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Competence Porn

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Competence porn is a term invented by Leverage writer John Rogers and used by a lot of critics since. It's the thrill of watching talented people plan, banter, and work together to solve problems. It's not just "characters being good at a thing," particularly if that thing is fighting—otherwise the term would apply to virtually all fiction—but specifically about using cleverness and hard work. Though the term mostly applies to realistic dramas, there's an element of Wish Fulfillment to it, as characters in a competence porn series rarely have to deal with serious infighting, dead end ideas, and all the other difficulties that affect real life groups.

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Common genres include Capers, Medical Dramas, the more idealistic Government and Law Procedurals, and harder sci-fi. Guile Hero and The Trickster characters from mythology and legend are antecedents.

Not to be confused with the Competence Zone or with actual porn. Compare A-Team Montage, which is this in montage form, and Catharsis Factor.


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  
  • Gate focuses on Japan's military and its efforts in exploring a fantasy world on the other side of a portal. The soldiers involved are depicted as an extremely competent, organised and rational fighting force, with half the fun being the sheer catharsis of skewering the cliche of Rock Beats Laser with a hefty helping of combined arms.
  • The Ghost in the Shell focuses on an elite police unit, but this gets emphasized in the Stand Alone Complex sub-series, which shows Section 9 at their best, as a cautious and talented team of counter-terrorists who often out-think, out-hack, and out-politic the antagonists. Even at their most dire, the members always make sure they put up a fight to the last.
  • Golgo 13 depicts the world's best sniper, and the reason for his success isn't just because of his reflexes. Many of his hits show the slow and methodical process of him researching and preparing for his shot, which makes the payoff all the sweeter when his various targets and rivals, who were so assured of their strategies, realize they've been outplayed.
  • Jormungand: Many of the show's curbstomps are because Koko's team of bodyguards are mainly composed of ex-military, and thus accomplish their job with a precision and professionalism many of their enemies lack. Koko herself is a shrewd strategist and businesswoman who regularly proves she's a braver and better player in the arms-dealing business than her self-styled rivals.

     Comic Books  

  • Batman was described by Grant Morrison as hyper-competent in his Justice League phase, and even then a good part of the appeal of the "World's Greatest Detective" and his stories was seeing him use and apply his intelligence, skills, and resources to come out on top against every enemy and challenge no matter how dire and outmatched he is. This also applies to his supporting cast who are all at the top of their game, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, Lucius Fox, Oracle, with the Kid Sidekick Robin originally being created as an Audience Surrogate precisely to provide an emotional center to his stories and an element of vulnerability.
  • Fantastic Four are generally exceptions in that Marvel Comics, as a rule, tend to be more neurotic than DC but Reed Richards is generally considered the most competent and effective leader and scientist in the entire universe and the Four's adventures generally are all about their adventures and inventing and exploring somehow always saving the day.

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     Fanfiction 
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, as well as most rational fanfiction, are probably the best example of a competence porn in fanfic form.
  • Saruman of Many Devices portrays all of Middle-Earth's armies and leadership as being rational and competent, including Gondor and Rohan, where in canon they were sabotaged by paranoia and and subterfuge, allowing readers to follow the full breadth of military organisation, rather than hurried plans and desperate last-minute saves.
  • Hero Class Civil Warfare puts Izuku's planning and management skills front and centre, showing how a team filled with a disparate set of powers can be effective, as opposed to a poorly-led team that banks on winning fights with raw brute force.

     Film - Live Action  
  • Apollo 13. You already know how it ends. And you probably already know the gist of how three astronauts and their thousands of support staff on the ground cooperated to get a crippled spacecraft back to Earth. What the movie gives you is the chance to watch how they do it.
  • In The Golden Age of Hollywood, Howard Hawks was credited with making movies about professionals who approach their work with confidence, spirit, fun, and resourcefulness. Movies like Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, To Have And Have Not, Rio Bravo all had hypercompetent professionals and team-mates banter with each other as the plot focused on how they approached a job.
  • The Martian: As Bob Chipman put it, "This isn't some hackneyed cautionary tale about the dangers of exploring the unknown, it's a high-stakes procedural about the awesome power of knowledge, which has placed Watney in one of the most impossible situations imaginable mainly so it can thrill us with detailed depictions of smart, dedicated people figuring out how to get him out of it."
  • Ocean's Eleven and its sequels each have a team of Gentleman Thieves working together to pull off The Heist. The thrill was seeing how these crooks manipulate and worm their way and use the Unspoken Plan Guarantee to their advantage to pull the rug under the feet of both their mark and the audience, generating suspense and thrill, as opposed to earlier heist films, in a perfectly executed heist.
  • Now You See Me operates in a very similar manner to the above example, having hyper-competent magicians known as "The Four Horsemen" robbing and swindling corrupt businesses and giving their money to the everyday-folk of the world. Even when it seems like they've completely fallen into the villain's trap, the Unspoken Plan Guarantee swoops in at the last minute to show that everything had always gone according to their plan.

     Literature  

  • The Martian and its film version are basically nothing but this—it's two hours of teams of scientists and engineers trying to bring Mark Watney home from Mars after he's stranded there by a freak storm. If anything, the book goes into even more detail about the science and math involved.
  • No Game No Life: The series follows "Blank", a brother-sister team of hardcore gamers who are unbeatable as long as they work together. The appeal of the series is watching the various ways they deduce how the rules of their opponents' games work, figuring out if and how said opponent is cheating, and then outwit their opponent to win the game. As a bonus, they ALSO outwit their opponents AFTER the game is over, such as using Exact Words to reinterpret the rewards for winning.
  • Sherlock Holmes, in almost all his incarnations, has nearly superhuman powers of deduction.

     Live Action TV  

  • Better Call Saul: Watching ex-cop, cleaner and hitman Mike Ehrmantraut's various elaborate criminal schemes (both aiding Gus Fring's drug empire and interfering with The Cartel) is one of the main attractions of the series. Emphasized by his interactions with other criminals throughout the series, who are often hotheaded, reckless, or complete idiots.
  • Burn Notice: Watching Michael Weston out badass every criminal and spy he comes up against is entertaining. Adding to the fun are the voiceovers which nonchalantly explain why he's doing things a particular way.
  • Criminal Minds: A hyper-competent team that catches the bad guys by using their own thinking against them.
  • The documentary Science Show How It's Made is nothing but footage of people expertly making things.
  • Leverage, the indirect Trope Namer, is about a gang of Robin Hood types who use their specialized talents to pull off elaborate con games, outsmarting a new Asshole Victim each week. Complications are cleanly overcome by the end, assuming they weren't actually part of the plan from the beginning.
  • Mad Men: Don, and to a lesser extent the other creatives at Sterling Cooper, is an appealing character despite his many major flaws because he's so damn good at his job.
  • MacGyver (1985): He can always build the right device for the situation in relatively realistic ways; the show often details how seemingly useless items (at least for the problem at hand) could be used for another purpose.
  • Mission: Impossible: This trope was the major appeal of the original television series. The Impossible Missions Force (IMF) is an elite team of agents who are tasked with achieving some sort of goal that the government has deemed pretty much "impossible". They use a number of high-tech gadgets, deception, disguises, and other methods to achieve their end goal. Some episodes have the villains figure out the plan or reveal some countermeasure to it, but this always either plays into the IMF's hands or is quickly adjusted for and countered.
  • Parks and Recreation: Definitely part of the appeal of Leslie Knope, both in-universe and for fans. And in a literal sense of the trope, there are definitely times when she and Ben get turned on by the other's excellence at their mundane government jobs. As the series goes on, more and more of the supporting ensemble also develop into these kind of extremely talented people who it is a pleasure to watch excel in work they care about.
  • Person of Interest: The Man in the Suit can take down decades-old organizations with hundreds of members with minimal help from his support team. If anything, part of the reason the next-to-last season felt incredibly dreary is that Samaritan went past "proper escalation" and straight into Invincible Villain territory and the final season had the heroes struggling to catch up.
  • Star Trek:
    • This is the main draw of the franchise for many. Professional people from a variety of fields acting professionally and working together to solve problems by the end of the episode.
    • Some newer Trek stuff is controversial with the old fans for the characters acting less professionally and competently and getting by more on luck and Indy Ploys.
  • The West Wing is all about White House staffers coping with world-class political, social, even historical crises every week. The main cast is also, to the last person, incredibly intelligent, idealistic, and incorruptible, and their political agendas are almost always to the service of their country, and not for their own profit.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Blades in the Dark explicitly instructs players to play out their characters as daring, bold, ambitious, and ready to take big chances to live a bigger life, while literally telling the Game Master, "Don't make the PCs look incompetent", and instead to explain their failures with overwhelming odds stacked against them.
  • Fate Core rulebook has following to say on the topic of Player Character competence: "Characters in a game of Fate are good at things. They aren't bumbling fools who routinely look ridiculous when they're trying to get things done—they're highly skilled, talented, or trained individuals who are capable of making visible change in the world they inhabit."

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     Video Games  

  • Many Call of Duty games set in modern times, such as the Modern Warfare trilogy and later 2019 remake usually place the player in the role of military elite, allowing them to fight alongside other competent and professional soldiers armed with high-tech equipment and reams of long-distance support.
  • Medal of Honor: Warfighter also had a lot of dramatised missions involving "Tier-One Operators" strategically taking out terrorist threats in a no-nonsense manner.
  • Ghost Recon: Future Soldier could essentially be summarized as "stone-cold and extremely put together badasses stop a coup in Russia, and then allow the Russians to take credit for it with nary a flinch".
  • Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak has this every time you're on a mission with your allies from Kiith Siidim, whether the Sakala is saving your lives via distractions and timely airstrikes or the Kapisi is being The Cavalry for them, to say nothing of what happens when both forces team up and push back against the Gaalsi.

     Web Video  

  • Speedruns in general. There's something very cathartic about watching a talented player completely break a difficult game, whether through incredible reflexes (in a real-time run) or an emulator and frame-by-frame analysis (in a tool-assisted run).
  • The Astartes videos are a Warhammer 40,000 fan series that basically shows a bunch of no-nonsense Space Marines deal with the remnants of a uprising without any fuss or drama, exactly as they would normally. Even their enemies show remarkable tactical acumen, trying to kill the Astartes with more than the usual Zerg Rush.
  • Reticulon's videos, such as SPALL & SPLINTER show soldiers or secret agents calmly and professionally handling gunfights in expert fashion.
  • TIE Fighter Short Film shows the Galactic Empire, for once, not suffering from troops dying en masse ineffectively or having terrible aim, and wins a battle as a result, due to being genuinely more dangerous than the Rebellion.

     Western Animation  

  • Rick and Morty: Rick Sanchez, in spite of being a massive sociopath, is entertaining for his bizarre inventions and adventures.
  • The earlier seasons of The Real Ghostbusters - every 'buster got a chance to come up with the plan or have the insight to capture the episode's ghost. This faded as Seasonal Rot and Flanderization set in, though there were still flashes of this in specific episodes.

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