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Eight Deadly Words
aka: I Dont Care What Happens To These People
"I don't care what happens to these people."

A phrase coined by Dorothy Jones Heydt in a science-fiction based Usenet group in 1991 to describe an Audience Reaction to a work of fiction where the characters are so universally bland, unengaging or unlikable that the reader simply loses interest in their fate and, by extension, the work as a whole. This can happen with or without the presence of more objective shortcomings, but the most interesting examples tend to be those where this is a critic's main complaint, single-handedly dragging an otherwise well-made story down to where it's almost completely unenjoyable.

Note that "not caring about" a character is not the same as "not liking" them — some character archetypes, such as the Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist, are driven by the notion that watching horrible things happen to people that deserve them can be entertaining. In other words, even if you hate the character, you still care about what happens to them (because you want to see them get their comeuppance) so you'll still follow the story. This trope comes into play when even that fails to arouse sufficient interest.

Many Horror/monster/Disaster Movies try to avoid this by Developing Doomed Characters, only to make the audience hate the characters more for getting in the way of the slaughter they came there to see.

Also often stated with added emphasis as "I don't care what happens to these people".

See also Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy, where an excessively dark setting renders the protagonist's struggle so futile that the audience can't bring themselves to get invested in it even if the characters have some shred of likability.

Not to be confused with Seven Dirty Words.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Film 

    Live Action TV 
  • Invoked many times on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as the bots watched characters they were ostensibly supposed to care about hurtle to their doom.
    Tom: [flat monotone a la Willy Wonka] Stop. Wait. Come back.
  • Hostages is getting this reaction from numerous critics on premiere night, including a nearly word-for-word recitation of the trope name from Alan Sepinwall.
  • One criticism of American Horror Story: Murder House was that the characters were too nasty to be likable but not unlikable enough that you enjoyed seeing them get killed off.
    • This was also a common criticism of American Horror Story: Coven - almost every character was a borderline sociopath who was willing to screw everyone else over to get what they wanted.
  • At least one critic hit this with the season six finale of Sons of Anarchy, due to it being a standout example of Idiot Plot.
  • A growing criticism of Moffat era Doctor Who. This is part criticism of his characterization, such as making sexual harassment a running joke amongst the characters, and part that his stories often lack consequences and thus stakes.
  • Stargate Universe fell victim to this, with many early reviews stating something to the effect of "the only one of these characters worth caring about is Dr. Rush," who was by all accounts a bastard in his own right. They got better in season two, but proved to have happened too late as the series was not picked up after its second season.

    Literature 
  • Dorothy Heydt coined the words when reading Volume Two of The Wheel of Time, and also applied them to a Fionavar Tapestry book.
  • Mark Twain's essay ''The Literary Offenses of Fenimore Cooper":
    10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the "Deerslayer" tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.
  • Slacktivist's page-by-page review of Left Behind often notes how the main characters are far less likable than the villain - who, of course, is the Antichrist.
    • Made worse since the authors believe that You Can't Fight Fate in the real world, and wrote a story with two Author Avatar characters who also agree with the Biblical prophecies the authors believe in. As a result, they grumble a bit about the Antichrist, but don't do anything because everything is still part of God's plan. Even the characters themselves don't care what happens until Jesus comes back and kicks the Antichrist's ass.
    • The reaction is best summed up in "No Heroes":
    These are books without heroes because they are set in a world without heroism — without the possibility of heroism. A world of inexorable prophecies and inevitable doom.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Quite possibly the worst possible thing to happen to a pro wrestler outside of injuries is to get this sort of reaction. The entire point of wrestling is to get the crowds to cheer or boo you. Not getting either is almost considered to be worse than getting X-Pac Heat, and is practically guaranteed to put you on the fast track to getting fired. The very worst descriptor for a pro wrestler is to call them "Boring"; it means there is absolutely nothing about them, be it their appearance, personality, mic skills, or in-ring performance, that the crowd finds interesting.
  • This is the general outcome of a heel vs. heel feud. Face vs. Face feuds (case in point, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. The Rock heading into WrestleMania X-Seven and/or John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels heading into WrestleMania 23) can generally work on the fact that the crowd likes, to some extent or another, both participants and thus interest can be gained in seeing these two men/women, who respect each other immensely, square off in the ring. Heel/Heel feuds, meanwhile, pit two villains against one another. While this dynamic may work in literature, video games, or even film, to some extent, in wrestling, where the crowd controls a lot of the show, a match with two villains squaring off is more than likely going to drain interest in the show, considering that these are two characters the crowd hates. A rare example of this succeeding was Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit at Unforgiven 2002, since their feud had a light premise (Benoit laughed at Angle getting a Stinkface from Rikishi and in turn, Angle held down Benoit so Rikishi could Stinkface him) and the two men put on a fantastic match that drew several moments of applause despite both men being heels.

    Theatre 
  • The Musical of Musicals, a play that parodies various... well, musicals, registers this complaint about the works of Stephen Sondheim ("Unlikable people with lives that are hollow / It's all food for thought, but a bit hard to swallow...")
  • Mother Courage and Her Children is a Bertolt Brecht work that is deliberately populated almost entirely by unsympathetic characters (Kattrin is the sole possible exception: she's mute and is victimized several times, but ultimately is killed during her futile effort to rouse sleeping villagers to the approach of the attacking army.) Even as each of her children are killed, the audience is discouraged from feeling any sympathy for Mother Courage; in fact, Brecht revised the ending following a production which he felt made Mother Courage too sympathetic to the audience.

    Video Games 

    Web Original 
  • Many a Caustic Critic have this mentality when they're supposed to fear for a character's life. Special mention goes to The Cinema Snob and Phelous, since they review exploitation and horror films, respectively, with Phelous spewing a lot of hate at the Hostel movies especially for this flaw.
  • The Annotated Series has this as a staple of comedy, as the annotators often cite not caring for any of the protagonists and instead paying attention to characters that aren't intended as significant or sympathetic.
  • Max-Vader, veteran of the the Project A.F.T.E.R. forum and sometimes co-host of The Other Side has this as one of his main reasons why he hates Sugar Bits by Bleedman.
    "I could forgive a bad story or clichéd writing if only the characters were likable and interesting. You see, in order to give a shit about the story, we need someone we can relate to — a protagonist with human character traits. A good example would be Luke Skywalker. In the beginning we get to know him, learn about his hopes and dreams, and start to care about him. I can't stress this enough: Be sloppy with your writing when it comes to your protagonist, and you can kiss the slightest hope for quality storytelling goodbye. Bleedman doesn't give a shit. Emotional baggage, "tragic" pasts or Jerk Ass behavior do not make a likable, deep or interesting character."
  • This is Harry S. Plinkett's reaction to the Star Wars prequels.
  • The Nostalgia Critic's largest complaint about The Last Airbender was that he didn't care about the characters because they seldom showed any emotion and simply told you what they were feeling rather than showing it.

    Western Animation 
  • Post-movie episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants that try to make the treatment of Squidward, Mrs. Puff and Plankton justified by having them act like assholes but do nothing to make SpongeBob, Patrick or Mr. Krabs sympathetic.

Dude, Not Funny!Unexpected Reactions to This IndexEnding Fatigue
DismotivationApathy IndexFantastically Indifferent
Dull SurpriseBad Writing IndexFailure Hero
Dude, Not Funny!Index FailureEntendre Failure
Dirty CowardScrappy IndexEntitled Bastard
Ear WormYMMVEinstein Sue
Ear WormYMMV/Home PageEinstein Sue

alternative title(s): Audience Apathy; I Dont Care What Happens To These People
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