Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 22: Author Avatars

Have you watched a TV show to watch one character take on more and more characteristics of the creator? This may happen to the main character or another can gain an increasing scope in the series which each successive season.


Relatively Harmless Examples

On one hand, author avatars can relatively harmless. For instance, a show may work well if it is in fact built around a character meant to resemble the creator. A beloved character can be based on a writer on the show or creator.

‘Avatar’ is in the Name of the Show

Two examples of a relatively harmless author avatar apparently are Aang and Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The characters are based on creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko, respectively.

author avatars, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Michael Dante DiMartino, Brian Konietzko
You can see the resemblance.

Both of these characters are beloved and respected by the fanbase, as are many others, due to the great writing and voice acting.

Regular Show

Another example of a good author avatar is Mordecai from Regular Show.

author avatars, Mordecai, Regular Show

The blue bird acts like the creator in certain situations. I don’t mind that, as I can see several influences from all the writers in the show and I dig the overall humor.

On the other hand, it can be pretty annoying if the connection to the creator constraints natural character growth.


In the Mid-Range

Past examples of a harmless author avatar are seen in various characters of Dawson’s Creek. All the main characters in fact had traits of the creator, which he admitted, albeit with mixed results. However, I had a problem with latter developments with these characters. [SPOILERS abound.]

  • It was no secret that Dawson Leery was created to represent creator Kevin Williamson as a budding director, but that eventually limited the character.

author avatar, Dawson's Creek, Kevin Williamson, James Van der Beek

  • For the most part, Dawson was a naïve, and at times utterly clueless, young man, but those traits were endearing in the beginning. It should be noted that Williamson left the show after 1999 and the quality of it declined sharply afterward.
  • Annie McPhee was meant to represent Williamson’s psychotic side, but beyond that, there wasn’t really a place for her on the show. While mental issues were given a proper amount of respect on the show, the target audience would not want to see that on a show that initially attracted them by promises of romance (and sex).
  • Jack McPhee, Annie’s brother, was meant to represent Williamson’s sexuality. The problem is that is what made up most of his character. While I appreciated the inclusion of a gay character, how Jen’s religious mother welcomed him her home when he needed a place a stay, and how he eventually ended up with Doug (Pacey’s older brother), something was lacking in his characterization.
  • Besides that, I don’t have much of a problem with Joey, Jen, or Pacey’s characterization early on. Their character traits worked well for them at their introduction, but as Williamson moved on, these facets of their personalities were diluted, as well.

The ending of the show would be written by Williamson, but since he had been gone from most of the show, the damage had already been done and the finale felt uninspired. He had the titular doing the same thing Williamson did — particularly in regards to what Dawson did with his teen drama. By that time, I had lost a considerable amount of interest in Dawson’s Creek, so of course I found the finale anticlimactic and boring.


Preachy Characters

On the other hand, many author avatars get on viewer’s nerves more often. The worst author avatars develop when the characters become propagandized. It’s cool that some of the creators of shows share some of my views on things, but there is a limit to what I want to see in their works. Sometimes, they use characters to push their agendas, and that gets in the way of storytelling. I do not want to see a character constantly preaching to conservatives or jerks. I would rather see each side be right about something. If there are gripes with one ideology, there are subtle ways to go about expressing that, but that should be kept to a minimum at best.

South Park

I will mention Stan and Kyle from South Park here. Originally, these guys were the author avatars of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and one can see that in the way they were portrayed. They were always best friends and the voices of reason. The morals of the episodes have often been spoken by them and they called Cartman on his bullshit. This may have shifted now, but I knew something bothered me from early on: I’m not a fan of the creators of this show. One reason being how self-righteous they are at time. So of course, I don’t really like their avatars.

author avatars, South Park, Matt Parker, Trey Stone

For more recent examples were an author avatar has had a decidedly negative effect, two characters from FOX shows have annoyed me to an extent:

Lisa Simpson

author avatar, Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons

I wasn’t really sure if I could really call Lisa Simpson an author avatar yet I thought she could be to a certain extent depending on the sensibilities of the writers. This little snippet from TVTropes puts it into perspective:

Lisa Simpson serves as this in The Simpsons, also being a great tool to swat strawmen conservatives/Christians/business people with. Although she acts as the straw (anything else) herself. Groening has even admitted that Lisa is his favorite character and will do anything not to make her look bad. In fact during the commentary for “The Cartridge Family”, Matt admitted, like Lisa, to absolutely hating guns and in fact nearly got into a fight with the crew.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AuthorAvatar

So Lisa basically is an author avatar, and has more often been a Soap Box Sadie, so she gets on my nerves at times. She has often been the sanest person in her family — after Marge — and certainly the most moralistic. She can be preachy and judgmental and for some reason her veganism rubs me the wrong way. I didn’t like that episode where she ruined Homer’s barbeque and in one Thanksgiving episode, when she uttered the line, “Made entirely of tofu,” I cringed. Maybe part of that is because I hate PETA, but that is another issue entirely.

There have certainly been jokes about the two major parties in American politics on The Simpsons, and some mileage has been spent on the perception (or general consensus?) that the Republican Party is evil. Lisa has been a part of these jokes. BTW, I consider myself a Liberal and Lisa Simpson apparently is one, as well. That might be why these jokes do not necessarily bother me, along with the fact that FOX News is over the top.

All things considered, I still consider Lisa my favorite character from The Simpsons. For the most part, I like her and root for her more than anyone else in the show. I appreciate some of her opinions but I still cannot excuse her for the heavy-handed messages.

And it seems that Lisa’s preachy-ness has cooled down a bit since 2014 and that is a good thing.

Brian Griffin

author avatars, Brian Griffin, Family Guy

Brian Griffin can be grating at times, yet he wasn’t at the beginning of Family Guy. In fact, I considered him my favorite character from the show when I first started watching it. Brian seemed grounded. (So did Lois for the most part, but I didn’t like her for some reason.) It seems like Seth MacFarlane realized this and decided to push Brian more.

For a while, Brian was the author avatar and it became more and more blatant with each season. He had Liberal sensibilities and made that clear with his political commentary, sometimes unprovoked. He made it clear that he was an atheist, so he would openly mock religions. He preached about gay rights and legalizing marijuana. (I agree with these two things, too, but the message was laid on too thick.)

On top of the blatant messages, Brian is hypocritical and pretentious. He projects himself as a voice of reason. He judges conservatives (and Lois) while being shallow and harboring racist sentiments. For example, he may bark or growl randomly at a black stranger or hopelessly spit out stereotypes. Also, he didn’t vote for Obama despite siding with the Democrats. He once dated a black woman (Genie), but not without trying to impress her with his “racial sensitivity” and other pretentious nonsense. (There are Liberals like that to be sure.)

I liked the speech that Quagmire gave Brian, as it was well-deserved. But it was ironic, considering that Quagmire has always been such a sleaze bucket throughout the show’s run. You know what? That fact alone takes away from the entire speech.

Nowadays, Brian is used less as an author avatar but more like a butt-monkey in some episodes. The pretentiousness has stayed, and more of his sleazy side has come to the fore. I do not like this change, either.

While I’m still on the topic of Family Guy, I would like to go over a list of complaints when I talk Seth MacFarlane Comedies. But before that, I will talk about Character assassination among other things.


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