Something has gone terribly wrong in the entertainment world.
“Duh.” You might say. “Kim Kardishian is still on television.” Alright, something else has gone terribly wrong.
“‘After Earth’ somehow got made even after Shyamalan made ‘Lady in the Water’, ‘The Happening’, and ‘The Last Airbender’.” …Alright, something else has gone terribly wrong.
“‘The Annoying Orange’ got his own TV show.”
Ok, things go wrong in the entertainment world at least three times a day. What I’m referring too specfically, however, is the ridiculous rise of “Karma Houdinis”. It’s getting pretty bad now.
To understand how much this is a problem, we need to harken back to the days of yore…the 80s and 90s.
For almost as long as there has been fiction, there have been Jerks in Fiction. Maybe they’re backstabbing. Maybe they’re greedy. Maybe they’re vain. Maybe they’re racist. Maybe they’re weasels. Maybe they’re leches. Maybe they’re sadists. Maybe they’re a combination. No matter what they are, they’re always people you want to throttle. They’re guys who go around being d*cks to everyone all the time, taking advantage of nice people, lying, cheating, stealing, and doing whatever they can to get ahead, often at the expense of others, and basically make you constantly scoff in disbelief at their own actions and invision various ways they could die.
Why do such characters exist in fiction? I’m not talking about a basic jerk who just passes through. I’m talking about major characters who consistently act like jerks again and again and again, always getting worse in each incarnation, and giving everyone a hard time while seeming to get ahead in terms of popularity, status, money, prestige, or anything else that makes them bigger and better than the other protagonists or main characters, at least the ones who are more honest and good. What’s the point to them? Why do we tolerate them continuously being jerks and a**hats to everyone?
The answer is simple, really: making karma satisfying.
Picture a struggling yet honest, devoted, faithful, and loving single mom working three jobs to provide for her adorable and intelligent children. Picture that same woman walking home one night and getting jumped by meaty thugs, beaten half to death, and her money stolen from her. It’s terrible! Horrific! A tragedy!
Now picture the same terrible thing happening to a smug rich bastard who frequently pushes crippled people into mud puddles, steals girlfriends to slap them on the butt, and fires people who work for him just to add his money to theirs. The meaty thugs jump him, beat him half to death, and steal all his money.
Now it’s hilarious! Especially if he just came away from an act of jerkiness.
That’s ultimately the reason we tolerated jerks in the entertainment media back in the 80s and 90s. That’s the reason we continued to smile as we watched them do one terrible thing after another and always seem to come out on top. Because we knew the “end was coming”. We’d only snicker at him. “Keep laughing, buddy. I know what’s going to happen to you…” And sure enough, he would get his comeuppance. In fact, the jerk was necessary to avoid a tragedy. The jerk had the innate ability to turn any horrific tragedy into comedy gold. If you have a big enough jerk, you never care what happens to them and it’s never “sad” because they had it coming.
At some point, the entertainment world either “lost the memo” or “forgot to carry the one”, but the formula altered. The mentality shifted. People got their perceptions altered. The humor that came from a jerk was supposed to be the jerk doing bad things and then getting a painful retribution for it, at which point it was hilarious. Yet people got confused, it seems. For some reason…they began to believe the reason so many jerks were present in the entertainment world was because jerks and their jerky acts were themselves funny. That somehow the act of being a jerk to someone else and simply doing smug, jerky things is what’s funny and entertaining.
The results are unsettling.
To call out big examples of individual characters, there’s Bucky in “Get Fuzzy”, Rat in “Pearls Before Swine”, Peter Griffin in “Family Guy”, and probably the most infamous example of all…Eric Cartman in “South Park”. These are the worst kinds of jerks, ones that name you sick to your stomach: “Karma Houdinis”. As the name implies, they are people who can do whatever they want to whoever they want, no matter how disgusted, immoral, or cruel, and they never see the slightest bit of retribution.
Karma Houdinis are bad in and of themselves, but it’s indicative of a larger problem that’s overarching. In media in general, you always expect the main characters to be able to get away with a baseline level of jerkiness. If there is something that involves them taking advantage of someone less fortunate or doing something immoral or wrong, even if they never do it normally, they not only will get away with it…but the very fact that they were able to get away with being a jerk to an innocent person is supposed to be FUNNY and ENTERTAINING.
To be honest…I think this could be a problem in American society at large. And I’m surprised it hasn’t had more of a backlash.
After all, I still remember back in the 90s when parents nearly blew a conniption fit over Beavis and Butthead. And those guys were never Karma Houdinis. They were “Idiot Houdinis”, and not even good ones at that. They only managed to avoid death. Certainly not copious amounts of pain. But the point was parents were terrified that kids would watch this and think they could somehow be Idiot Houdinis themselves…that they could engage in one blatantly stupid and moronic act after another and never incur the natural, painful result.
By that logic, parents should be far more up in arms about Karma Houdinis. Idiots aren’t much of a problem. They eliminate themselves from the gene pool so long as you leave them to their own devices. But the logical conclusion of imitating Karma Houdinis is much worse. Basically the idea you can get away with being an insensitive, self-interested, and deranged/perverted jerk. Is there anyone out in the world today who thinks we suffer from a lack of jerks as-is?
Far worse than that, however, is the fact that when only “nice” people ever suffer ill consequences or, worse yet, are the only ones who ever have bad things happen to them, it gives people the idea that somehow being a jerk insulates you from harm while being “good” is dumb. Sound too simplistic? Try listening to the typical college student banter. Even grade school. Why else do people constantly post crap on social media that ends up coming around to bite them in the rear? And who is more likely to be ridiculed? The person who talks about times they were an a** to others or did illegal things that made trouble for other people, or the person who never did anything of the sort, as if they should have at least “dabbled in jerkiness” at some point in their life? Why are demented jerks allowed to post BS online until it drives their target to suicide? Is it not because everyone the demented jerk knows loves them for their acts of bullying and encourages them to escalate?
I’m hoping that the entertainment industry comes to remember that jerks are individuals to be punished in amusing fashions for their crimes or, at minimum, loathed for their actions…not idolized. And I hope you all keep that in mind next time you feel like mocking a character for being “too nice”.
And with that, I’m off to turn on the news. I’m going to check on the biggest examples of real-life combination Idiot and Karma Houdinis.
I’m talking about Congress, of course.