This is a trope applying to the dynamics of groups of four. While the Four Temperament Ensemble
seeks to classify members by their personality, this trope classifies members by their outlook, or life philosophy, especially as demonstrated when the Group is faced by a problem or challenge.
Keep in mind that this trope crops up in more character-driven works and will probably be absent from a work where the group of heroes are more cohesive or single-minded. That is to say, if there isn't much argument within the group, then they never have much chance to demonstrate the differing traits making up this trope.
The dynamics for this trope are very effective because it combines the best parts of a Red Oni, Blue Oni
(The Cynic vs. The Optimist) and a Power Trio
, (The Cynic - The Realist - The Optimist) placing The Realist in between the two opposing views, along with a fourth member (The Apathetic) to contrast all of them at once, including a fourth dimension to the argument, and even the potential for a fifth to be conflicted over the issue, often resulting in a Three Plus Two
. All of this in a package that can even be coupled with the Four Temperament Ensemble
for double the fun. This is some serious Cast Calculus
. Basically the trope is this:
- The Cynic
- Common Attributes: logic, practicality, criticism, Deadpan Snarker, hostility or antagonism, caution, prioritizes survival over other goals, skepticism, lacks compassion for people unwilling to make painful choices, disregard for social norms such as rules or politeness, questionable morality, book smart or street smart.
- Common Characterizations: The Spock, Anti-Hero, Knight in Sour Armor, The Snark Knight, The Rival, Only Sane Man
- Most common Perspective: Black and Gray Morality, Black And Black Morality
- The Optimist
- Common Attributes: Determination, loyalty to ideals, Honor Before Reason, morality or friendship over rules, self-sacrifice, feelings over facts, lack of forethought, disregard for consequences, stubbornness, optimism, blind faith, naivety, prioritizes 'the right thing' over survival.
- Common Characterizations: The McCoy, Idiot Hero, The Pollyanna, The Determinator, The Messiah, Plucky Girl, Ideal Hero
- Most Common Perspective: Black and White Morality, White and Grey Morality
- The Realist
- Common Attributes: Takes the middle ground or Take a Third Option, mediation, objectiveness, decisiveness, balance between the group's well-being and the goal, personal code, disciplinarian, calm or quiet, leadership, experience, adaptability, willingness to bend the rules.
- Common Characterizations: The Kirk, The Captain, Supporting Leader, Team Mom / Team Dad, The Fettered, Mentor Archetype, Reasonable Authority Figure
- Most Common Perspective: Gray and Grey Morality, Black and Gray Morality *, Morality Kitchen Sink
- The Apathetic
- Common Attributes: Aloof or busy, uninvolved or neutral, different background or culture from other characters, different goals or priorities than other characters, perhaps enigmatic and lacking apparent goals at all, mysterious, ambivalent or not invested in the outcome, just along for the ride, silly or crazy, inactive, observer, support member.
- Common Characterizations: The Quiet One, Non-Action Guy, Cloud Cuckoolander, Sociopathic Hero, Wild Card, Token Evil Teammate, Supporting Protagonist
- Most Common Perspective: Orange And Blue Morality, It Amused Me, Bystander Syndrome
Occasionally the group will be joined by a fifth, called The Conflicted, or The Conflicted will replace The Apathetic.
- The Conflicted
- Common Attributes: Indecisive and conflicted, changeable, doesn't have or voice strong opinions, empathy, prioritizes peace and cohesion among the group, appeasement, self-doubt, lack of confidence, fear, need for approval, dependent, blind trust of others.
- Common Characterizations: Team Pet, Reluctant Warrior, Sad Clown, Hurting Hero, The Ingenue, The Eeyore, The Ditherer
- Most Common Perspective: Grey and Gray Morality
A variation on this trope involves there being a group of four with a Cynic and an Optimist who are always as such, but the remaining two members trade between being the Realist, Apathetic or Conflicted roles, or do away with two of the roles, simply having them share the same role, with one being the main holder and the other in a supporting role or crossed with aspects of the Apathetic.
It is possible to expand the group beyond four or five members using this trope as a template and fitting additional characters into each slot, portraying different parts of the role, four is simply the minimum to qualify for this trope. Beyond that the number of members is unimportant so long as a significant amount of the members are not Apathetic, in which case it pretty much defeats the purpose of the trope, which is group conflict. If only a small part of the group (such as just the leader and his lancer) is ever involved in the conflict then it's not this trope, and probably a more job or role-oriented ensemble trope, such as Five-Man Band
, Six Student Clique
or Magnificent Seven
. When the group uses the full five philosophies, it is common for them to form a Three Plus Two
Example of this Trope in Action
Situation: Our group is on an Adventure IN SPACE!
, when suddenly they get pelted with space debris, their propulsion system is destroyed and they realize they are on a collision course with a meteor with very little maneuvering capabilities.
- The Cynic proposes they dump the ship and all their belongings and escape in space pods, even if it means leaving that urgently needed medicine they are transporting on board to be destroyed.
- The Optimist finds this idea appalling and insists that either they will fix the ship in time to get out of the way or what maneuvering capability they have will be enough, usually without any evidence to support this idea.
- The Realist goes over the pros and cons of the situation, calming down the argument to the point where actual decision making can happen. Eventually he chooses a side or proposes a third option everyone can live with. This may lead to acting on whatever plan he supports.
- The Apathetic may be a mechanic running about in the background, frantically trying to fix the propulsion systems with little time to think of anything else. Another portrayal is as an enigmatic passenger, watching the proceedings with bemusement, seemingly unaware of the danger. Alternatively they are gathering up their things, hopping in an escape pod without consulting anyone and saying "It's been real guys, see ya." Then again, they might just be insane.
- The Conflicted, should there be one, will be on the verge of tears throughout the ordeal. They may be in the corner quietly worrying, wanting to to believe in The Optimist, but unable to stay strong when faced with everything that can go wrong. It might be that rather than distress over the situation, just as bad or worse is the way it has split the members of the group against each other. Conversely, they might just opt to scream "What are we going to do!?" in the background without contributing anything constructive.
Compare Cast Calculus
, Morality Kitchen Sink
, Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
, Four Temperament Ensemble
, Three Plus Two
, Five-Man Band
open/close all folders
- Empowered: Emp (Optimist), Ninjette (Cynic), Thugboy (Realist) and Caged Demonwolf (Apathetic). Sistah Spooky probably counts as a second Cynic.
- Fantastic Four: Reed is the Optimist (science can fix it!), Ben the Cynic (that never works, Stretcho), Sue the Realist (will you boys stop arguing?) and Johnny the Apathetic (...sorry, what did you say?)
- It can also be noted that on the rare occasions when they have nothing to do and no one to fight, they usually slide out of these roles (and become utterly dysfunctional): Johnny is the Optimist (Let's go out and have some fun guys!), Sue is the Cynic (This blows. I hate everything. Why is everyone around me a jackass?), Ben is the Realist (We need to fight someone or we're all going to kill each other, Stretch!), and Reed is the Apathetic (Do Not Disturb. Deep In Thought).
- In Get Fuzzy: Bucky is the Cynic, Satchel is the Optimist and Rob is both the Realist and the Apathetic.
- In Pearls Before Swine: Rat is the Cynic, Pig is the Optimist, Goat is the Realist, Zebra is the Apathetic.