Terminator's John Conner

Coming to Terms: Shotgunning John

It’s been a while since my last post here on the blog. I’ve been active elsewhere, but neglected the blog a bit. My apologies. So what is it that brings me back? Something’s been bugging me for a while now. It was something I could define, but couldn’t make into a concise statement. Thanks to the first minute and a half of Terminator: Dark Fate, I can now sum it up in a single statement. Too many creative ventures, especially movies and television, keep ‘shotgunning John‘.

At a certain point, we’ve come to understand that another phrase is poor storytelling. One that shows a disregard for the characters involved. That phrase is ‘women in refrigerators‘. Gail Simone coined the phrase for doing terrible things to a female character to move a male’s arc forward. It does so while ignoring the woman as a well-developed character of her own. She’s a prop to be cast aside to the benefit of someone else. It’s a cheap move and we generally try not to lean on that crutch in modern storytelling.

We seem to have gone another direction instead now. Male characters now fall on the sacrificial alter to the women characters instead. A strong male character is reduced or removed to make way to benefit the female character’s story arc. In cases like the latest Terminator, the central male character’s killed within the first minute and a half. It’s done for a cheap shock to our expectations and to make way for a new female protagonist to replace him. In other films, the male characters who were otherwise competent are suddenly incompetent. Invariably it serves to showcase something about a female character at the male’s expense.

It’s been creeping in slowly, but is getting hard to avoid. It’s lazy storytelling in the same way the women in refrigerators is. Positive traits aren’t a zero sum game. You don’t have to sweep away one character to service another. We don’t need to stuff women into fridges or shotgun John. Find a way to motivate your characters without sacrificing the human value of others. Anyway, that’s my short take on the matter. I don’t know how many will agree with me, but if you have thoughts, feel free to comment.

What are your thoughts?

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