Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Being THAT Guy

We are all guilty of this.

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.

Let's watch the nuke go off

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.”

Science bros

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’?”

No bathroom?

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?’ ”

Even a GOD doth need… well, you know.

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.

Old reliable origin

After all, if it bothered a lot of people then moviemakers wouldn’t have kept doing it for decades, would they?

Old reliable origin redux

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.)”

DUH. Try and keep up.

“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.)”

Seriously? also why is the black board eight feet in the air?

“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.”

Yay for rooms full of smart people!

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.

Dumbass could have saved himself a LOT of grief by being a little more chatty.

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.”

Even so, Lauren Graham is still the best thing about THE PACIFIER.

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.

Whoa boy, FREE GUN!

(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.


  1. You could stitch together an entire Michael Bay movie out of just his recycled tropes, one of which is the inverse of the person ignoring an explosion behind them; the group of guys running away from an explosion in slow-motion, with one of them being picked up and tossed over the camera by the force.

  2. dalgoda7

    One of my favorite Hong Kong action flicks, “Yes, Madam!” (also known as Police Assassins, or In the Line of Duty), has a great example of the “We must fight, or treat each other with disdain even though we’re on the same side, but we’ll team up eventually” trope. Including an AWESOME “gimme five” exchange right before they start throwing dudes through glass walls.

    Bonus: Michelle Yeoh’s first starring role, and special guest appearance by Cynthia Rothrock.

  3. Le Messor

    To sum up:

    Then there’s the helicopter pilot on The Simpsons: ‘Elvis played a helicopter pilot once. He made so many mistakes… great singer, though.’

    For me (In case you haven’t noticed already), it’s animals. Basic mistakes about animals that I’ve taken for granted since I was a kid. Axolotls aren’t saltwater! (I’ll give that one more leeway – I’d never heard of axolotls until I was a teenager.) Panthers aren’t a distinct species! Dolphins aren’t fish! Cockatoos don’t live in jungles across the world! Nor do kookaburras!

    Oh, that and when there’s something urgent – like a train’s about to leave – and our Lead Couple stands around smooching and whispering sweet nothings instead of catching the train. (A particularly egregious example happened at the end of Star Trek: TOS: All Our Yesterdays where they had one chance to get away before the planet they were standing on blew up, and two of them just stood around being romantic until the last microsecond.) Just once I want to see them turn around and the train’s left without them.

    “Peter Weller:… people having conversations in cars in movies or on TV. … ‘Keep your eyes on the road!’”
    This one has also bugged me for years. Didn’t need Peter Weller to point it out. 🙂

    “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.”
    Yes! So many yes!
    These are both part of a phenomenon I’ve noticed where people say something like ‘this is good because the villain is an evil reflection of the hero,’ and they keep saying that until you think ‘this is what good writing looks like’, and stop thinking there are other options.

    Nowlin’s points:
    People keep saying that the female lead was the smartest character in Prometheus – until you realise she’s the one who assembled and hired this team of incompetent morons.

    “the bad guy’s secret is broadcast on television and suddenly the heroes are validated and everyone stops chasing them.”
    This is what gets to me about the whole concept of conspiracy theories. Okay, you reveal this plot – then what? What, exactly, do the theorists think will happen if you prove that contrails are poison or aliens landed at Roswell? A change of administration? A couple of obscure public servants maybe fired? (Hah! One of my ads is ‘Australian Recession 2017 – free report explains why it’s coming and what to do’)

    Man this comment’s long. You’ve opened my floodgate!

    1. Le Messor

      Laughing at myself time:
      I’m rereading the Originitis thread, and here’s something I posted there:
      “I think it ties into yet another idea – where people start saying ‘this is really good story-telling’ until you get the idea that ‘this’ is what good story-telling looks like, and nothing else. In this case, the idea that the villain is a dark mirror of the hero.”

      No wonder people think I’m obsessive.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    I hate it when a comment inspires a column. 🙂

    We saw my biggest pet peeve; inaccurate depictions of the military and related history. I don’t mind a little dramatic license; but, when it is so totally warped out of proportion my brain explodes. The Fleming one is mostly due to the mythology that has been built around him, as the creator of James Bond. Fleming worked in intelligence and created the super-spy, so he must have been a spy. Nope. Julia Child worked in the intelligence field; but, no one thinks she was sneaking through Paris, ahead of the Gestapo. The biopics of Fleming are some of the worst, especially Spymaker, starring an extremely green Jason Conerry (in rather bad stunt casting). That thing is filled with so much BS that it feels like a stockyard!

    The worst, for me, was Steven Seagal’s Under Siege. I was a naval officer when it came out and went to see it at the theater (I saw too many stupid films, in that era). The whole basic premise is ridiculous. Seagal is supposed to be a SEAL who was busted and couldn’t hold a security clearance, so he could only be a cook. That is 10 levels of BS. the SEALs come from a variety of professional specialties in the Navy. They have to hold a rating (job specialty) before they can even apply for the program. However, some ratings are barred, as they don’t have essential skills. One of those is a cook. If Seagal had been busted in rank and transferred out of his SEAL team, he would revert back to his original rating and perform those duties in the regular Navy. That was just the first part. The second was that these terrorists could take over a battleship and steal the nukes, because most of the crew had been shipped off (it was being decommissioned). The first thing that goes, on a decommissioning ship, is the weaponry. Meaning the nukes! The last thing to go are the people. So, the terrorists would have found a lot of people and no warheads. Also, that was the worst knife fight in history. You do not fight with the point of the knife turned towards your own body, as you see both Seagall and Tommy Lee Jones doing. All you have to do is hit their arm and they will stab themselves.

    By contrast, Red Dawn is a total 80s right-wing fantasy: Merican high school kids kicking invading Commie butts! Its silly beyond belief; but, John Millius knew how to tell a story and he used a lot of actual history from Afghanistan, as well as a healthy respect for the Russian military (especially SPETSNAZ, their elite). He makes it work, on an emotional level and you tend to give it a pass.

    The other peeve is the depiction of the military as gung ho robots who blindly follow orders. You mention My Lai. What rarely gets mentioned is that a helicopter pilot put himself and his aircraft between the marauding soldiers and the village. He was commended for his actions and spent much of his later life speaking to military cadets about making tough decisions in high stress situations. There were similar actions by crewmembers of the USS Iowa, who refused to toe the party line, when the Navy attempted to whitewash the investigation of the gun turret explosion, in 1989. The Navy slandered a dead sailor as a homosexual and a saboteur, when neither was true. They eventually had to recant their findings and had to issue formal apologies. Hollywood rarely portrays this. Instead, we get the crazed general, the trigger happy soldier, the sadistic sergeant. They exist, as we have seen in Iraq, boot camp incidents, and the like; but, they are not the norm. When we heard about Abu Graib, we didn’t here as much about Navy dog handlers who defied CIA interrogators who wanted to use their animals to terrorize suspects. Hollywood rarely shows that.

    My other pet peeve is long winded arguments.;)

    1. jccalhoun

      I’ve been rewatching Star Tretk:TOS and while watching it I have been wondering what the show would look like if it was ran like an actual naval ship. How many episodes have the captain, the first officer, the head doctor, and chief engineer all beaming down on a mission. Who’s running the ship?

      1. frasersherman

        Something David Gerrold complained about in his book on TOS was how the captain is always beaming down. Commander Benson made the same point about the Silver Age Captain Savage series–a Navy captain doesn’t lead away missions (and as some of those under him complained, a former sub commander is hardly qualified to lead a marine strike force).

        “By contrast, Red Dawn is a total 80s right-wing fantasy: Merican high school kids kicking invading Commie butts! Its silly beyond belief; but, John Millius knew how to tell a story and he used a lot of actual history from Afghanistan, as well as a healthy respect for the Russian military (especially SPETSNAZ, their elite). He makes it work, on an emotional level and you tend to give it a pass.”
        Rewatching it a few years ago (I was writing a book on paranoia about Russian/Nazi/Japanese/Islamic/ET infiltration and conquest of the US) I was struck by how 1980s it is. What would a teenager today make of Russia invading the US in an alliance with El Salvador and Nicaragua? It’s also interesting that such a right-wing film compares the good guys to the Viet Cong (as a compliment).

  5. Rob Allen

    Mine is pretty common – correct spelling and grammar. There are a lot of people restraining themselves from being “THAT guy” about bad English, and there’s a place where some of us gather to share some of the funnier mistakes that we see. It started in this message board thread:

    and continues now in this one:

    I drop in and read the last few pages every week or so, and contribute if I find a good one.

  6. Here’s another one that drives me nuts:

    Our heroes are acting outside the law, and find themselves chased by the police with sirens and guns blazing. They make it to some arbitrary point (a bridge, a freeway on-ramp, tunnel, whatever) and as they fly across this magical boundary, the police just stop. Cops slam on the brakes, get out of their cars, watch the heroes flee into the distance, while they stand there sighing and shrugging, like “oh well, they got away.” They never call for backup, never alert other officers to head them off, never send a helicopter. It’s just “dammit, we’ll get ’em next time!”

  7. Jeff Nettleton

    And another thing…..

    How can the A-Team fire 5000 rounds of ammunition, from semi-automatic weapons, without ever changing a magazine, and still never hit anything? A ricochet should have at least nicked someone.

    And, how come the pilot was always able to eject just before the missile hits the plane, on GI JOE? And, lasers are flying everywhere and no one ever gets hurt? This is supposed to be less objectionable to children than Jonny Quest, where you actually saw the consequences of firing a gun or setting off explosives? And we can’t have cartoon characters shooting each other in the face and surviving; but, we can show the same shot of a laser-guided missile hitting a truck 8000 times, during the Gulf War, on CNN and President Reagan being shot every 5 minutes, for a week after it happened (thank you SNL for latching onto that one!)

    And how do 6 kids share a bathroom without a toilet? Those kids would be doing the pee-pee dance all over that house!. You’d think Mike Brady could have sacrificed some of that space in the living room for more plumbing!

    And when is Kate Bradley going to get that elevator fixed, at the Shady Rest Hotel?

  8. Le Messor

    Ooh! Ooh! I thought of a new one…
    When what you see on screen is absolutely, totally, clearly not what the characters are seeing.

    I don’t mean special effects fails, those can’t be helped. (“This is a bright red dress, but technicolor is soooo expensive.”)

    I mean, when Buffy picks up a battle ax. It’s clearly a battle ax. Nobody would ever call it anything but a battle ax. But every single character who sees it calls it a scythe.

    I’m talking about Stanley Ipkiss holding up a tie that’s black and white and saying it has bright colours.

    I’m talking about a little girl surrounded by small lizards that anybody in the world would call lizards… and asks if they’re birds.

    That kind of thing. The producers want you to see a thing, but insist on showing you something else.

  9. As to the throwing an empty gun thing, there’s a bit about that in the Venture Bros. ep “Escape to the House of Mummies (part 2)”. The two cultists are shooting guns (presumably at the Ventures), the one guy runs out of bullets and throws the gun. The other tells him, “we have more ammo, you know, go get that”. The gun thrower replies, “yeah, but it looks so cool”.

  10. jccalhoun

    My biggest pet peeve is probably stories that could be solved if only the main characters would just talk to each other. I hate it when one character is keeping a secret and if that person would just tell everyone then they would fix everything.

    Only having conflict because your characters don’t talk like mature adults is a terrible plot device.

  11. Annoyed Grunt

    I have one from the world of pro wrestling. There was a guy named The Sandman who was incredibly popular, partly due to his elaborate entrance which involved him chugging beers and smoking while Metallica’s Enter Sandman played. This would often take up to 5 minutes and from a storytelling perspective this could be explained as him psyching out his opponents. However, there would be times when two villains would be beating up a hero when suddenly Metallica starts to play. Here comes Sandman to save the day, right? Well, more often than not he’d still do his elaborate entrance. So, then the bad guys either spent 5 minutes acting angry that The Sandman would dare interrupt or they’d still keep beating up the hero. Dude, how about putting some hustle in your step and save the day before getting drunk?

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      That’s because the entrance was pretty much the extent of his ability, other than to swing a shinai (a Japanese bamboo Kendo practice sword, incorrectly called a Singapore Cane) at people, without protecting them.

      I never understood why that guy was over with the crowd; but, I never saw the appeal of the garbage matches at ECW and elsewhere. The matches with guys like Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Rey Misterio, Psicosis, and Chris Benoit; yeah, those I could understand.

      If you want to get into pro wrestling silliness (apart from dumb WWF characters and storylines), how about the glory days of WCW and the New World Order (NWO) storyline? You had most of a year of Sting sitting in the rafters, ripping off The Crow, then attacking the heels by dropping down from the ceiling, on a rapelling line. The heels would be beating up on someone, Sting would drop in, then everybody had to stand around with their thumb somewhere it shouldn’t be, while Sting got unhooked from his safety harness. Then, once he was free, they went back to attacking. The sad irony is that is what led to the death of Owen Hart. The WWF wanted to parody the entrance; but, didn’t want Owen to spend forever getting unhooked. The reason Sting took so long was that he was professionally rigged, with safety back-ups. Hart was put into a rig, by amateurs, who used a snap release mechanism designed to be used with a sail, not a 200+ lb man, and it popped open, plunging him to his death, in front of a live audience. The even sadder irony was that the whole point of the parody was for him to make the entrance to the ring, from the ceiling, unhook, take a step and then trip and fall. He died for a bad joke that could have been accomplished by him vaulting over the top rope (as he had done numerous times), then tripping after landing. At worst, be might have hurt a knee or ankle, if something went wrong.

  12. bretsector

    I’m That Guy when it comes to the all-seeing computer geek team member. They can hack into every camera and satellite instantly. They can crack every login, fix every computer virus in seconds. It just seems like a cheap ex deus machina and it is everywhere these days across comics, tv, movies, …Ugh!

  13. bretsector

    I told my wife about this column and she immediately came up with the “bad guy uniforms” always fit perfectly when someone knocks them out and needs to go undercover in the prison/military/police uniform of choice.

  14. John King

    The gun-throwing away thing irritated me in the Jonah Hex movie (though not as much as a certain glaring change from the comic version which I understand was done late on during the making of the movie) – these were special guns he had custom-made – sure the ammo was also special and wouldn’t be cheap to replace but much cheaper than the guns as well.

    On the explosion taking place behind the hero, I think of A Better Tomorrow 2 – in which the usage of too much explosives demonstrates why the hero shouldn’t be so casual about such things (fortunately Chow Yun Fat only suffered minor injuries – and of course John Woo didn’t want to waste the footage).

    One thing that irritates me is when I figure something out and the supposedly smart protagonist with the same information doesn’t get it until after someone dies.
    For example, a woman unexpectedly visits an old friend only to die from poison. Nobody but the friend knew her. The detective discovers that the woman had only just been released from prison after being convicted for a fatal stabbing and witnesses suggest that someone else was involved but not identified. The detective then decides that the friend was the real target of the poisoning and only considers other people as suspects…

    1. Le Messor

      “The gun-throwing away thing irritated me in the Jonah Hex movie”

      Well, that stems from one of the biggest mistakes I see in Hollywood movies:
      Hiring Akiva Goldsman to script it.
      Do that, and you can expect any to all the rest of the mistakes listed here.

      I’ll leave it to you to look up his debits on IMDb.

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