Friday, January 6, 2012

Spunky Agency: Fake Empowerment and not-so-strong Female Protagonists

Spunky Agency is a term that we use quite often on this site.  We have included a cursory definition in the Fangs Lexicon, but because it is in such regular usage, we thought that it would be appropriate to create a post clearly defining what we mean by this term, with an example of some characters that represent spunky agency..

A character possessed of Spunky Agency, is one who makes the most impulsive decisions that often are reckless and put her in ridiculous danger.  This of course is meant to frame said protagonist as a person of action. Quite often you see the term strong used to describe this kind of action when in fact a better descriptor would probably be, “does not have the sense that God gave cabbage.“

These protagonists use their agency in such ridiculous ways that it undermines their agency. Their decisions are so poor we wish they wouldn’t make them at all - these characters aren’t strong, because their “strength” is so misapplied. We have so many classic examples in the genre - Sookie Stackhouse has made some incredibly poor decisions, starting with deciding to investigate a serial killing in vampire bars and just getting worse from there. Clary from the Mortal Instruments virtually embodies this trope with her clueless portal jumping without knowing what’s on the other side. Claire from the Morganville Vampires constantly makes decisions that make my headache (checking out the curious, locked lightproof room in the library in a town filled with vampires? Really?

Of course, bad plans are not the only element of Spunky Agency. How many times have we seen a group make a plan and then Spunky Agency decide she’s going to sneak off and do her own thing instead? Yes, I`m looking at you Elena from the Otherworld series. How many times will she pretend to agree then go against everything decided? The Spunky Agent decides she knows better than her fellows and feels she can discard their input on a whim.

Similarly, the Spunky Agent will often refuse to accept any other input. She presents a fait accompli, a “my way or the highway”. Her agency is only realised by dictating to the others - even when they are often more experienced and knowledgeable than she is. Elena from Vampire Diaries frequently forces Stefan and Damon to accept her ridiculous plans. Jayne (oh thee of faux french names) from the Blacksun’s Daughter Series knows she should not be in command and yet still leads around the experts; making reckless plans that needlessly risk other people’s lives.

Another common element of Spunky Agency is poor impulse control - or outright random violence. Keillie Riviere from The Hoodoo Series so epitomises this that we’ve actually named the trope after her. To prove how strong and confident and determined she is, she punches people. She punches Augustin, the leader . while she may be the most in need of anger-management therapy or some goal time she’s hardly alone. How many times has Anita Blake got up in someone’s face at the slightest provocation?

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