Misused: Strawman Has A Point

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51 Xtifr30th Mar 2013 01:59:13 AM , Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
World's Toughest Milkman
No, a strawman argument doesn't require that the misrepresentation be deliberate. Only that it be a misrepresentation. It can be based on an honest misunderstanding, and still be made of straw. See [1] and [2]. (I haven't even looked at our page, because, frankly, I don't consider us a very reliable source on such matters, but if our page claims the misrepresentation has to be deliberate, that should be fixed.)

[down] Neither of those pages (nor any others I've seen) mention anything about deliberate vs. non-deliberate. To jump from the absence of any mention to an assumption that it must be a requirement seems like another sort of logical fallacy that I'm too lazy to look up right now. (Plus, unless you can read minds, there's often no way of telling whether a straw man is deliberate or accidental.)

edited 30th Mar '13 3:22:16 PM by Xtifr

Speaking words of fandom: let it squee, let it squee.
52 Rebochan30th Mar 2013 02:35:35 AM from Soaking up Rays
I've got Sunshine!
Er...none of those sources suggest someone can make an "honest mistake". Both of them seem to illustrate that someone is deliberately misrepreseting a position to bolster their own argument.

edited 30th Mar '13 2:36:08 AM by Rebochan

http://www.f-d-r.com/blog/ - Filthy Digital Ramblings, musings on media.
This would pretty much eliminate any example that doesn't have a direct parallel to a Real Life situation. It's not really possible for an author to "mischaracterize" a completely fictional character they created in a fantastic setting that has no direct Real Life parallel.
I agree. This trope should only be for when the author uses a strawman to make a point about a position that extends beyond the story. Otherwise, it's not really a strawman.
54 AnotherDuck30th Mar 2013 06:19:10 AM from Stockholm , Relationship Status: In season
No, the other one.
It can still be used In-Universe. Say a politician claims all mutants should be killed because all mutants kill people, when there are just some of the mutants who're actually hostile. And if the hero mutants get people killed while trying to kill the other mutants, well, that politician has a point. Maybe not the best example, but I think it's illustrative enough.

Politicians in general use Strawman arguments, really, to defame their opponents.

edited 30th Mar '13 6:19:59 AM by AnotherDuck

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Yeah, that's true. A character can indeed strawman an entirely fictional position.
56 SeptimusHeap30th Mar 2013 07:08:43 AM from Laniakea , Relationship Status: Mu
Hmm...so from this long and loopy discussion of Harry Potter I grab that it's not so clear whether it's a strawman there at all.

Well, if the description is clean enough, then we might consider another cleanup and a commented out note, or even a page lock. Otherwise, we'll have to rewrite the description.
57 Rebochan6th Apr 2013 05:16:50 PM from Soaking up Rays
I've got Sunshine!
Okay, since this dropped cold (sorry, my work life is hectic), here's the article's current intro:

An author sets up a Straw Character, or some other kind of straw-man argument. The author attempts to demolish said man of straw. And then, sometimes later, sometimes right away, the reader realizes that the strawman has a point; that is, the straw-man argument is not as weak as the author intended it to be, sometimes to the point of being better than the "correct" argument.

This may be caused by Creator Provincialism, bad research, or just plain bad writing. It has also been known to result from Values Dissonance, in the case of works written in a culture/era different from that of the audience (e.g. "strawman" arguments against things like racism), or from the audience and the work falling at very different places on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism (see example from which the Ebert page quote was drawn, but also almost any instance where a work promotes love, faith, emotion, etc. over logic and depicts the logicians as "the bad guys").

For those who are wondering "Is a straw man with a good argument still a straw man?", the answer is "Usually." The point in question is presented as bad, the audience is supposed to see it as bad, but the writer failed to consider that it might be a lot more reasonable than it's actually depicted. The straw man can still have stereotypical, oversimplified arguments, they're simply more convincing than the author wanted them to be. If gone too far, it can result in actively rooting for the bad guys over the good guys.

Occasionally, it happens in a reverse manner when the side the author intended to be right loses credibility because their own arguing techniques or methods are worse than they intended. This is especially common in depictions of hearings/legal proceedings, where the "hero" talks out of turn, refuses to obey decorum or consider the validity of the other side, makes logically-fallacious arguments that appeal to emotion and in general insists that their point is so important they can screw whatever rules or procedures they regard as a hindrance to getting their point across.

And sometimes the author did in fact do their work on their opponent's position and presented the opposite viewpoint in a favorable light... then failed to present a similar argument for the side they supported, usually because they thought that their position was a priori right and/or didn't need much explaining. This has the side effect of creating a reverse strawman. Death Of The Author or Word Of God on what the moral was supposed to be usually reveals this.

In rare cases this can be a deliberate choice and the author might confirm after the fact that the audience was indeed meant to see the words of the straw man as having a grain of truth. When applied to old works, it can at times be the result of viewers Flanderizing a character in retrospect due to Values Dissonance. Another deliberate use would be Right For The Wrong Reasons, where the Strawman is giving bad or flawed reasons for coming up with their conclusions, but the conclusions themselves are correct.

Note: This trope is in play only when there is an actual Strawman involved, ie the argument is presented as completely wrong despite realistic arguments in the other direction. The argument may be simply weak or suggests a Slippery Slope Fallacy without actually being strawman. It does not require that the character be flat, a villain or the underlying issues to be completely black and white. An antagonist may have sympathetic motives and sound arguments to explain their reasons to make the audience think about which side is right or wrong, which only hits this trope when they kill the debate by Jumping Off the Slippery Slope (e.g. in Act Two, learning that not only do they want to register all mutants, but they also want to kill them). If two characters are arguing but both the arguments and the characters are presented as having their pros and cons, it isn't this trope. If the Strawman character espouses a good point but either doesn't actually subscribe to it, or is using it to manipulate the people around them, see Hypocrite and Manipulative Bastard.

If the Strawman's points are taken up by fans, while conveniently ignoring canonical evidence and arguments against it, there is much potential for Draco in Leather Pants.

I think the only real issue is that it fails to clearly define a straw man right out the gate. It also feels like it kind of wobbles between "Any time the reader has a counter argument" and "No, it must be a straw man." The note at the end seems to be lost. An intro rewrite could solve this, and then a nudge into special efforts to clean it out. It sounds like most of the people in this thread have a good strong idea of when an argument is a strawman and that the strawman needs to be established. I'd imagine the YMMV part should only come into play after the argument is a clear strawman.

edited 6th Apr '13 5:17:11 PM by Rebochan

http://www.f-d-r.com/blog/ - Filthy Digital Ramblings, musings on media.
I don't think "Anytime the reader has a counter-point" has been a problem. If, for example, in the Harry/Cho argument, someone had posted, "For all we know, Umbridge tortured/threatened Marietta", that would be an example of "the reader has a counter-point" and should not be here, because that possibility was never brought up in the original text. In-universe, there was no strawman making this point.

What you dismiss as "Anytime the reader has a counter-point" was actually elaborating on the original strawman point (Marietta's mum works at the Ministry) on why it was a much stronger point than Harry/Rowling gave it credit for (Marietta's mum doesn't support Dumbledore, making her situation very different from Ron's, even though Ron's dad also works at the Ministry). Harry felt he'd effectively refuted Cho's point, when he hadn't.
But "Marietta's mum works at the Ministry" isn't a strawman. (A strawman of what?) It's a fine enough point on its own, and Harry refutes it. Readers disagree with the author about whether Harry refuted it successfully, but that doesn't make the original point a strawman.

So our description rewrite must clarify that this is for intentionally absurd arguments that convince the reader, not author-approved arguments that fail to convince the reader.
[up]And that's the only point Harry actually refutes at all. The whole "argument" about the curse was Cho saying it was a horrible thing to do and that Hermione should have told them about it (which, if it was supposed to deter snitching, is absolutely correct). Harry "gets the last word" only by declaring it was a great idea and refusing to speak of it any further.

While the author may have imagined Harry "winning" the argument by driving Cho away, I'd say the exact opposite was true. Harry can't refute Cho's points, so he ignores them in favor of expressing his indignation.

None of Cho's arguments were strawmen, and Harry barely made any arguments at all.
Cleric of Banjo
"While the author may have imagined Harry "winning" the argument by driving Cho away"

You know, I think the problems with this example stem from this confusion. Rowling did not say that Harry's argument was right in that scene and Cho's was wrong. What Rowling did say was that it was justified what Hermione did to Marietta.

These are really quite different issues, and just because they feel the same way on the issue, doesn't mean that Rowling thinks Harry made the best argument for the action/had the better argument than Cho.

It seems to me that Rowling was making a statement about what she feels (rightly or wrongly) to be just, whereas Harry and Cho are both making pretty weak arguments based upon their personal reactions in light of their friendships.

A much better argument for Harry's position (I saw someone had noted this recently) for Harry's position would be that since Umbridge's punishments involve inflicting permanent scars on people, and those turned in by Marietta would be subject to those punishments, what Hermione did to Marietta is actually pretty proportionate to what Marietta what have caused to happen to them.

Honestly, Harry isn't really written as the brightest bulb, so he's not the most obvious author mouthpiece.

edited 12th Apr '13 9:25:54 AM by Hodor

Edit, edit, edit, edit the wiki
62 EditorPallMall12th Apr 2013 10:00:32 AM from United States, East Coast
Don't Fear the Spiders
Can we go back to my original idea of simply purging this article?

  • The examples are cluttered with diverse opinions which come across as mostly complaining and in many cases justifying edits.
  • The article, despite being almost a thousand words (834 not counting the title, page quote, or examples), is not clear as to what exactly this audience reaction is suppose to be as evidenced by the discussion here as well as the justifying edits.
  • Other articles on this wiki already cover this "trope", including: Alternative Character Interpretation, Broken Aesop, Informed Wrongness, Jumping Off the Slippery Slope, Misaimed Fandom, and Straw Vulcan.
    • Given the above point, why do we need an audience reaction to highlight typical feelings towards these tropes?

edited 12th Apr '13 10:05:55 AM by EditorPallMall

Keep it breezy!
63 SeptimusHeap12th Apr 2013 10:14:19 AM from Laniakea , Relationship Status: Mu
Addressing your points:
  1. This is an Audience Reaction. Collecting opinions is its point. And the example writeups aren't very complainy.
  2. Most of the discussion was about whether a given example from Harry Potter is a strawman. That's hardly a sign that it's ill-defined.
  3. See point #1. None of these covers this.
64 EditorPallMall12th Apr 2013 10:40:17 AM from United States, East Coast
Don't Fear the Spiders
I get it is an audience reaction and that alone is not enough to purge it, but that alone is not enough to keep it. We typically do not collect articles which are just complaining which, to me at least, this article is. Is there a case where 'Strawman has a point' is a good thing?

As for the definition, the debate over whether Harry or Cho is mostly irrelevant. No one seems to be able to decipher the same definition from main article (which should be rewritten from the ground up if we keep it), the laconic version says "The Straw Character makes a better argument than the author intended.". Yet we are still debating whether the character has to be "made of straw", whether it applies to examples parallel to real life, or whether this applies when the reader can come up with a better argument that is not utilized by the "straw" character.

Of course the tropes themselves are not the same as the reaction; but my point is these issues audiences have with strawmen who make better points than the author is already addressed in other articles. This article seems to exist only to keep these instances on one page.
Keep it breezy!
65 SeptimusHeap12th Apr 2013 10:42:46 AM from Laniakea , Relationship Status: Mu
"and that alone is not enough to purge it, but that alone is not enough to keep it."

There is only keep or purge there. You can't have it both ways (or neither way).

The definition requires a Strawman Argument by the author. Anything else is plain misuse. And none of the Audience Reactions you cite covers this one without some bending.

66 Noaqiyeum12th Apr 2013 10:43:53 AM from other worlds and realms of being , Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
The it-thingy
Is there a case where 'Strawman has a point' is a good thing?

The only situation I can think of would be if it was intended by the writer, at which point the character making the argument is by definition not a strawman. So... no.
my 0kay bra1n 1s s0 bey0nd 0kay that 1 th1nk 1t's f1nally 0kay
67 EditorPallMall12th Apr 2013 11:14:59 AM from United States, East Coast
Don't Fear the Spiders
[up][up]No, that is not good enough for the definition.

So the author must make a straw argument, yes? But a straw argument is a misrepresentation of a valid argument, yes? But, for this trope to be in play, a straw argument that is valid needs to be made? But that cannot be right because a straw argument is by definition not a valid argument.

Okay, so maybe this is where the author attempts to make a straw argument but instead makes a valid argument. But then the opposing argument wins out anyway. Okay, that works better, but does this mean the opposing argument is invalid? No, because that would be fallacy by fallacy. So is he right for other reasons or is it a case of in actuality he was wrong but the author colors him as right? If the former, does this mean the "strawman" was right on one particular aspect but being correct in one aspect does not mean you win the debate.

Okay, there are definite issues, but certainly this audience reaction does not apply when the audience argues for the characters, right? A character not bringing up a valid point is not reason enough to call him a strawman. Yet most or even all of the examples are tropers arguing on behalf of the characters. Or for some thing that was not addressed in-universe for whatever reason. Square pegs?

Also, let us talk about strictly in-universe issues. How can an argument pertaining to a fictional social/moral/political/etc. issue have misrepresentation, required in order to say something is made of "straw", when there is little to no basis for the issue in reality? Who is being misrepresented? The characters who disagree and do not exist? If those characters fail to argue adequately on fictional issues in the story then they are not strawmen but simply bad at arguing.

[up]This is why I say the article is simply complaining.

edited 12th Apr '13 11:20:17 AM by EditorPallMall

Keep it breezy!
68 SeptimusHeap12th Apr 2013 11:22:41 AM from Laniakea , Relationship Status: Mu
No, it requires a "strawman" that the audience thinks has a point. It's not necessarily a strawman argument, it's a position that is set up just to be defeated/ridiculed/proven wrong.

69 EditorPallMall12th Apr 2013 12:15:24 PM from United States, East Coast
Don't Fear the Spiders
[up]If that is the case, the article may be able to be saved after all. Can we rename this so the "strawman" part is removed to avoid misunderstanding? Unfairly Disregarded Argument perhaps?
Keep it breezy!
70 SeptimusHeap12th Apr 2013 12:18:51 PM from Laniakea , Relationship Status: Mu
Hmm, I note that "strawman" is the term used on TV Tropes (although somewhat inconsistently) for that sort of thing.
71 Noaqiyeum12th Apr 2013 12:21:35 PM from other worlds and realms of being , Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
The it-thingy
Oh, Catch 22, how I love thee.
my 0kay bra1n 1s s0 bey0nd 0kay that 1 th1nk 1t's f1nally 0kay
72 EditorPallMall12th Apr 2013 12:33:41 PM from United States, East Coast
Don't Fear the Spiders
[up][up]Sounds like a snowclone gone wrong. The idea of a strawman predates TVtropes by several decades which apparently the site has taken to mean something else which has led to confusion. If we take Septimus's definition, a position set up only to be defeated or ridiculed that the audience finds valid or even sound, a rename and a new description for the article is required. The same treatment may be required for other articles as well.

Can we form a consensus?

edited 12th Apr '13 12:42:52 PM by EditorPallMall

Keep it breezy!
The trope people are really going for here is that they don't agree with what is taken as the right position according to the author or narrative, correct? That's not exactly a strawman, so I suppose we shouldn't be using that term. It's closer to Death of the Author.
74 SeptimusHeap12th Apr 2013 12:52:26 PM from Laniakea , Relationship Status: Mu
This has 2000+ inbounds and 700+ wicks, by the way.
75 EditorPallMall12th Apr 2013 12:58:53 PM from United States, East Coast
Don't Fear the Spiders
If the article is renamed or purged, I will help handle the wicks. To me, not removing and not renaming is not a sufficient option. We can also set up a redirect.

edited 12th Apr '13 12:59:49 PM by EditorPallMall

Keep it breezy!

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