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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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     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.

     Film - Live Action  

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     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.
  • 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  

  • 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 very talented and idealistic political operatives coping with the crisis of the week.

     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."

     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).

     Western Animation  

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