The Snarkbuckler

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I seemed to have hit a nerve in yesterday’s post where I described a recent character archetype that I absolutely cannot frickin’ stand: The Snarkbuckler: 

But the specifically theological and religious aspects of this are for another post. Religion is a part of a society, and our society has spent generations teaching girls and women to be more masculine, and men to just . . . I don’t know, to just shut up and go hide in the corner. Life is safe and secure. Manly virtues, we’re told, don’t need to be cultivated because they’re somehow not necessary anymore, at least in the ahistorical lands of abundance we call Europe and America.

And so we get the snarkbuckler. He’s like a swashbuckler, but annoying as hell and, in real life, the kind of guy women run away from. Yet he represents what a lot of novelists and screenwriters are–they write as though the repulsive man-children they are have taken over the world, beaten the Jock-Chad-Alpha-whatever you want to call him, and ride off into the sunset with the cute girl like a John Hughes movie (except for Pretty in Pink–Duckie ends up holding the bag in that one).

I’m rather fond of the term snarkbuckler myself. It totally fits because what it is, at heart, is a complete subversion of the lovable rogue archetype. 

The lovable rogue is an enduring character type because they represent a different spin on the manly virtues. Infogalactic has a very good summary of the lovable rogue that’s worth reproducing in full:

The lovable rogue is a fictional stock character, often from a working-class upbringing, who tends to recklessly defy norms and social conventions but who still evokes empathy from the audience or other characters. The lovable rogue is generally male and is often trying to “beat the system” and better himself, though not by ordinary or widely accepted means. If the protagonist of a story is also a lovable rogue, he is frequently deemed an antihero.

Lovable rogues are not the standard paragons of virtue because they frequently break the law or seem to act for their own personal profit; however, they are charming or sympathetic enough to convince the audience to root for them. Although they appear at first to act only for personal gain or to break the law needlessly, lovable rogues are often justified in these actions later on due to some ethical motivation that had not yet been revealed at the time or, at least, have the capacity to atone for their wrongdoings. Many lovable rogues are simply prone to being misled when making ethical decisions while others who appear to act unethically actually maintain a flexible and complicated but legitimate code of ethics.

The lovable rogue’s wild disposition is viewed not as repulsive and alarming so much as exciting and adventurous. Snide or arrogant remarks, brawn over brains, they challenge calls to action with wit first before brawn, they use their gut instincts to get out of hostility if personal profit is at stake, they love themselves more than women, they think fast and talk faster, and they may have aspirations for a better life. He is generally regarded as handsome or attractive and his daredevil attitude further makes him sexually desirable to other characters. He often has a fiery temper and is streetwise—possessing practical knowledge—usually having self-taught and never been educated in a formal setting.

Despite his common external appearance of selfishness, foolhardiness, or emotional detachment, the lovable rogue may in fact strongly associate with a highly idealistic belief system and understand the concept of a code of honor so highly valued that it transcends normal social constraints such as conformity, tradition, or the law. This sense of an internalized, personal code is usually what makes the lovable rogue lovable, since it serves to confirm that he is moral whereas he may have appeared at first glance to be immoral. The lovable rogue, thus, is not a villain, because he has either a sincere, strong sense of morality (though he may be unwilling to expose it) or has the definite potential for establishing such a moral sense. In addition, his tendency to violate norms may be regarded as a positive trait—having a highly individualisticcreative, or self-reliant personality.

So in condensed form, the lovable rogue is:

  • Usually working class
  • Defies social norms
  • Lives by his code of ethics, but has a sincere and strong sense of what is right and what is wrong
  • Sexually desirable to women
  • Witty
  • Using a daredevil attitude or seeming immorality as a shield against sharing honest emotions
  • Creative, self-reliant, and individualistic
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Art by Connor Stolte

Contrast this with the snarkbuckler, who is:

  • Of indeterminate socio-economic status
  • Is incompetent
  • Conforms to the social social norms of wokeness
  • Is constantly humiliated when he does not conform to the social norms of wokeness
  •  Has a code of ethics that is defined for him by others (usually women)
  • Is sexually repellent to women
  • Constantly snarky and sarcastic
  • Is a cringing, lazy coward who must be goaded into being heroic

What a revolting character type.

Film critic John Nolte describes the snarkbuckler in his recent review of the, by all accounts execrable Men in Black: International:

Hemsworth plays Agent H who, we’re told, is the top agent in the London MIB office. For reasons that never make any sense, though, he’s now a slacker, a wiseass, a Jeff Spicoli, a total incompetent — so incompetent that when a prominent alien he’s been charged with keeping safe is desperate for a private moment to talk, H blows off him to crack wise and party on. Even after this ends in disaster, H never processes his own role in that disaster.

. . .

H is a goof incapable of saving the day, much less the world. You keep waiting for him to snap out of it, to rise to the occasion. He never does, though, because today’s woke politics demand this kind of retribution against masculinity, even if it undermines your ability to believe in the story and world. You might as well cast Jerry Lewis as James Bond.

. . .

We are supposed to believe H is such a lout he’ll sleep with an alien but won’t give someone as attractive as Tessa Thompson a second look. Why is such an absurdity allowed? Politics, of course. We can’t have our characters act like real human beings when the politics of the day demand rigid enforcement of the no-objectification-especially-on-the-job rule.

I mean, this is exactly what I’m getting at. It’s why I couldn’t stand to watch all of Guardians of the Galaxy, because Star Lord was such an annoying idiotic goofball I could not take seriously as a hero.

Contrast Star Lord with one of science-fiction’s most famous lovable rogue, the perennially popular Han Solo. Han, let’s not forget:

  • Risked his neck to take Luke, Obi-Wan and the droids to Alderaan even when things looked bad;
  • Agreed to help Luke rescue Princess Leia in the Death Star;
  • Discovered he wasn’t a lout after all and came back during the first raid on the Death Star to help out the Rebels, saving Luke from Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter, thereby allowing Luke to blow up the Death Star;
  • Risked freezing to death to leave the rebel base on Hoth and look for Luke, even though he knew he very well might not make it back alive;
  • Allowed himself to be frozen in carbonite in Cloud City in order that Leia might be let go
  • Agreed to lead the Rebel forces in their assault on the forest moon of Endor in a bid to blow up the shield generator

And so on. In countless ways, after realizing he really did have a heart of gold at the end of the first movie, and realizing he didn’t want to abandon ship when things got bad at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, Han never had to be told to be heroic. He never had to be forced to be brave. He just was.

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As a result, Leia wasn’t the only woman who fell in love with him. He’s pretty much the most popular Star Wars character with the fairer sex, and I’m sure plenty of gay dudes have a thing for him as well.

Star Lord? Eh. I mean, Chris Pratt’s a good-looking guy, but the character he plays is an overgrown man-child. Maybe he’s different in the other movies, but I found him smug and annoying and craven.

On a slightly tangential note, I cannot stand man-children, overgrown adolescents, in real-life or in my fiction. For God’s sake, grow the hell up, take some pride in yourself and your appearance, accept responsibility for your life, and stop blaming women as the cause of your problems! 

But sadly, this type of person must be everywhere, especially in writing rooms across the entertainment industry. Or if not, then that’s how the dorks who work in mainstream entertainment think of us men. Worse, since they wield disproportionate influence, their product both reflects and influences society. It probably influences it far more than it reflects, and in fact reflects the image that they themselves made.

Confused yet? Me too. Let’s move on.

In modern fantasy, I find both Tyrion and Jamie Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire to be snarkbucklers. And yet Mat Cauthon from The Wheel of Time is a classic lovable rogue and therefore not annoying. I confess I’ve been reading older fantasy lately, so if there are any other good examples of snarkbucklers in current stuff, please let me know so I know what not to read.

The common denominator, however, can be summed up in a pithy axiom I’m willing to share with you for free on this here blog:

Rogues have balls. Snarkbucklers do not.

‘Nuff said.


No snarkbucklers in my book, A Traitor to Dreams, but plenty of heroes.

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34 comments

  1. Suian nailed Mat’s character way back in book 3:
    “You remind me of my uncle Huan. No one could ever pin him down. He liked to gamble, too, and he’d much rather have fun than work. He died pulling children out of a burning house. He wouldn’t stop going back as long as there was one left inside. Are you like him, Mat? Will you be there when the flames are high?”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. —You should write The Snarkbuckler Alexander. Deconstruct the deconstruction.

    H.P.
    —that’s an interesting quote. I’ve not read any of The Wheel of Time and I don’t think I ever will but…that is a good quote, thanks for sharing.

    cheers

    Liked by 1 person

      • Two ideas:

        1. A boy internalizes his community’s and his mother’s universal hatred for his snarkbuckling father, so he promises to make himself socially acceptable.

        2. A snarkbuckler goes along for the ride until he sees the deadly consequences of clown world, which force him to “grow up.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. The character CAN work, but only if they either grow out of it or prove themselves to be actually useful.

        Actually, there’s a third possibility: their behavior is NOT shown to be a good thing. The real-world consequences of being a snarkbuckler must be reflected as accurately as possible in a work of fiction.

        Like

  3. Alexander,

    The proliferation of the snarkbuckler is due to a lack of punching. Specifically some smarmy guy gets slugged for being a jerk and either learns or gets slugged again until he clues in or dies. Either from the slugging or from Darwin award winning life decisions.

    I really see 99% of the soyboy neckbeard male feminist snarkbucklers killed in a massive die off like dinosaurs if the regular guys really had enough of them.
    xavier

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah. The credible threat of violence as a consequence of mouthing off self-corrected a lot of problems. It’s like ice hockey.

      What kills me is that the people who write snarkbucklers think that they’re socially loved and popular, and that by having JUST the right verbal riposte will cut Chad down to size, win the day, and get the girl, even though that’s most definitely NOT how it goes in real life.

      Like

  4. I see your point as a being part of the larger issue of style over substance, of the “heroes” being defined by their identity rather than their activity. I never liked Han Solo as a character (there aren’t any Star Wars characters who are particularly interesting as people) but in the original film he did something–i e, came back to join in the battle of the Death Star after he made it clear that he didn’t feel that it was his fight–that earned him the medal at the end.

    Today it is difficult to find characters who earn their role in the story through merit–through deliberate actions.

    This isn’t just the heroes–often the villains don’t do anything particularly villainous, they are just “bad people” because that’s how the writers label them. The Evil Corporation in “Ready Player One” wasn’t doing anything illegal or even immoral except for the completely inexplicable attack on the protagonist’s trailer park, which had no lasting effect on the plot at all.

    Mentors aren’t particularly wise or helpful, they are just shoehorned into the mentor role because somebody thought there should be that particular character type in the story. The mentor figure in “Captain Marvel” for example, doesn’t ever do anything except be there.

    Romantic roles are handed out on the basis of looks, with no particular effort made to have the male lead earn the attentions of the female lead, or the female lead do anything to deserve his interest. Pretty much every story with a romantic subplot. The men are weak, the women are cold, and there isn’t any reason aside from sex for the characters to like each other at all.

    The characters lack any individual agency, they are just playing out the roles that fate has handed them. The hero wins and the villain loses because of events beyond the control of either of them, Fate or Destiny or Society, or Blind Luck.

    It’s the logical outgrowth of the Identity/Entitlement mindset of today. It doesn’t matter what you do, all that matters is what you are. If you spout the proper opinions and have the proper style, you win.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “It’s the logical outgrowth of the Identity/Entitlement mindset of today. It doesn’t matter what you do, all that matters is what you are.”

      That’s perfect Misha. That philosophy has infected everything else, so of course it’s plagued our storytelling as well.

      It’s like a mutant, ultra-narcissistic variety of the Chosen One trope, just applied to everything else.

      This lack of individual agency is what drives me nuts. I like active characters who make things happen, not passive shmos and overbearing harpies who are swept along in the course of events.

      Like

  5. Wonderfully illuminating post.

    In short, lovable rogues possess masculine virtue. Snarkbucklers are effeminate.

    I will differ with you in one regard. It was Vader’s wingman, not Han Solo, who saved Luke. Seriously. Watch that scene again. The wingman freaks out for no reason and veers into Vader’s TIE.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. —Brian, that’s a funny one, never saw that.

    —Just a guess but maybe they figured Vader was too big a character to be hit by a shot from Han. Having Luke’s friend deliver a blow would diminish him as a villain. Maybe too they didn’t want his tie-fighter damaged so he could more easily return in the sequels.

    —Didn’t Lucas’s wife edit the movie or at least that sequence? It’s still quite effective even knowing what happens; the audience happy to see Han return.

    cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  7. —I think Han shooting Vader’s ship would’ve been cool no doubt but could’ve distracted from the focus of Luke destroying the Death Star. The way it was filmed cleared Vader off the board in a novel way; isn’t it the only time we see two ships bump into each other?

    cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Brian—thanks for the info.

    I guess Gary Kurtz (producer) was another positive factor; ya subtract him and Marcia Lucas and add in “yes men” and get the prequels. Just looked it up and he was fired from Jedi.

    —Years ago, no, over a decade ago I watched Empire with Irving Kirshner’s (sp?) commentary and it really stood out how much he emphasized inserting as many character moments as possible. I think he wanted to come back for Jedi but it didn’t happen for some reason.

    —Returning to Snarkbuckler, as a character he’s fine if used occasionally or as part of an ensemble but he’s become way too common.

    cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    • I need to rewatch the commentary tracks. That sounds interesting yet I don’t remember it because it’s been so long.

      Agreed: snarkbuckler has his uses, and may even be interesting if the character grows . . . but he never seems to these days. He’s stuck in perpetual, obnoxious adolescence.

      Like

  9. A good contrast is Starlord against Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China. There is a scene in both where they make a bold claim with their name attached and the enemy asks who they are talking about.

    Starlord meekly says “Oh, come on, man. It’s me. Starlord. Give me a break!” and whines as such. Real pathetic. We’re meant to laugh at him because he’s a loser.

    Jack Burton just forcefully says “Me! Jack Burton!” and we cheer for him. Because he’s Jack Burton! We want him to show what he’s made of.

    I have to imagine some sort of mentality was lost over the years in how to make a comedic suave hero versus a loser whiner hero. The difference between them is so very obvious yet nobody really writes the former anymore, at least in Hollywood or in Oldpub.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a GREAT example. Man, Star Lord is an obnoxious character.

      Something has absolutely been lost, at least among white American characters on TV and in movies. Yes, I’m going here, because it’s a total part of it.

      There was a time when white people weren’t lame. Somewhere along the line, cultural self-loathing took root, and we’re seeing the fruits of that now in our art.

      Damn, whiners and snarky man-children are annoying.

      Like

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