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