After observing Thomas Olde Heuvelt get piles of harsh comments for his Hugo nominated story this year, I’ve been racking my brain to come up with a scenario where “ManPain” could actually work in a dramatic context. This was all I could think of right off:
Now you might think that Chance there is just one person ragging on one poor author and that this guy really doesn’t deserve this sort of treatment, but wow… the “OFFICIAL blog of science fiction” has an entire separate tag for this. There are more than a few people making this error. More will make this dreadful mistake in the future. Something must be done!
But before we go off half cocked here, we probably better be sure of what we’re talking about here. And I don’t know about you, but when I’m unclear on terminology, the first place I go is TVTropes. And then I get distracted for a few hours and forget why I even went there in the first place. But after that? I find a draft of an unfinished blog post, realized what happened, and then very very carefully cite just the thing I need to reference over there. In this case… it’s their entry on Mangst:
A man who feels Mangst is the kind of guy who carries around a picture of the wife and child, both of whom were killed by the villain. Every once in a while he picks up that picture….. when no one is looking… and stares at it for a couple of hours. He never talks to other people about his private pain because several things keep him closed up about it…. One of the things that turns basic Angst into Mangst is the source of the character’s pain. When That One Case involved someone dying (especially if it was an innocent kid), the hero will most likely end up Mangsting. Having one’s wife or girlfriend horribly killed is the most common cause of Mangst. Guilt over some past misdeed, or from failing to stop someone else’s past misdeed, can also be a cause.
This… this explains everything! Note all of the things that follow from this:
- A man’s pain is first and foremost private. Nobody wants to know the gory details of it. If anyone finds out about it, it’s due to an intrusion. Generally people choose not to pry and maybe even help cover up this excess.
- A man’s pain is due to something which can no longer be addressed. If it could have been fixed, our hero would have done something about it, naturally enough!
It’s almost like ManPain has been known to be a problem for ages… and we’ve developed over time a range of tropes and conventions in order to protect ourselves from it! I mean, sure… men have feelings and stuff, yeah. But there’s only so many ways you can convey that without triggering peoples hardwired contempt for the very idea that that might be the case.
Now I’m sure by now you’re already thinking of several good counterexamples to this. I am, too. So let’s look at ’em.
- There’s that time Jean Luc Picard went off on an over the top rant against the Borg. I will not sacrifice the Enterprise. We’ve made too many compromises already; too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further! And I will make them pay for what they’ve done!
- There’s that time Khan Noonien Singh went into complete meltdown. To the last, I will grapple with thee… from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!
- There’s that time Kirk finally saw the writing on the wall and explained life, the universe, and everything: Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!
Actually, forget that last one.
There is only one emotion that men can safely express in a dramatic context: a pure rage and contempt that presages a the opening of a can of whoop-ass. After all, we need a little help understanding just why it is that all those spaceships are exploding.
Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s error was in writing a male character that expected the world to alter itself for his benefit simply because he didn’t like the hand that got dealt to him. Even worse, he actually expected to obtain a woman’s favor as part of the bargain. That’s insane! Honestly, anyone paying attention to the movies should know by now that that sort of thing can’t work. Take a page from Clint Eastwood: the only time you play the Mangst card with a girl is when you’re rejecting her and you want to soften the blow a little. Except for that, you need to keep your pain to yourself!