Every TV character is the same (and we like it that way)

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Have you ever watched a TV show and thought a character was just like you or someone you know? Maybe you’re best friends with a Phoebe or a Chandler, or maybe your boss is actually a Michael Scott. Finding these real-life connections to on-screen characters is part of the appeal of television. But have you ever considered the similarities characters on different shows have to one another?

Television (and film, literature, and other media) is full of what we call character archetypes – molds that help shape and define our favorite individuals on screen. Here’s a few examples you’ll recognize:

The Anti-Hero

Style: "Mad Men"The Anti-Hero has become an increasingly common protagonist character. He’s not a hero in the traditional sense – he may be immoral, unstable, deluded, or struggling with a dark and troubled past – but we accept these flaws and root for him anyways.

A few recognizable Anti-Heroes include Tony Soprano on The Sopranos, Dr. House on House, Don Draper on Mad Men, and Walter White on Breaking Bad.

The Fool

GilligansIsland_74.jpgThe Fool never seems to have any idea what’s going on. He can usually be found tripping over his own feet or bumbling his part in the plan to catch the bad guy. He may unintentionally create trouble, but nothing bad ever seems to happen to him – he’ll always duck to pick up something shiny on the ground just as the villain swings his sword. The Fool’s cheerful disposition and tendency to make a mess of even the simplest of tasks combine to make him the most lovable of idiots.

Some examples of TV Fools include Gilligan in Gilligan’s Island, Maxwell Smart in Get Smart, Joxer the Mighty in Xena, and Ron Stoppable in Kim Possible.

The Chosen One

Harry Potter wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last.

buffyThe basic premise of this character type can be summed up in one sentence: “Only you, The Chosen One, can save the world from demons/vampires/evil/[insert other applicable peril here]!” This is often one of the least difficult archetypes to spot because the character(s) in question is almost constantly being referred to as “the chosen one” by other characters.

Some TV Chosen Ones include the Halliwell sisters from Charmed, Buffy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Winchester brothers in Supernatural, and Emma Swan in Once Upon a Time.

There are plenty other character archetypes on screen, from “The Cynic” to “The Eccentric Mentor” to “The Dumb Muscle” (find a list with more archetypes and examples here), and frankly, it probably isn’t news to most of us that these archetypes exist. In fact, sometimes we even acknowledge them.

One of my favorite “call out the archetype” moments happens in the 1976 film Network. A woman relays pitches for new TV shows to a network executive. While the ideas are supposed to be for different shows, the woman uses the phrase “crusty but benign” to describe an elderly gentleman character over and over again – each “unique” show pitch fell back on the same type of characters.

networkThe scene’s humor comes from the audience’s recognition of the common character tropes on television, but this brings us to another question: if we recognize the characters on our favorite TV programs are often essentially the same, why do we continue to watch them?

“The world can only be known in relation to peoples’ experience of it, not independently of that experience.” – Tom Andrews, Grounded Theory Review

In the context of television programming, this means writers must create characters that fit into the social context in which viewers expect to see them. If a character does not fit into a socially constructed archetype, the audience may find them harder to understand and relate to, making the program less interesting and enjoyable overall. In essence, the relatable character (even the archetyped one) is the most loved.

If you need more proof, think of that TV character from earlier who reminds you of yourself or someone you know. This character is your TV spirit animal. My TV spirit animal is Liz Lemon from 30 Rock (who is played by my real-life spirit animal, Tina Fey). Our fascination with relating to these characters leaks into the online world through Buzzfeed articles like 21 Ways You Are Definitely Leslie Knope or 29 Reasons Why You Are Liz Lemon.

say yes

You might be thinking that character archetypes would make media boring, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I think they are actually essential to successful TV because they help create bonds with the audience. We can’t always relate to the situations TV characters find themselves in (I don’t have any experience slaying vampires or being the mother of dragons, for example), which is why it’s so important to be able to relate to the characters themselves on such a human level.

Don Draper and Walter White may both be Anti-Heroes, but in the end, we actually like it that way.

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What’s the opposite of a buzzword?

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Mashable recently posted an article about words we need to stop using on our resumes. Here’s the breakdown:

 “Utilize”

I totally get this one, because I went through a phase where I liked to replace the word “use” with “utilize” in academic papers, falsely believing it made me sound smarter. But this is the exact problem with the word: it serves as a direct replacement for a more commonplace term, without contributing any nuanced meaning difference to justify the switch. At best, dropping utilize into a resume makes you sound like you’re trying too hard; at worst, you it makes you sound pretentious.

 “Various”

This one was new to me. I know you should quantify your resume accomplishments with exact numbers whenever possible, but I didn’t realize various gave off such a bad impression. It’s basically a filler word and it is often used instead of “different” (ie, worked on various projects/worked on different projects).

“Very”

Similar to “various,” very is another filler word. It usually makes no real impact on the sentence. If you really want to express “very” anything, try replacing the two-word combo with a single more impactful word (very good becomes excellent and so on). This is a pretty solid tip for your writing in general – skip the “very” and find one word that encompasses what you really mean.

Any derivative of “synergy”

This tip was my favorite, less because of how it might pertain to my personal resume and more because I only ever hear people use “synergy” as the punchline to some kind of business joke.

miami synergy

The Mashable article says the term was “clever…ten years ago” and now makes resume readers want to roll their eyes. Like utilize, synergy has developed a pretentious feel. Plus, it comes off as business-talking-about-business, like you’re using the word just because you think you should.

In summary, I recommend you utilize Ctrl + F to very quickly remove the various mentions of synergy in your resume ASAP.