Anyone out there watch Adventure Time? I’ll admit it’s not for everyone, but the show has the distinct capacity to be amazing on occasion, and something about hidden adult humor and deeper meanings probably goes in this sentence, too. There’s an episode called “What Was Missing,” where four — wait, maybe five — of the main characters have to form a genuine band to sing a genuine song to open the Door Lord’s door.
Now, the episode is basically a showcase for the (considerable) songwriting talents of one of the show’s storyboard artists, but the point of the episode is that even though some of the characters fight, in the end they’re all friends. Except in the episode it doesn’t sound that corny, partially because it’s done in song.
Which made me realize something. I think there’s an innate human instinct to look at fiction and place the protagonist and antagonist more in the “rivals” category than “enemies” category, in a way opposite to how we usually act in real life. This can go to a ridiculous extent, as far as me being able to say, without irony, that I’m certain most people subconsciously look at Superman and Lex Luthor and think, “you know, deep down inside those two are probably buddies.” And if you don’t believe me, go watch a few episodes of Smallville and then come back.
This is why it’s okay that Bowser goes go-kart racing with Mario. This is why it’s not weird that Goku ends up being buddies with almost every baddie he defeats over the course of Dragonball and Dragonball Z. This is why Dr. Zoidberg exists as a character.
But at the same time, this is why you’ll never see the same dynamic work in a fictional piece about Roosevelt and Hitler. So long as we have completely made-up characters, we can fill in whatever extra personality traits we want because there’s no way for an author to 100% flesh out a character for the audience. But real people are real people, and (the sane among us) can’t separate the fact that there’s a real person behind even fictional representations of real people, parody excluded.
There’s gotta be a way to harness that aspect of fiction in an actual fiction story. Taking the subconsciously-standard idea that all fictional characters live in a world where nothing *really* bad happens and deep down everyone likes one another, and bringing it to the foreground, making it a conscious element of a fictional universe.
And while that method eludes me, I can’t help but think that it’s not really taunting me, but rather trying to engage in some friendly competition.