Friday, April 14, 2006


I noticed yesterday that the most popular character from Babylon 5 was Marcus. Everyone I know that watched B5 really liked Marcus.

I thought to myself, "why?"

The answer I came up with is "contrast".

The show is a serious, slow-moving political show, and that's fine. People like it. But fighting is rare, and in the times where there is a fight, it's a shootout.

Marcus is the exact opposite. He has an overbearing sense of humor, no patience for politics, no interest in the slow moving plot, and kicks ass short-range. He gets the blood pumping. He exists tangentally to the rest of the show.

You can see another example of this in action in earlier seasons with Lineer. At least in the crowd I was in, what made the episode is when Lineer started kicking people's asses.

This is interesting, because it perfectly aligns with pattern adaptation control. It's a real-world example of a tenuous theory.

Take a look from the other side. In a story mostly about fighting, the enigmatic brainiac who outmaneuvers everyone is often considered the coolest character. That's because he contrasts.

It's not that fighting is cool, or that being smart is cool. It's that moving tangentally is cool. "Shorting out" the normal routine, circumventing it, or ignoring it.

Of course, do that too much and you end up making the tangent the norm. Do it too many times, and there is no norm to tangent off of. That's not always a bad thing, but it bears consideration.



GregT said...

Alternative theory: Marcus has long black hair, rugged good lucks, is a hopeless romantic, and continually spouts witticisms. Combination = fan girls turning to mush.

Me, I was always more of a Londo follower.

Craig Perko said...

Maybe, but in the crowd I watched B5 in, it was 70-90% straight males.

Being cool-looking was definitely a plus, but many movies and stories have unusually cool characters. These characters are usually unusually cool not because they look cool, but because they work at a tangent.

For example, Wolverine. Not any cooler looking than, say, Storm, but really not part of the X-Man culture. In the Lord of the Rings books, Gandalf was the one who stood out. In Phantom of the Opera, it was the Phantom.

Games are the same way. Sephiroth is in no way cool or interesting, but because he stood out from FFVII so clearly, everyone who played it back in the day thinks he's the coolest thing since slicing bread with an 11' sword.

At least, that's what I think.

GregT said...

Alternative theory no 2: Wish fulfillment. If you could be anyone in B5, who would it be? Sheridan's kinda cool, but he has to wade through a mountain of paperwork and be nice to idiots a lot. Same goes for most of the other diplomatic characters. But Marcus, see, he gets to hit people with a stick. And that extends to pretty much anyone - Narns, Centauri, members of the Grey Council... he's dynamic, he gets to work outside the rules of the narrative, and he has a ton of fan girls turning to mush over him.

Likewise Gandalf - would you rather be the hobbit with a dagger who can defeat an orc on a good day, or the dude with the magic powers to can go toe-to-toe with the balrog?

And Sephiroth - come on, the man has his own choir! It's very hard to choose Cloud over Sephiroth when Cloud very rarely has the opportunity to defeat his enemies almost incidentally in destroying the course of the entire solar system. And Cloud doesn't even have a cheer squad, let alone a choir.

Craig Perko said...

Now that theory holds up.

I'm not sure it's a theory that clashes with the tangental theory at all, though. Most people want to be the person who sticks out most (in a good way), don't you think? By definition, they are the coolest.

I'll keep my eye on other pieces of media and the characters everyone likes best. I want to narrow this down.