Eight Deadly Words

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"I'm realizing this movie is probably the first in history where the most likable character is the psychopathic Elvis fan who kills people randomly."

"I don't care what happens to these people."

A phrase coined by Dorothy J. Heydt in a science fiction-based UseNet group in 1991 to describe an Audience Reaction to a work of fiction where the characters are so universally bland, unengaging or unlikable that the reader simply loses interest in their fate and, by extension, the work as a whole. This can happen with or without the presence of more objective shortcomings, but the most interesting examples tend to be those where this is a critic's main complaint, single-handedly making an otherwise well-made story almost completely unenjoyable.

Also often stated with added emphasis as "I don't care what happens to these people".

In Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Story "Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for." is #2.

See also Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy, a variation on this that is specifically caused by a setting that is too Grimdark, to the point where there's no likable protagonist for the audience to root for. Ironically, many Horror/Disaster Movies that begin with Developing Doomed Characters do so to try and avoid this, but the characters are so unlikable that it just emphasizes the audience apathy instead, or even has them cheering as the jerks are killed off. Don't confuse with Seven Dirty Words or Seven Deadly Sins.

This is not a complaining platform. Please only add examples where this reaction is actually played out, not works about which you personally felt this way.

Examples of Eight Deadly Words include:


Film

Live Action TV

  • Invoked many times on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as the bots watched characters they were ostensibly supposed to care about hurtle to their doom.

Joel [flat monotone]: Stop. Wait. Come back.


Literature

  • Dorothy Heydt coined the words when reading Volume Two of The Wheel of Time, and also applied them to a Fionavar Tapestry book.
  • This is one of the many complaints that have been made by reviewers about the Baldur's Gate novelisations by Philip Athans, the protagonist being a Designated Hero Jerk Sue and the other characters barely counting as characters.
  • Mark Twain's essay The Literary Offenses of Fenimore Cooper"
    • 10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the "Deerslayer" tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

Musical

  • The Musical of Musicals, a play that parodies various... well, musicals, registers this complaint about the works of Stephen Sondheim ("Unlikable people with lives that are hollow / It's all food for thought, but a bit hard to swallow...")
  • All of the characters in The Threepenny Opera an example of this. Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht did this intentionally, as not a single character is sympathetic in their motives, actions, or expressions. This was in part because it was a political commentary on capitalism and corruption. An example of Tropes Are Not Bad.

Professional Wrestling

  • Quite possibly the worst possible thing to happen to a pro wrestler outside of injuries is to get this sort of reaction. The entire point of wrestling is to get the crowds to cheer or boo you. Not getting either is almost considered to be worse than getting X-Pac Heat, and is practically guaranteed to put you on the fast track to getting fired.
  • This is the general outcome of a heel vs. heel feud. Face vs. Face feuds(case in point, Austin/Rock heading into WM 19 and/or Cena/HBK heading into WM 23) can generally work on the fact that the crowd likes, to some extent or another, both participants and thus interest can be gained in seeing these two men/women, who respect each other immensely, square off in the ring. Heel/Heel feuds, meanwhile, pit two villains against one another. While this dynamic may work in literature, video games, or even film, to some extent, in wrestling, where the crowd controls a lot of the show, a match with two villains squaring off is more than likely going to drain interest in the show, considering that these are two characters the crowd hates.


Video Games

  • Diabetus declares a variation in the Darkseed 2 Rongpurae, about the protagonist, Mike Dawson, who is suspected of murder.

Slowbeef: To be honest, do you think he did it?
Diabetus: I would think no.
slowbeef: Who do you think did?
Diabetus: Well the problem is I don't really care.


Web Original

  • Many a Caustic Critic have this mentality when they're supposed to fear for a character's life. Special mention goes to The Cinema Snob and Phelous, since they review exploitation and horror films, respectively.