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Emotional Manipulation

May 13th, 2009 by | Tags: ,

I was reading Secret Six #9, today.  In it three members of the six stop a kidnapping.  The kid in question is female, blonde, and in a pink dress, and who should end up holding her and taking her to her parents?  Bane.  Yes, the gigantic, awkward, spine-snapping collossus of the Secret Six ends up singing to the little girl and calming her down.  Looking at the issue made me think of all the other Big Gruff Guy, Cute Little Kid pair ups there are.  There’s Bane, in this comic, and to some extent Bane with Scandal Savage.  Cable got a baby girl a little while back.  Wolverine can’t pass a teenage girl without becoming a mentor to her for a little while.

And then there are countless movies, tv shows, and books that play off the same concept.  It’s cheap, obvious emotional manipulation.

I love it.

Of course I know that people are pandering to me.  So what?  What exactly is wrong with a story that is flat-out written for reader enjoyment?  Isn’t that what we pay for?  I realize that graphic novels can make subtle points and speak to our minds instead of our brain-stems, but at the same time, I think there’s an art to skillfully pushing people’s buttons and molding their emotions.  I also think there’s a certain integrity in deliberately giving readers the kind of stories that they enjoy most.  I don’t know if it’s customers service or consideration for one’s audience, but I like it.

The only real problem I have with accepting this kind of obvious maneuvering is it rips the self-righteousness right out from under me.  When certain authors set up one character as an incompetent, hateful buffoon so that their pet character can look cool by taking out an easy target, someone reading The Complete Works of Proust may be able to raise a scornful eyebrow and talk about cheap storytelling technique.  But I, gripping my copy of that Batman Adventures comic in which Batman has to spend a whole night crime-fighting while also taking care of a baby with nuclear codes imbedded in its DNA, don’t have a leg to stand on.

But at least I don’t have to spend my time reading The Complete Works of Proust.

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8 comments to “Emotional Manipulation”

  1. This is our 1000th post, btw :)


  2. @david brothers: Oh. Sorry. Didn’t notice. Reading Proust.

    Seriously, though. Now I wish I’d stepped it up a bit. Congratulations on the 900+ posts you made before I got here.


  3. I think a cliche is only bad when we don’t get a good story out of it.


  4. Not only did we break 1000, but because this article is about Bane, we broke it over our knee!


  5. 1000 posts? Hopefully someone will BAKE YOU… a cake!

    I think, in comics, the Big Guy and Little Pal always goes back to Hulk & Rick Jones on some level. And yeah, I’m wary of anyone who’ll sing the praises of James Joyce, calling his work objectively good, because I’ve spent my time reading The Incredible Hercules instead of Ulysses. But that’s just the way it is.

    Runner-up literary allusion? Reading Superpro instead of Catcher in the Rye.


  6. Heck, we all do that kind of thing.

    Back in high school, my Catcher in the Rye comparative essay focused almost entirely on Brian K Vaughan’s “Runaways”.


  7. I’ve really warmed up to the way Bane is being handled in Secret Six. In, your previous post about the comic, a few months back, I was still skeptical about his role on the team, but I’ve come to like it. It’s still weird, though, to see a formerly completely amoral monster akwardly comforting a little girl by singing to her.

    If a reader of high literature raises an eyebrow because of “cheap storytelling techniques,” it is worth remembering that some believe that Shakespeare himself sometimes inserted humorous characters and situations in his (serious) plays to appeal to the audience’s sense of humor. If Shakespeare in this way catered to the taste of his audience, how different is that from a writer tugging on their reader’s heartstrings by inserting a little girl that needs to be saved? If the latter is pandering, so is the former.

    Also, that trick you mention, where one character takes a fall to make another look good? Shakespeare often did that (in, for example, The Merchant of Venice), and so did James Joyce (in episode 12 of Ulysses, the Cyclops chapter).

    But… what’s with the dig at readers of high literature at the end? I mean, I enjoy both comics and literature. I read James Joyce, Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges, but also Batman, Secret Warriors and X-Men: Legacy.


  8. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there needs to be more Batman-with-a-baby stories.