The Brooders

In her essay about Edmund, "King Edmund the Cute: Anatomy of a Girlhood Crush," Diane Peterfreund explains why Edmund is her favorite of the Narnian heroes. He's mine too (like Diane, the fan fiction I wrote about Narnia involved Edmund), and I agree with Peterfreund's perspective. She points out that Edmund qualifies as a bad boy, but what makes him appealing is that he is a reformed bad boy: a bad boy who made good and has used his bad boy past to gain insight into himself and others. (In response to my brother Eugene's post about Anne of Green Gables and Twilight, I should mention that Peterfreund does dismiss Peter as date-worthy since "while Edmund is logical, clever, understanding, damaged, grave, and quiet, Peter is just perfect. Perfect is boring." He isn't so perfect in the movies--gotta have that internal conflict!--but yes, he is in the books; I think Lewis created Peter as the King Arthur figure of Narnia.)

Despite his bad boy past, Peterfreund points out, "Edmund . . . seemed [to me] to have pulled it together. He may have been somewhat graver than Peter, but he was still a cheerful guy, overall." In other words, he isn't a brooder.


But that got me thinking. I agree with Peterfreund in principle--brooders are a total cliche and sooo boring! But do I agree with her in fact? I decided to go through shows (and books) that I like and list the brooders:

Brooder #1: Angel

I have to admit, Angel is a brooder, and I like Angel, but I think much of Angel's broodiness is undercut by Whedon's humor, not to mention Boreanaz's interpretation. Personally, Angel always struck me less as brooding guy and more as intensely introverted guy (which, considering Boreanaz's current alter-ego, the totally extroverted Booth, is fairly impressive). Angel doesn't say much, sure, but I mostly put that down to grumpy guy who lived through the Depression syndrome ("I'm not cheap," Angel says on Angel, "I'm old.") There's a scene in "Earshot" where Buffy, who can now hear people's thoughts, comes to Angel's house to see if she can "hear" him. After following Angel around his house for several minutes, he finally says, kindly but bemusedly, "You can't hear my thoughts. Why don't you just ask me?" Not exactly brooder behavior.

Still, he does brood more than Spike, who seems to brood mostly in spurts.

Brooder #2: House

Granted, House is a class-1 brooder. Again, however, the brooding is undercut by the writing. "You don't have Asperger's," Wilson tells him. "You'd like to, but you don't." And House is always exposing his psyche to people who will not take his brooding seriously or, at least, will point out its absurdity. This makes House's brooding tolerable.

Brooder #3: Hamlet

Personally, I've always preferred the Mel Gibson action-hero version to Launcelot Olivier's blond, swooning prince. I can't speak to Branagh's version. The movie is interesting, but I've never been exactly sure what Branagh was trying to do with Hamlet.

Brooders #4: The English Detectives

I quite like Wimsey who, like House, seems to deliberately act against his own broodiness, but--sorry, PBS mystery fans!--I can't stand Morse, and Lynley gives me a headache. So much angst!! So much melancholy!! Just pull out the violins already: *sigh.*

Brooder #5: Sidney Carlton

When I was in high school, us arty types swooned over Sidney Carlton, the sarcastic, brooding anti-hero of Tale of Two Cities. I think I would find him rather tiresome now; I certainly found the hero of A Separate Peace tiresome (maybe it was just the book). However, I did quite like Lord Jim. But not Ethan Frome. So apparently, I'm an all-American girl: sure, my heroes can brood, but they have got to DO STUFF while they are brooding.

Brooders #6: Mulder & Edward Rochester

Who can forget Mulder?! Mulder is definitely a brooder, but he has the happy accident of being a nutsy brooder. Also, like many of the brooders I have already praised, he is both funny and active. He ACTS. Also, like Edward Rochester (Jane Eyre), he spends his time brooding on one particular problem, at least for the time period that we know him. The brooding has purpose and seems to be less "I'm such a jerk" oriented and more "other people have made my life miserable let's get them!" oriented. Watching a man brood about himself is far less interesting than watching a man brood about an issue.

Brooders #7: The Women

Yup, women can brood too! Buffy springs to mind although, overall, Buffy is thankfully upbeat (yes, I'm ignoring Season 6). Seven-of-Nine doesn't brood since she belongs to the "I don't like it, I kill it" mode of dealing with problems. B'Elanna, similar to Seven in make-up, broods but in moderation, and Tom is very good at handling her broods.

So I'm not completely opposed to brooders, but I do have a healthy love of the ordinary guy who doesn't brood at all, such as Xander (Buffy), Dave (News Radio), Charles Parker (Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries), almost the entire cast of both Stargates (especially O'Neill and Sheppard), Greg (Dharma & Greg) and Columbo.

And I like the non-brooding gals too: Cuddy (House) (maybe that's why I like Amber--she doesn't brood); Carter (Stargate); Monk's assistants (yes, I am excusing Monk as a brooder--he does brood, but there's just so much else going on in the guy's life, the brooding kind of gets lost); Dharma (D&G), and of course, Scully (who is allowed her occasional brood, considering her circumstances, such as--eh hem--her partner).


So brooding isn't always a turn-off, so long as the brooder has humor, does something about the brooding, and gets over it (now and again). And the brooding is especially tolerable if the brooder is off-set by healthy, upbeat, kind, cool people.



Cherndawg said...

I think brooding is often overused when trying to establish depth in character. And, as you pointed out, the brooder is often, or at least percieved as, a bad boy. One of my favorite Brooders from angel was actually Lindsey, becuase instead of brooding about the bad things society won't let him do (which is what guys really do brood about "man, if only I could..."), Lindsey Brooded about the lost option he had for doing good, which made him a creat character.

Joss almost always includes Batman as a reference when brooding is brought up, and classicaly, it fits. But Batman is also a fuctional Brooder. He doesn't sit and feel sorry for himself so much as seclude himself and work out every single angle of the problem, many times even to his determent.

In the most recent issue of "Secret Six," Catman actually fights Batman as a diversion, and throughout the fight continues to comment on smelling spices and pork. Finally, at the end of the fight, Batman admits "and I had a burrito, if you MUST know."
Catman responds "hard to picture you picking up a burrito in uniform... it humanizes you. I don't think I like it."

And He's right. Brooding not only creates a sense of depth, but the isolation that comes with it starts to strip the essence of humanity from a character, so the TOO MUCH brooding makes a character unrelateable.

Which is interesting, becuase it is that very same brooding in healthy doses that helps us to see the emotions and limits of a character.

Joe said...

Are some characters brooders, or just appear that way because of the POV?

Michael Weston from Burn Notice comes to mind.

Georgia Lass ("Dead Like Me")?


Duncan MacLeod?

Peter Parker?

Charlie Crews from Life isn't a brooder, but is introspective.

Kate Woodbury said...

I think perspective is part of the brooder diagnosis. With Batman, for example (and I can't believe I left that brooder off the list!), brooding is both external and internal--at least as far as his Batman self is concerned. His Bruce Wayne alter-ego is a brooder but certainly doesn't appear so from the outside.

On the other hand, I recently saw a great Keen Eddie episode with the excellent Nicholas Hoult (young About a Boy actor). Hoult plays a student in a public (that's "private" to us Americans) school. He appears to be brooding when, in fact, he is figuring out the moves in an elaborate game that will get him out from under the school's bullying.

The neat thing about the episode is that when Eddie realizes that he has been used by the Hoult character, he doesn't hold it against him, and the Hoult character thanks Eddie for his intentions (in a very backwards way).

Now, Eddie isn't a brooder, but I suppose, in comparison to his partner, he could come across as one: it's a perfect example of reverse stereotyping: the Yank is the quiet type; the Britisher is the noisy, exuberant type.

Cari Hislop said...

I've never thought of any of the characters you mention (that I've read or watched) as brooders. It wouldn't have even have occured to me to use the word. I was born and bred in Oregon and strangely, I don't remember the word brooding used outside a description of pregnant women, though I'm aware of it meaning to ponder. Strange! I shall now brood upon the word brooding...

I love House! He's a great character, but I'd use the word "wounded" to describe him. He's by nature an introvert which means he requires solitude to process his daily experiences/emotions. Some might see that as brooding, but if introverts don't get solitude they will eventually end up sick in hospital or mad the nut house. It's how they recharge their batteries.

Emotional wounds from his childhood have given rise to the cynical selfish sarcastic shield he uses to protect himself. On the rare occasion someone penetrates his thick armour his kind heart is left naked which he hates as he would. He hasn't yet dealt with his emotional problems so they're building up overflowing the garbage can. He'll resist (avoid) dealing with them until he cracks.
I wouldn't be surprised if the series ends with House being carted off to a mental institution.

Have you ever taken the Myers Brigg personality test? There are free tests online. If you haven't I think you'd find it fascinating. I think House is an INTJ (with a strong P)...a Mastermind!

Kate Woodbury said...

I wonder if introverts brood more than extroverts? Maybe introverts appear to brood more than extroverts . . .

I think House does needs solitude, but I also think he needs people; if he doesn't get people, he goes kind of crazy--he needs the interactions and the puzzle of figuring out another human being. I think that's one reason he is always bugging Wilson. So even though he pretends to loathe clinic duty, he needs it too. I've written about House here and here if you're interested :)

I have a terrible confession to make: I loathe Myers-Briggs--sorry, sorry!! I think it can probably be fun and illuminating, but I've encountered too many people who tried to tell me I was "fill-in-the-blank" even when I told them I didn't like Myers-Briggs! I think the reasoning can get kind of circular: this person is X, therefore, this person does Y; this person does Y, therefore, this person is X.

But I know a lot of people do find it illuminating and helpful :)