I read a post today that got me thinking about the subject...here [livejournal.com profile] jarodrossell refers to a conversation he was having about archetypes. Specifically, characters that can redefine archetypes. The context of the original conversation is regarding African American nerd characters, of whom there aren't that many. The one everyone usually points to is Urkel, and he was on TV in the 90s. [livejournal.com profile] jarodrussell points out Alec Hardison from Leverage as an example, but since Hardison is a supporting character and a member of an ensemble, he doesn't have the power to redefine an archetype like a lead.

Which got me thinking about supporting characters in general and how they often outshine the lead--which should not be taken as an argument for white leads because leads have their own power. There's a reason why able-bodied white guys like to be both leads and supporting characters. They have their pick and that's the goal for everyone.

But my immediately response to the idea--not the one related to race (though I would also add to that list: Stevie Kanarben from Malcolm in the Middle and David Barnes from Wishbone), but the one about supporting characters--is that exactly the opposite is true. Supporting characters, team members, sidekicks, often have more of a chance of becoming a type.

Really obvious example: Arthur Fonzerelli. Originally Fonzie was a minor character and the main relationship of the show was between Ritchie and his more worldly but still dumb pal Potsie. Then Fonzie took off, and in a surprisingly wise move, the show did not try to spin him off into his own show. The Ritchie/Fonzie relationship became central, with Ritchie as the lead. Fonzie was the breakout character, he redefined the archetype of the 50s hood, but he was the supporting character. In a way he had to be a supporting character to do that, because the more nuanced you are, the further you get from a type.

Using Leverage as an example, I think it's far more common to have people refer to Parker or Hardison when referencing a type or an ideal than it is for them to refer to Nate. The two Harry Potter characters I've heard referred to in unrelated media when describing a type most often are Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy. If someone's compared to Harry himself it's usually more about looks or role than personality. You say "she's Hermione Granger in space" or "he's Draco Malfoy on the Upper East Side" and people get the personality type. (What's funny is that I've seen the Draco Malfoy description used in what fandom would consider the fanon sense as well, implying that it's an almost logical imaginative step from the canon character.)

Obviously this is a whole different can of worms when you bring race into it, because then you're more likely to have people liking the type and then projecting it on real people, expecting them to perform comforting stereotypes for their pleasure. And those types often become popular by appealing to the dominant group and so offer little inspiration to the minorities in question. Plus with less representation overall there's less room to explore what a type might really mean. (Look, for instance, at the different levels of exploration of the white outlaw vs. the black outlaw.) The nerd stereotype is still seen as a white or Asian one.

I don't think the power of supporting characters are limited to comedies where broader=funnier either. Sam Gamgee, Dana Scully, Mercutio, Fagin, the Artful Dodger, Nellie Olson...Castiel anyone? There's a lot of power in the supporting character. Use them wisely!
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