The Problem With The Trauma Trope
Have you noticed your favorite characters all have baggage? What’s with modern-day trauma tropes being used in books, TV, and movies nonstop? In the past week alone I’ve watched 3 movies and all ended up having a main character who had a dead child. That seems to be the newest trauma writers are giving their characters. Before that it was molestation. Rape. Abusive parents. Dead parents. And sometimes if the writer can’t be bothered it’ll be a mildly abusive partner who called the main character ‘worthless’ or ‘a bitch’ or something similar.
What is going on with writers? Do we all have trauma we’re trying to work through our writing? I don’t think so. Being a victim is said to be trendy nowadays, yet considering how many people went to see the Barbie movie ( I didn't see it) I think people are really getting sick of it. The Guardian reported that Scholars and Storytellers (CSS) at UCLA noted that ‘today’s adolescents want less of the sex and trauma’ ...and something that reflects their actual lives. So if no one is asking for these fucked up characters what’s going on?
Lazy writing? Lack of imagination? I don’t know if you’ve noticed but many of these characters that pop up in everything from dramas to thrillers and horror to even just basic dramedy TV shows, have one major thing in common, and it's not trauma, it’s their lack of personality.
Modern-day characters seem to be dealt a trauma trope almost like they are given a hair color and job. Let’s see: There’s a detective, he’s divorced and drinks a lot, he’s on the case of a missing woman, OH and… he has a dead son that we can put in his flashbacks. Why? Many times you can tell if the trauma is a byproduct of lazy writing if you remove it from the story and nothing changes. The detective could be divorced because he drinks so much and he might drink so much because he sees fucked up shit being a detective. He doesn’t also need a dead 10-year-old child.
Or how about this one: a middle-aged woman who is a nurse also enjoys hiking. She saves a man on a mountain during a blizzard. OH and by the way she had two dead small daughters that died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Why is that in there when the story centers around her, a guy, and a mountain? What, she couldn't save her children from an accident so she's going to haul this dude down a snowy mountain? The connection is so weak you don't need it at all. ITS LAME.
Are these characters made to simply pull at our heartstrings because the writer can’t think of any other way to make them likable or interesting? It’s weird right?
What really doesn’t make sense is why they keep doing it. What’s with the trauma trope? People with actual trauma don’t want to watch a movie that reminds them of how shitty they feel and those without the trauma don’t want to feel shitty. Do you want to sit around and imagine what it was like to be molested by your brother when you were thirteen? Or dive deep into how it much feels to lose your only daughter?
I know Gen Z gets a lot of shit for wanting trigger warnings and being snowflakes about sex, but I’m kinda with them on this annoying trauma shit in books and movies. Maybe it's because I grew up in the '90s and remember when they just made movies you could sit down and watch and then be like oh that was good and go on with your life. You didn’t leave the theater feeling like a horrible person or remembering that abusive asshole you used to date when you were twenty.
I wonder if this is happening because people are so disconnected these days. No one watches or observes other people. No one meets anyone outside of a small circle of family or work. You look around and everyone is on their fucking phones and if you talk to a stranger they look scared of you or annoyed. People wear headphones while walking down the street and standing in line. People are boring these days. People are self-centered these days. And no one can seem to develop a basic, realistic, fun character anymore. Instead, we get these half-baked flat characters that are fucking sad or tense all the time. They have ‘forced smiles’ or they’re always exhausted or anxious and on unspecified medications that never seem to have any side effects. They are in their heads because the author who created them is always in their own head rather than trying to project themselves outwards into a character's head.
Don’t get me wrong it's okay to write about mental illness or have a crappy character background, but that shouldn’t be the only defining characteristic of your character. Who wants to hang out with someone who is always on the verge of tears because their Mom locked them in the basement when they were a kid and their whole life revolves around it? No one does. And more realistically people that experience that kind of trauma usually don’t want to think about it either and don’t want to talk about it with strangers. And if you do find out you’re usually like woah Susan seems to be so composed I can’t believe Rob used to beat the hell out of her.
I hope this is the year the useless character trauma trope gets dropped. I’m so sick of every single new movie and book being centered on someone who is also a victim. Why do that?!?! People need to focus on getting outside of their heads and getting over this idea of the victim character. Unless the whole point of the story is centered around a woman going through a horrid miscarriage don't tact the trauma on the side as an afterthought, like she’s moving to an old house in the country where a family was brutally murdered to start over OH and she also keeps having flashbacks to get sudden miscarriage six months ago. One or the other because writers don't have the talent and empathy to weave in both to create a balanced story.
It’s dumb. Everyone hates it. Stop the trauma trope.