Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why mean trumps stupid - every time

A professor in law school once told us, "Ideally, you're only going to have cases where the opposing counsel is competent, reasonable, and accommodating, but when you don't, hope for vindictive over crazy and crazy over stupid. Stupid is the worst."

At the time, that seemed a little counter-intuitive. Wouldn't it be better to go up against someone dumb and slam dunk your case against them?

You might think so, until you've spent a little time in the lawyer trenches.  And then the rationale behind the formula

vindictive > crazy > stupid

becomes very clear.

A petty lawyer might at least be smart, and you can argue against smart.  More importantly, vindictiveness implies a measure of self-interestedness.  No matter how mean someone is, if you can show someone where their own best interest lies, you can negotiate with them.

A crazy lawyer will eventually reveal him or herself to be crazy.  More importantly, crazy can eventually be manipulated in turn because everyone wants something. 

But stupid is hard to nail down.

Any lawyer who opens a brief and thinks, "This? What is this? How do I argue against this?  Can I just write, 'Seriously?' in response?" knows what I'm talking about. My old professor was absolutely right.

Take The Walking Dead for example.*  If you've been watching it on AMC, you will probably be familiar with the following faces.

On the top you have Andrea, who is college-educated and depressed about the death of her sister.  On the bottom you have Merle, who is a hot-tempered racist drug addict and probably not completely right in the head.

And yet, anyone who is watching this show knows that as distasteful as he may be, Merle is the lesser of these two evils when it comes to Zombie Apocalypse.  Because Andrea may be moral and gutsy, and Merle a psychopath, but Andrea is dumb as a box of rocks.

Would Merle have insisted on wasting an arrow to mercy kill a zombie? No. Would Merle be alienating all his allies in the camp? No. Would Merle have shot at someone from a distance without knowing whether that someone was a zombie or a human? No.

But Andrea would.  Because you can't argue with fundamentally stupid. 

Five different people warned Andrea not to fire in the most recent episode of The Walking Dead, but she thought she knew better than them and did it anyway.

A smarter person would have thought, "Hey, some of our people are still out in the woods, I should wait and be sure" or, "All the guys are running up to him/it anyway, I shouldn't waste our finite bullet supply," or "Experience in Zombie Apocalypse has taught me that loud noises attract more zombies, perhaps a baseball bat attack would be preferable in this situation," or "Aren't four of my friends currently in the line of fire, and hasn't there already been one near-fatality because someone pulled a trigger without checking to see if the field is clear, and damnit, didn't I just learn to shoot YESTERDAY?"

But Andrea thought none of those things, and nearly killed the most valuable member of the camp. 

I'm not saying that one would want crazy, violent, racist Merle Dixon on your team. But I am saying he'd be easier to deal with than Andrea. Because even Merle would not have pulled that trigger.

Do you have any examples in film, TV or literature of a dumb character ultimately being a worse antagonist than a clever, evil one?

* Uh, yeah I fixate on particular books, movies, and TV shows for weeks at a time, why do you ask?


  1. Damn, I must have fallen asleep again.

    Writers don't generally have "dumb" people. Unless the writer themselves are dumb which makes all the characters equally stupid and vapid and shallow and I just don't read those books. Or watch the movies. Interesting point is that most of those books and movies are made for "women" which is seriously insulting. Granted, all those blow/shoot em up movies are pretty stupid too.

  2. I can't think of any specific characters, but it really annoys me when a writer makes a character dumb for a plot point. So you'll have a super intelligent detective just ignore a blatant clue just so the writer can put a character in a particular situation. It's a pet peeve of mine.

  3. I think you see this all the time in family comedies, and generally it is the dad who is a little dumb when he is - Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, George Lopez to name a few. I think dumb characters serve a purpose, I just wish they weren't always so stereotypical.

    Great post.

  4. my bff lives that show and he usually watches after sunday Football. I usually am doing homework the whole time... But I did sort of pay attention to this episode and nit knowing much about her character, I also was concerned with her impatient, trigger-happy attitude. But lets be honest, if there weren't dumb characters in movies, books, etc. We wouldn't have reason to yell t the tv. And thats my favorite part. :)

  5. Stupid characters drive me CRAZY! But I guess sometimes you need them to keep things interesting. Sometimes. :P

  6. Uh, hello? Bella Swann is as dumb as a bag of hammers. I got so cross with her in the first twilight book that I haven't been able to read the others. But in the movies she does enough dumb things.

  7. This caused much laughter in the Lost in Translation household this morning. Because it's so true, not just about the practice of law but in general.

    Which prof said that, by the way? It sounds like a Goldsmith-ism.

  8. Lost in Translation - it was Richards at the U, but from what I've heard, he and Goldsmith at BYU had a lot in common, sense of humor being Number 1.

  9. Hmm. You make a very good point. I should bring that up when we do Street Law on Thursday. A classmate's mother, who is in law school, comes in to teach that day.

  10. Yes, Goldsmith's sense of humor was inextricably twined with this teaching. I think this statement from your prof is one of my new favorites, though.

  11. I think this is the best summation of Sunday's episode I have read.

    All I could think about when Andrea pulled that trigger was, "WHY did Dale have to talk her out of that building?"

  12. I am not familiar with your Zombie hunting example :) but I get what you are saying. I want to understand the evil, not be annoyed by it.

  13. Andrea sucks. We're supposed to believe that she was competent until her sister died. EVERYBODY LOST EVERYBODY THEY KNOW. Why would Andrea's emotional conflict be any worse? I think her character was created to be involved in a weird love triangle and then the producers were like "Nah, that makes no sense. Let's just give her inner turmoil."

    P.S. No rifle scope is that bad.

  14. Matt - for reals. Her parents died, her friends and coworkers all died and she coped then. I'm not saying it's easy to get over a loss, but jeez. Perspective?

    Yeah, the chemistry with her and any given male character (Rick, Dale, Shane - I'm shocked they haven't had her making eyes at Glen, Daryl, T-Something and little Carl while they're at it to see what sticks) is kind of wacky. I just want them to do something with her character so I don't have to yell, "Dumb bi***!" at my screen every week. Stop screaming all the time, stop being so mean to Dale, who is the ONLY person who still likes you, PS.


  15. Came over from Karen's blog. Don't get me started on Andrea. If repopulating the world is up to her and Lori, they may as well let themselves be turned into zombies. At least they would be stupid because they didn't have a brain anymore.

  16. I hate Andrea forever for almost killing my boyfriend. They can get rid of her any time!