Sometimes, people do stupid things for noble reasons.
Well-Intentioned Stupidity is a staple of fiction. A common affliction, its symptoms include unnecessary risk-taking, self-sacrifice and determined martyrdom – idiocy in the name of heroism.
WIS is often born out of the hero only having half the facts (or knowing them all but failing to put the pieces together); despair-fuelled powerlessness; or some kind of severe head trauma (I mean, I’m assuming). This stupidity is multiplied by the urgent drive to save loved ones and manifests itself in acts of increasingly critical stupidity – think telepathically inspired rescue ops, feeding-frenzy-fuelling self-harm, or simply ineffectual attacks on the Big Baddie as he bears down on your love interest.
It’s understandable. Wanting to help those you love is hardly a character defect. Also, I doubt anyone really wants to read about a self-interested unsympathetic slacker. It’s just that these noble idiots go about their missions in such life-threateningly stupid ways… it’s almost offensive to read (or watch).
Speaking of… let’s examine some of the worst offenders:
- Elena in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES has always been high on the WIS hit list, particularly because she’s a human girl in a vamp world*: she wants to fight, too, but it’s hard when everyone else has super-strength and -speed and you haven’t even got school-enforced self-defence training to fall back on. This season, though, she’s been determined to off herself to spare her family, and unwilling to even try to save herself.
- Harry saving Sirius (and in the process, getting him killed) in ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is pretty textbook.
- Think Bella and that stupid rock in ECLIPSE.
- aaand pretty much everything Nora does in HUSH, HUSH.
* There’s a reason the paranormal romance genre features disproportionately heavily here (even in this very short, biased list) – something which also makes it a contentious area for gender roles. Sometimes, it’s just not humanly possible for the (typically female) human protagonist to take on the supernatural evils of the love interest’s world. Naturally sidelined, these girls often get a lot of stick for a kind of damsel-in-distress routine. But let’s be realistic – not a lot of teenage girls are capable of holding their own against a super-strong, super-evil Big Baddie. (Then again, though, this is generally the reason I’m not a fan of the genre as a whole. These girls get no chance.)
Well-Intentioned Stupidity has its place, then, and is, in many circumstances, understandable. But is it just me, or is the WIS phenomenon TOTALLY ANNOYING? Sure, these protags may be compassionate and courageous, but isn’t their propensity to run headlong into (figuratively) burning buildings an insult to their intelligence – and the reader’s?
Maybe it’s just me, but give me a hero who can turn courage into tactics – or at least try the back entrance first – any day of the week.