Created By: gaijinguy on June 4, 2012

The George Washington Problem

It doesn't matter how interesting you are if everyone else is more interesting.

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How interesting a character is can be determined by how interesting they are relative to the rest of the cast. In a series populated extensively by flat characters, the protagonist will need only a few defining traits to stand out. Conversely, in a Cast Full Of Snowflakes, interesting and well-developed characters will often lose screen time to MORE interesting and well-developed characters.

The Trope Name comes from George Washington, the first President of the United States under the Constitution. In most cases, he'd be the defining figure of the period- but when he was keeping company with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and Alexander Hamilton, he comes off as rather boring in comparison.
Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • June 4, 2012
    While I understood it once I read the explanation, the title was confusing to me at first.

    Compare Overshadowed By Awesome
  • June 4, 2012
    Hmm, not sure George Washington is a good example. While he lived and worked with many similarly exceptional people, he is still well known for many accomplishments and achievements on his own. Washington may be thought of as part of the "Founding Fathers", but also without that context he is quite well known and respected.

    I think the underlying trope idea is great, but the example is probably not the best. It may also draw unwanted controversy. John Adams, John Hancock, or Alexander Hamilton might be a better example from that set. Each of them led highly noteworthy lives, but are rarely spoken of outside of the their role as part of the revolutionary set.

    I really do like the idea, so let me toss out an example or two:

    Alex Lifeson of the Canadian prog rock band Rush is one of the most accomplished and influential guitarists in all of rock, but he's in a trio with philosopher and drumming legend Neal Peart and love or hate his voice soprano singer and bassist Geddy Lee.

    Terry Jones of British comedy troupe "Monty Python's Flying Circus" was just as funny and talented as the other cast members. He's even had a successful post Monty Python career directing and writing. He didn't continue a visible acting career like Michael Palin, John Cleese, or Eric Idle, and he hasn't enjoyed quite the acclaim and cult following of fellow Python alumni director Terry Gilliam, but he's accomplished an impressive body of work by anyone's standards.
  • June 4, 2012
    Yeah, naming it after George Washington seems like it's about your own impression, making it a particularly bad case of Trope Namer Syndrome.
  • June 5, 2012
    Yeah, the name isn't very good- and "Terry Jones Syndrome" doesn't really resolve the problem. Maybe "Audience Interest Coefficient?" (kinda generic, and I don't have a formula for one) "Relative Spotlight Luminosity?" (bordering on bizarre) "Fade to Back?" (I kinda like that one, but it's too evocative of "Demoted to Extra," which is related but not quite the same thing) "Median Interest Threshold?" (probably closest to the mark, but still sort of math-y.) Also, Do We Have This One?
  • June 5, 2012
    "Relative Spotlight" sounds pretty good actually. "All-Star Diffusion" as another suggestion?
  • June 5, 2012
    Excessive Cast Characterization Reduces Contrast?

    This can be compounded if you have loads and loads of Dynamic and Round Characters with similar levels of depth and Backstory. It can get to the point readers are overwhelmed by the sheer complexity, possibly even turned off (or on) by it.

    Compare Cast Of Snowflakes, which deals with characters (even incidental ones) having unique physical appearances. Contrast Special Snowflake Syndrome, which is about Players in RPG's going to extremes trying to be unique and distinct from the already unique and distinct fellow players.
  • June 5, 2012
    I'm not sure how this is different from Overshadowed By Awesome.
  • June 6, 2012
    I think that the problem with the current name is that it's too opaque. When I read "The George Washington Problem", I don't get immediately what's wrong with Washington.
  • June 6, 2012
    While the name does need to be fixed, and i really don't have a good title for it, I can throw out an example!

    The anime Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has Nami, a girl who is considered the "normal one". The only way she is considered "normal" is because the rest of her class is filled with a suicidal teacher, a Pollyanna girl, a girl with extreme bipolar/MPD tenancies, a mute girl who seems sweet but when texting is basically a jerkass and more. Nami obsessively tries to stand out against the crowd and the fact she tries so hard not to be normal actually makes her abnormal but considering who her class mates are she really does fall into the background. This is lampshaded throughout the whole series.
  • June 6, 2012
    I agree with Dacilriel and nitrokitty. This sounds very much like Overshadowed By Awesome.
  • June 6, 2012
    Washington? Dude was 12 stories high, made of radiation.
  • June 6, 2012
    I may be wrong, but the idea gives me the impression of Spotlight Stealing Squad meets Overshadowed By Awesome.
  • June 7, 2012
    This seems very similar to Designated Protagonist Syndrome.