My character counts contest, will end this Monday, March 14, 2011. In order to remind you again of the fabulous prize, and because I did promise to do a series on archetypes, I now present a blog on one of the popular archetypes in media:
*NOTE: Expect this introduction at every archetype spotlight article. It’s a great way of reminding us what we can gain when we study archetypes.
Just to refresh your memory, let me define archetypes again. An archetype is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype after which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all.
Archetypes are scattered everywhere in media. Many writers use archetypes because they provide a guide for the readers to understand the storyline better. As writers, it’s important that we understand the many archetypes out there. Why? Because when we understand the definition and function of an archetype, we may:
- tweak the definition to suit our storyline
- break the rules of what a particular archetype is supposed to do to spice up our story
- apply a particular perspective to the archetype according to the message of our story. For instance, we may have an anarchist Mentor, a feminist Knight or a Freudian Hero
(If you are so inclined and have time at your disposal, might I suggest that you read or re-read my article on Archetypes and Characters?)
Now that you have a good idea of how archetypes can help us writers, let’s get to know the Archetype in today’s spotlight.
There is really nothing even remotely amusing about bullies. They pick a target (usually one who they know will never fight back) and abuse the poor person repeatedly. They may employ one or all of the three forms of abuse—emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. Bullies may also have a posse—lieutenants who are only to eager to assist him in his show of domination and power.
Often plaguing schools, the bully may also appear anywhere were humans exist—in church, in the neighborhood, the workplace, and even at home. Bullies have an authoritarian nature, combined with a need to control or dominate.
The bully’s motivation for bullying can be varied. He could be envious or resentful of his peers. He could simply be arrogant and narcissistic—seeing himself as superior and everyone else as fodder for his domination. He might be a bully because he wishes to boost his self-esteem—by demeaning others, he feels powerful. Or, he could also be using his bullying power as a tool to conceal shame or anxiety. Perhaps he himself is a victim of bullying at home.
The archetype of the Bully manifests the core truth that the spirit is always stronger than the body. Symbolically, our physical bodies can “bully” our spirits with any number of reasons why we should back down from our challenges, which appear to overwhelm us by their size and shape. Your relationship to this archetype should be evaluated within a framework far more expansive than evaluating whether you “bully” people. Consider whether on your life path you confront one experience and relationship after another that appears to have more power than you and ultimately leads you to ask, “Will I stand up to this challenge?” People are often called to take on bullies for the sake of others, as David did Goliath, and this is another criterion of your connection to this archetype.
Conventional wisdom holds that underneath a bully is a coward trying to keep others from discovering his true identity. Symbolically, the Coward within must stand up to being bullied by his own inner fears, which is the path to empowerment through these two archetypes.
Films:Matt Dillon in My Bodyguard; Jack Palance in Shane; Mel Gibson in Braveheart; James Cagney in The Fighting 69th; Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz.; Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets.
Fiction:The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Vincent Benet.
Fairy Tales:Jack and the Beanstalk; Jack the Giant Killer
Our stereotype of bullies usually involves a big man/boy—a dumb brute lacking in social graces, but not in physical strength.
But this is not often the case. Girls, even smart ones, are also capable of bullying.
Dr. Carol Watkins, Board Certified in Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatry and in private practice in Baltimore, MD, explains the different types of bullies:
Sadistic, narcissistic bully
Lacks empathy for others. Has low degree of anxiety about consequences. Narcissistic need to feel omnipotent. May appear to have a high self esteem but it is actually a brittle narcissism.
*Johnny Lawrence, played by Billy Zabka is a great example of the narcissistic bully. Behind his seemingly high self-esteem lies a boy who just wants to be appreciated by his martial arts master.
May have low self esteem or be depressed. Influenced by the surrounding social climate. May use whining or tattling or be manipulative. Often responds well to a change in the culture of the classroom or social setting. If depressed may need other intervention.
* Draco Malfoy, is a classic example of the Imitative bully. Taking his cue from his father Lucius Malfoy, Draco often employs manipulates his posse Crabbe and Goyle into doing his dirty work for him. He also gets Harry and his friends in trouble by tattling to their teachers, or making up stories about them.
He is less likely to be part of a gang. His bullying is more spontaneous and may appear more random. He has difficulty restraining himself from the behavior even when authorities are likely to impose consequences. He may have AD/HD. He may respond to medications and behavioral treatment and social skills training. He is also likely to be bullied.
* Steven Strait plays Warren Peace in the movie Sky High. I consider him a good example of the impulsive bully. He doesn’t go looking for trouble, but often lets his anger and compulsion to aggression get the better of him. In the end, however, with help from other people, he becomes one of the good guys.
If bullying is a deliberate act, this individual might not be included. The behavior may be offensive because the individual does not realize that his actions are upsetting the victim. If someone patiently and compassionately explains the situation, the individual will change the behavior. Sometimes social skills need to be taught. There is some overlap with the impulsive bully.
* The townswomen in the movie Practical Magic comes to mind as great examples of accidental bullies. Afraid of what they can’t understand, their minds filled with scary stories about witches, they bully Sally and Gillian Owens, as well as their strange aunts. However, at the end of the movie, they come to the sisters’ rescue once they overcome their fear and the situation is explained to them.
The antagonist in my own story, is a bit of a bully himself. Like most bullies, his trauma starts from childhood. And like most bullies who end up in jail as adults, by the end of this series I envision my bully as a full blown villain. Or not. We’ll see what happens as the series is yet to be complete.
Now that you have been acquainted with the Bully Archetype, look back at your own story. Do you have a bully character? What type of bully is she/he? How does this bully affect your protagonist’s journey?
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