Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fresh out of Parental Figures, huh?

   Parents are great in real life, but they can be quite an obstacle for an exciting story. For authors and screenwriters everywhere it is a challenge to either stealthily eliminate the parent factor altogether, or figure out how to properly work in the parental figures without them dampening the intensity of a story. In this post I am going to point out the tactics in popular shows and books used to accomplish this task.
   Parents discipline, and that is why they hamper a story, especially with teenagers. How are characters going to do anything plot-driven when parents are getting in the way disciplining them and stopping them from doing stupid stuff they can later (not until the end of the story) learn from?

  • Harry Potter and the Fact that He's an Orphan Isn't Just to Make Him Cooler: Rowling decided to take the easy route on not having to deal with parents, and that was to kill them off. Now, of course I am not suggesting that the single and only reason Harry's parents are dead is so JK wouldn't have to worry about working them into the story-- of course they have the whole love shield thing going on, and the prophecy, and the motivation for Harry, all that good stuff. What I'm saying is, let's play out a hypothetical HP series where, oh I don't know, Voldy went and killed the babysitter when getting to little baby Harry while the parents were out enjoying whatever movie was playing back in '81, and his parents get to stick around for the whole Boy Who Lived battling it out with Voldemort adventure. Now, apart from Harry being more used to magic and maybe his parents being involved in the Order, I'm assuming the basics of the story would be in place. So even if the parents were accepting of their child on a yearly basis from the time he was eleven fighting the most dangerous and evil wizard in the world, would they really be okay with Harry having to die? No parents would be okay with this news, and would do all possible to prevent Harry from dying. I'm sure it would still all work out in the end, probably Harry sneaking away from his parents during the battle or something, but point being it would have been much more difficult. Plus, we wouldn't have had near as much of that good ole HP angst we all know and love. This one was fairly well done, as JK was able to work out the parents with justifiable reasons.
  • The Hunger Due to the Fact that My Mother is Completely Incompetent Games: Katniss, as most teen protagonists, has had a hard knock life. She too is partially orphaned, with the decease of her father, and to get the other half of the parental problem out of the way of the plot line, Collins decided to leave the mother shell-shocked-- erm, grief-shocked, that is-- from the father's not so pleasant mining death. The mother being not involved, along with adding to angst (much like Harry), was secretly necessary, teaching Katniss to shoot arrows like a boss and thus preparing her for the Hunger Games, where she happens to attain a bow and some arrows. Nifty. Again, I say this was fairly well done, though both Collins and Rowling decided to take obvious routes to arrive at the lack of parenthood state.
  • Victorious-ly Failing to Have Parents: As this is probably less popular, here is a teen show on Nickelodeon called Victorious. I'll admit it, over the summer it was my guilty pleasure. The basis of the show is a group of friends at a fine arts school. Now, like I said, I watched this show during the summer, and for the longest time I was convinced the main chick must have been some kind of biological miracle-- her parents just aren't around. No, the school is not a boarding school, as that is--second only to the orphan option-- the easiest/most obvious way around the parental factor. But no, the girl goes home everyday, and a good half of the show is spent in her living room (that's another odd thing about the show-- I'm not convinced she has a bedroom either...but I digress). Her parents just aren't there. Finally, I saw the pilot episode and thank goodness they're in it. Including this, the parents are show up in maybe three episodes, and usually only for a short scene. So I say to this show: you aren't even trying, are you? 
  • Pretty Little Lack of (Good) Parenting Skills: Now, again, I have to admit that I do watch Pretty Little Liars-- a teen drama where the four girls are figuring out who's blackmailing them and possibly killed their friend-- wholesome stuff. For the first season, there was a decent lack of parenting. Yes, the parents were around, they were just completely oblivious to their children getting blackmailed and becoming involved in all sorts of troublesome situations. This I found to be unrealistic-- I mean really, how many times can you say you're just "going out" before your parents start to question it? Then in the second season and this season the writers must have realized this, because the parents at least try to get involved, but honestly are just really bad at it. They send their kids to therapy, which randomly ends for reasons I'm unsure of. They tell their kids they shouldn't hang out together so much-- the kids get around it easily and so the parents just drop it. They tell their kids not a date a certain someone-- the girl does it anyway, and with ease. Sometimes the parents become angry, sometimes they try to be concerned or give advice-- but to no avail, and honestly because it was a crappy attempt. So to this show, I say: maybe you should go back to the oblivious parent thing, it worked better because right now the parents just get in the way.
  • Catcher in the Why Deal with Phony Parents Rye: Yes, I end with Salinger. Classic Holden decides not to deal with parents by just not. Leaving his boarding school-- yes, starting with an easy escape from parents-- Holden goes to NYC instead of home. His parents don't even know he has left the school. Salinger did a beautiful way of eliminating the parents-- acknowledging their existence, but just not dealing with them. They completely would have hampered the story as Holden wanders around struggling with his awkward adolescence, something that Holden needed to do on his own. If his parents had been there or found him in NYC, they would have tried giving him loving advice, and he would have never questioned the loss of innocence or wanted to be the catcher in the rye. Salinger worked the story successfully without parents in the most clever tactics of those I've listed (what can you expect, it is the one piece of literature on here).
   So in conclusion, while parents are lovely and I would never want to be without mine, stories with young protagonists need a lack of them in order to go through life and identity struggles. Plus parents can hamper the excitement of the story, though complete lack of them can prove unrealistic-- it is a tricky balance.
   As a quick disclaimer, I would like to say that I am not bashing anything on this list. I read/watch all of them, and enjoy doing so. Hope you enjoyed this excessively long post, and sorry for the lack of pictures.

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