Eight Deadly Words
"I'm realizing this movie is probably the first in history where the most likable character is the psychopathic Elvis fan who kills people randomly."
"I don't care what happens to these people."
A phrase coined by Dorothy J. Heydt in a science fiction-based UseNet group in 1991 to describe an Audience Reaction to a work of fiction where the characters are so universally bland, unengaging or unlikable that the reader simply loses interest in their fate and, by extension, the work as a whole. This can happen with or without the presence of more objective shortcomings, but the most interesting examples tend to be those where this is a critic's main complaint, single-handedly making an otherwise well-made story almost completely unenjoyable.
Also often stated with added emphasis as "I don't care what happens to these people".
In Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Story, "Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for" is #2.
See also Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy, a variation on this that is specifically caused by a setting that is too Grimdark, to the point where there's no likable protagonist for the audience to root for. Ironically, many Horror/Monster/Disaster movies that begin with Developing Doomed Characters do so to try and avoid this, but the characters are so unlikable that it just emphasizes the audience apathy instead, or even has them cheering as the jerks are killed off. Don't confuse with Seven Dirty Words or Seven Deadly Sins.
This is not a complaining platform. Please only add examples where this reaction is actually played out, not works about which you personally felt this way.
- Moviebob on The Escapist makes this observation of the movie Monsters, noting that both leads are unsympathetic and flat characters.
- His opinion of the human characters in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
- Star Wars: The Disney Trilogy suffers from this, as expounded upon by Dan Gvozden:
Instead of the rest of the galaxy springing forth to get revenge on the First Order, under the Republic’s injured but far-reaching rule, no one seems to care (a point that becomes critical during the film’s climax). So why should we care? We spent the entire original trilogy caring about the political future of the galaxy only for it to become undone almost entirely offscreen. Not to mention that we’ve never been given time or reason to understand either the ethos of the Republic or the First Order. When Kylo Ren and the codebreaker DJ (Benicio Del Toro) suggest that both sides are evil and corrupt, how are we to know that’s not the case? The rest of the galaxy, based on its inaction toward these two small bands of people, seems to agree.
Yet, the entirety of the struggle in The Last Jedi counts on audiences caring about the success of the Resistance, which quickly seems to re-adopt the name and iconography of the Rebellion. But who are they rebelling against? A galaxy that doesn’t care? [...]
I had hoped that The Last Jedi would provide clarity and rationale that would allow me to reinvest in the politics of the Star Wars universe, but instead the suggestion seems to be that no one quite understands or cares about either the First Order or the Republic/Resistance/Rebellion. Am I the only one who feels like we are watching an increasingly irrelevant squabble between two factions that have long since forgotten their goals and are only left to faintly echo the past?
- Invoked many times on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as the bots watched characters they were ostensibly supposed to care about hurtle to their doom.
Joel [flat monotone]: Stop. Wait. Come back.
- Dorothy Heydt coined the words when reading Volume Two of The Wheel of Time, and also applied them to a Fionavar Tapestry book.
- This is one of the many complaints that have been made by reviewers about the Baldur's Gate novelisations by Philip Athans, the protagonist being a Designated Hero Jerk Sue and the other characters barely counting as characters.
- Mark Twain's essay Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences touches upon this concept (if not so explicitly by name) a century before Dorothy Heydt, making this trope Older Than Radio and Older Than You Think.
10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the "Deerslayer" tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.
- The Musical of Musicals, a play that parodies various... well, musicals, registers this complaint about the works of Stephen Sondheim ("Unlikable people with lives that are hollow / It's all food for thought, but a bit hard to swallow...")
- All of the characters in The Threepenny Opera an example of this. Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht did this intentionally, as not a single character is sympathetic in their motives, actions, or expressions. This was in part because it was a political commentary on capitalism and corruption. An example of Tropes Are Not Bad.
- Quite possibly the worst possible thing to happen to a pro wrestler outside of injuries is to get this sort of reaction. The entire point of wrestling is to get the crowds to cheer or boo you. Not getting either is almost considered to be worse than getting X-Pac Heat, and is practically guaranteed to put you on the fast track to getting fired.
- This is the general outcome of a heel vs. heel feud. Face vs. Face feuds(case in point, Austin/Rock heading into Wrestlemania 19 and/or Cena/HBK heading into Wrestlemania 23) can generally work on the fact that the crowd likes, to some extent or another, both participants and thus interest can be gained in seeing these two men/women, who respect each other immensely, square off in the ring. Heel/Heel feuds, meanwhile, pit two villains against one another. While this dynamic may work in literature, video games, or even film, to some extent, in wrestling, where the crowd controls a lot of the show, a match with two villains squaring off is more than likely going to drain interest in the show, considering that these are two characters the crowd hates.