To talk about woobifying the bad boy, we first have to know what a woobie is. A woobie is a blanket or stuffed animal that a child is attached to, also known as a lovie, a blankie or a comfort object. In fandom terms, a woobie is a character that is put through so much angst that the audience feels sorry for them and becomes attached to them. Too woobify means to turn a character into a woobie.
The panelists consisted of writers with strong online presences. Elise Matthesen, journalist, poet and jewelry maker; Sumana Harihareswara, programmer and speaker on many subjects; Foz Meadows, a genderqueer fantasy author from Australia; and Mark Oshiro, creator and write of Mark Does Stuff.
During the panel, the participants talked both about fandoms woobifying characters, which happens a lot, and the writers and directors woobifying characters, which is less frequent but does happen. There seemed to be general agreement that being physically attractive was a requirement for the audience to WANT to find the character sympathetic. “Loki?” one of the panelists asked. “He’s hot?” On the face of it, that incredulity makes sense. Loki has no redeeming characteristics in the Marvel cinematic universe. And, as someone else pointed out, if he weren’t played by Tom Hiddleston, he wouldn’t be ‘hot’. He’s a pretty cold character, actually.
Another example of the bad boy you love to love who was then woobified, is Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. During season six, he did horrible things to Buffy and the Scooby gang, although throughout the show, he had small moments of humanity, such as his love for Drusilla and his relationship with Buffy’s mom. But during season seven, he is Buffy’s boyfriend. They manage to have something of a relationship, although it’s pretty slimy. Which is why I, personally, feel that season seven was a lot like fan fiction. It’s the kind of relationship one would find in fan fiction. It probably came about because Spike was a hugely popular character, always first in online polls for favorite or sexiest character. Mark Oshiro said that when he wrote about Spike, he got backlash from fans. Because he was gay, they thought that he should be attracted to Spike. “I wasn’t allowed to not be attracted.”
Foz pointed out that Angel and Xander did not have to atone for their bad deeds because they were good characters. Spike actively sought redemption and tried to atone.
Sumana Harihareswara said that she was more judgmental about fictional characters than she was in real life but she thought that other people were the opposite. Said Mark, “Woobifiers don’t think of them as constructed characters written by someone.” Foz Meadows pointed out that the readers/watchers know more about these characters than the other characters do. And this is a good point, I think, because the other characters might not know their origin stories or see them in the moment of weakness that the writers provide to make them more human.
Elise said that woobification was doing the emotional labor of understanding violent men, and that there were class implications, as well.
A prime example of the creator woobifying would be J.K. Rowling’s Snape, according to Mark. Regardless of what he had been through, Snape had heaped misery on many schoolchildren, not just Harry Potter. Rowling was woobifying the entire British school system.
Another reason that someone might turn a bad boy into a woobie in fan fiction is stunt writing. In other words, ”Can you make this character into a woobie?”
After watching this panel, I realized that I had recently seen an example of the creators woobifying a bad boy character. Deacon, on 12 Monkeys, started out as a bully, a probable psychopath and the enemy of our main characters. Along the way they made him a little more human. We found out more about his bad family background, and that he had lost a brother. It’s obvious that he, like the other characters, became tough in order to survive the apocalypse. This is pretty standard in the conversion of an evil enemy into an understandable character and then progressing towards an ally. But then they broke his heart with an ill-fated love affair, made him suffer guilt over killing a main character, and left him naked (literally) at the end of the world. Deacon is now a woobie.
This was a fun panel with the conversation flowing quickly and intelligently. It was a delight to see everyone understanding all the references and no one having to stop to catch up, but it made it hard to keep track of the conversations. A big thanks to the panelists.
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