Socially Awkward Hero

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Jake Fischer: You gotta make a move!
Billy Hodge: I can't. I get nervous.
Jake Fischer: You wanna jump outta helicopters, but you're afraid to go talk to a girl?

Billy Hodge: Uh, pretty much, yeah.

A Socially Awkward Hero is a heroic character who shows tremendous courage in the face of life-threatening danger... but becomes overwhelmed with knees-knocking fear in ordinary social situations. For such a character, confronting a legion of sociopaths and a chainsaw-wielding maniac is far more preferable to meeting his girlfriend's family or making idle chitchat at a cocktail party. Extremely common in shows for the kid and teen audiences, since viewers of that age often feel socially awkward themselves.

This is to some extent Truth in Television; studies have shown that social situations can be stressful in the extreme, and that people can prefer death to public embarrassment; but even that being considered, some examples of this seem to be parodies of this concept nonetheless.

Often a feature of the Defective Detective, No Social Skills, Ambiguous Disorder. Compare/Contrast This Loser Is You and Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World. See also No Social Skills.

Examples of Socially Awkward Hero include:

Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Batman, at least as written by Chuck Dixon, doesn't really have a clue how to behave like a Rich Idiot With No Day Job in his civilian identity, and finds hosting a Wayne Foundation party more stressful than taking on the Joker. Grant Morrison's take on the character has elements of this as well.
  • Samaritan from Astro City suffers from this when his super-heroic peers maneuver him into a dinner date with Winged Victory.
  • When Spider-Man was created, this was a revolutionary concept; a superhero who's an awkward loser in high school. Ironically, he became so popular that this spilled over and became the norm.
  • Marv from Sin City is a Socially Awkward Anti-Hero. Ignoring his violent tendencies, even in his more civilized moods, he is socially inept, particularly when it comes to women—and being ugly as sin didn't really help his case either. This is why he was a virgin until late in life.
    • John Hartigan is a lesser example. His scenes with Nancy Callhan are awkward since she is throwing herself at him but he tries to remain celebate since there is a huge age-gap between them. Later, when his narration states "When it comes to consoling a nineteen year old girl, I'm as competent as a palsy victim performing brain surgery with a hammer."
  • Scott Pilgrim is this trope. He has shown fighting enemies here and there, being evil ex-boyfriends of Ramona, or mooks, and he's always shown to be a confident, if incompetent, musician in his band. Whenever Stephen Stills has a nervous breakdown, Kim and Scott always are holding the helm of the band. But put it on talking of his past, or about relationships, or even the future, and his awkwardness gets over the mark, with stutters, avoiding themes and generally being an ADHD kid. He's maturing out of this, of course.


Film[edit | hide]

Ms. Witwicky: And remember, son: if you meet any girls, make sure to stammer and act as awkwardly as possible around them. Model-hot women inexplicably find that attractive in the movies - it worked for Lloyd Dobbler! Bye!

  • Steve Rogers from Captain America: The First Avenger, even after receiving the Super Soldier serum. Due to his pre-transformation small statue, Steve was very shy and intimidated by women and his apprehensiveness remains as Captain America, even as women throw themselves at his feet.
  • Melvin of The Big Hit is this in spades. Shooting up a room full of armed men is easy. Entertaining your in-laws... that makes him chug Maalox.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Sharpe: This is one of his defining characteristics.
  • Harry Potter has a moment of this in book 4: After facing a fierce and dangerous Hungarian Horntail in the first task, he finds himself thinking that "now that he was facing the prospect of asking a girl to the ball, he thought he'd rather have another round with the dragon." (He later manages to pick up two girls, spontaneously, at once.)
  • In The Pale King, Lane Dean attempts to converse with his fellow IRS employees during his fifteen minute break, and fails miserably.
  • Kambili, from Purple Hibiscus can't hold a conversation with girls her own age, even though she desperately wants to.
  • Tiffany Aching from the Discworld books may have bested the Queen of the Elves at age nine in The Wee Free Men, but in that same book she admits she doesn't always "get" people, and she's quite at sea at her first coven meeting in A Hat Full of Sky.
  • Doc Savage was raised from birth to be a hero and is both the greatest athlete and intellect on the planet, however, he has no idea how to deal with women. He does better with men, though.
  • John Carter believes in this trope, lamenting how often a man's skill in battle is inversely proportional to his skill with women. He includes himself in this category.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Dexter doesn't just have trouble relating to people, he DOESN'T relate to people. Though most acquaintances see him as normal enough, for Dexter, maintaining the image of a normal, everyday person with regular emotions and no hidden urge to kidnap, murder, and chop people to bloody bits can be an extremely stressful task.
  • Monk. He and his psychiatrist get kidnapped, tied to chairs and thrown in a truck, and Monk's upset because the psychiatrist is on his left when he usually sits to his right.
  • Gil Grissom on CSI
  • Temperance Brennan on Bones
  • Cal Lightman in Lie to Me.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer seemed to do this once a season or so.
    • Angel was even more socially-awkward.
  • The Doctor, in his 11th incarnation, is outgoing, but still awkward. He occasionally comes across as a Chaste Hero—he's Master of the Mixed Message and basically goes stock-still and squeaky when kissed. When he spent a few days renting a room from an ordinary human, he ruined his landlord's attempt to have a romantic evening with a nice girl, and he started delivering a huge lecture about pacifism when encouraged to "annihilate" the other team in a football(/soccer) game, before embarrassedly realizing he was just being encouraged to defeat them.
    • Other incarnations have elements of this as well. Sometimes, it's because he's not human. Other times, it's because he's just like that. Usually, he gets by deftly on the few social skills he has. In Midnight, however, they backfire on the Tenth Doctor in a chilling way that nearly kills him.
  • Seinfeld

"According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."

  • Doctor Gregory House.
  • Criminal Minds: Dr. Spencer Reid. He can rattle out an impromptu profile to a dangerous serial killer, but always finds himself stumbling words around a pretty girl.
  • Burn Notice has Michel Weston, a man who always knows what to say and do in any life threatening situation, but doesn't know how to deal with friends or family.
    • That's a zig-zag. Being a spy is a synonym for being a Manipulative Bastard. It's just that he doesn't hustle as well with those whom he cares about as with the(nastier then him)criminals he despises.
  • Reginald Barclay in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager saved the Enterprise at least twice and was significantly more helpful to Voyager than the average member of its bridge crew (not that this is a particularly high bar), yet had such social difficulty that an entire episode was dedicated to Geordi trying to arrest his withdrawal into a holographic fantasyland.
  • Most of Team Scorpion in Scorpion but Walter is this more especially. Though they are adult in age and geniuses in intelligence they are also childish in social situations. Walter is a weird combination of human computer, manchild, and Knight in Shining Armor.

Music[edit | hide]

  • The protagonist of the Temptations song "Can't Get Next to You" has apparently won the Superpower Lottery but still can't, well, get next to the girl of his dreams. (Possibly not-quite-an-example as we don't know whether the guy ever uses his powers for heroism.)


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Arthur in the beginning of the Camelot musical, there's even a song about it!
  • Cyrano De Bergerac. Kill a man in a swordfight to the death while composing a poem about it? It's what he lives for. Admit any kind of romantic affection? Too scary for him.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • It is an informed aspect of Henry Townshend of Silent Hill 4. His neighbors think of him as a shut-in, which is why it takes a while for anyone to worry that he hasn't left his apartment in days. (It's up to the player whether Henry is a brave slayer of monsters or runs away from everything he sees, so this trope can be played straight or subverted.)
  • Kaede from the Sonohana series is her girlfriend Sara's princely protector, even to the point of having been an active Bully Hunter as a little girl. She also has crippling social anxiety that causes any public attention or praise to be nearly unbearable to her; only her love for Sara can get her to charge in and defend her.
    • It took her until near the end of the second game to remember her childhood with Sara, implying that she acquired that anxiety after Sara's earlier departure.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Antimony Carver has elements of this. She'll fearlessly rush off to help someone with a supernatural problem, but she tends to stand around in awkward silence during public social situations.
  • Elliot from El Goonish Shive.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Kim Possible: Taking down supervillains comes easy for her. Asking the boy she has a crush on to the school dance, on the other hand...
  • Robin in the Teen Titans cartoon. In one episode he is forced to accompany a villain's daughter to prom, and is envious of the teammates who are merely tasked with stopping said villain.
    • Of course said villain's daughter was also incredibly bitchy and psychotic and was threatening to blow up half the city if he didn't.
  • From Avatar: The Last Airbender: Hello! Zuko here!
    • He has never had any opportunity to become normally socialized, but he does improve a bit once he has his Heel Face Turn and joins the True Companions. Stoic silence does him in good stead while he'd Walking the Earth in season two.
    • And his little sister turns out to be the evil mastermind version of this trope: can conquer the world's greatest city bloodlessly from within via nested betrayal plots. Cannot get a date without freaking the guy out within minutes.
  • Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. Heck, a large part of the series is Twilight learning about how to deal with having friends.
    • Fluttershy as well, to some extent. She's a Shrinking Violet when it comes to talking to other ponies (though strangely enough, not when it comes to other kinds of creatures; she loves to talk to dragons, or at least dragon cubs) but she has been willing to stand up to an intimidating grown dragon that could have swallowed her whole, among other things.
  • Danny Phantom: He was already pretty awkward before getting his powers, but especially when he first gets them he has a hard time controlling them causing him to "randomly" trip or sink into objects, turn his eyes green, and other stuff that might further harm what little reputation he has.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Again, arguably Truth in Television. People will be much more afraid of the way their peers will judge them for, say, taking a cab home after leaving a party drunk, than of the life threatening danger of driving their own cars home in that state. Back in the Old Days, a man would rather risk life and limb in a duel with horribly random pistols when challenged, rather than face the public shame and the reputation for cowardice, weakness and unmanliness that would come from doing the sensible thing, i.e. telling the challenger to go screw themselves and simply refusing the challenge.
    • Quite a few of those examples seem to fall at one particular end of the Sliding Scale of Testosterone versus Common Sense. In general though, strong adherence to various social mores is what makes human society work. Guilt and shame have very little purpose for loners, but instead serve to keep an individual working within the confines of a social structure. Also why people who do not experience them are often alarming and dangerous, or powerful and charismatic depending on what they do.
      • Many studies have shown that the main thing that keeps people working efficiently in dangerous occupations is fear of being rejected by the Nakama. That is, a fireman may become a fireman To Save Lives. However when he rushes into a burning building it is most likely for his buddies, not for the people he is rescuing.
  • Apparently Johnny Depp is like this. He can talk to you for hours as one of his characters, but will shy away from anyone who wants to talk to him personally.
  • Peter Sellers claimed he could be anybody but himself.
  • Freddie Mercury of all people. One of the most flamboyant entertainers ever to walk the Earth, he was a very shy and reclusive person offstage.
  • Caleb West, although not competitive in any way, liked to box, and would spar with anyone. Even if he knew he would get pounded into the ground. He had the same attitude about problems and obstacles in life, except when it came to women.