints of this trend. It often seemed like Katherine Johnson was the only person in the room who could solve an equation. (Also the separate trend of people seeming to not understand basic concepts they obviously would.)”
“There is a similar trend outside of the sciences. Argo‘s big change to history was making Ben Affleck’s character handle everything when in reality there was a team of people who divided up the work. Similarly, Clear and Present Danger makes it seem like Jack Ryan’s job is to do everything at the CIA. The people who brief the president are often not the people analyzing a bomb blast. Hunt for Red October was much better at making it clear what his specialty was and that he was now going to do a single task outside of his usual comfort zone due to extreme circumstances.
“A recent trend bucker was The Martian. Which made it seem like everybody was actually good at their jobs, as one might expect. Apollo 13 is also a good film in this regard.”
Our former blog colleague and current Marvel scribe Kelly Thompson says hers is….”The ‘I have super important information I have to convey but I don’t for…REASONS?’ And it’s really easy to work around this – because I will accept literally ALMOST ANY GOOD REASON for them to not relay said information…but BAD reasons and NO reasons…DRIVES ME INSANE.”
In fairness, that one dates back a ways. But it irritates me too.
Spirit artist Dan Schkade has a good one: “Mine’s gotta be the maddeningly present cliche wherein a female character is asked to explain why she’s a capable fighter/good with a gun/knows how to fix cars/can hold her liquor, or is just generally ‘competitive.’ Bonus irritation points if the explanation is ‘dad wanted a son’ or ‘grew up with a lot of brothers.’ Blech.”
And so on. There were many, many others, and I’m running out of room. But I have a couple of my own. When I first asked around, I couldn’t believe that we got that far and no one landed on either one of mine. But here they are.
The first one we’ve seen in The Running Man, in Dark Angel, in Serenity, in a bunch of others I am too lazy to go look up, but it’s in double digits at least…. the bad guy’s secret is broadcast on television and suddenly the heroes are validated and everyone stops chasing them.
In real life what does that look like? Donald Trump had dozens of horrible things revealed about him and now he’s our president. Very few people consider Edward Snowden a hero– certainly not in comparison to the ones who think he’s a traitor.
But in the movies, it always works for the hero. In The Running Man, especially, it’s grating because realistically Arnold and his girl would be murdered by the angry mob as soon as they leave the studio, for getting America’s favorite show canceled.
It took months of relentless investigative journalism to get Nixon to resign. The Vietnam War went on long after the truth came out about the My Lai massacre. Public opinion is not swayed enough for social change by something people see once on a guerilla television broadcast, especially if it’s something about a rich powerful person usually in control of the network. It’s just not. That’s one.
The other I don’t see so much any more but there used to be a thing where the hero fires a gun empty and then, exasperated, flings it away.
Look, guns are expensive. In the old West, especially, it was a survival tool. You don’t just hurl it out of your wagon when it’s empty. Especially not into the path of your pursuers who will pick it up and say whoa, free gun, let’s reload it and you can start shootin’ at him too, Bob.
(I should add that it was pointed out to me that when it happens in The Matrix, those guns aren’t real and it shouldn’t count, but it still looks stupid to me.)
Anyway. I could go on and on; these are, as I said, just a sampling. But it was kind of nice– or maybe alarming– to see how many of us are, in our hearts, That Guy. I daresay we’ll see a bunch more below in the comments.
Back next week with something cool.