Crazies And Villains (A Nationality Predictor)

While watching several West Wing episodes again recently, it struck me once more. Remember when President Bartlet’s daughter, Zoe, had the French boyfriend? Jean-Paul?

He resembled Rafael Nadal. He was obnoxious, filthy rich, snobbish, aristocratic, and did drugs. He was, frankly, a stereotypical upper-class French, early 20s, horror.

That led me to recall this:

Excerpt from "Passports," on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.
Excerpt from “Passports,” on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.

I’ve never forgotten that film and that laugh.

Ever noticed that in U.S. entertainment? Almost any French character portrayed on U.S. television, or in film, is probably damaged, nuts, or the murderer. If you don’t believe me, try this experiment. As soon as you see one, make note. Moreover, whichever of those three it turns out to be (and it could be all of them) no doubt the character will be fashionably attired as well.


I say that because I also smiled over The Dark Knight Rises, which co-starred French actor Marion Cotillard. I didn’t know she was in it. (I’ve never been a huge fan of most of the Batman films, I must admit.) However, the moment I saw her appear on screen being all cute and sweetness, I knew immediately that she would ultimately turn out to be the villain(ness).

It would have been a lot more of a plot twist if she had NOT been.


The British also make superb villains. In fact, in Hollywood blockbusters they may be the leading source for them overall. A Briton is invariably going to try to blow up the world – while, of course, quoting Shakespeare.

The list goes on. The Irish are good-looking, redheaded rural types, or drunks, or IRA-masterminds who try to blow up the world because it’s all the bl-ody Queen’s fault. Canadians are either dull Anglos who say “Eh” all the time, like hockey, drink Molson, or, if they are from Quebec, they are, well, just like the French from France. Germans are upright, perfectly honest and dutiful, or they’re high-tech, artsy fiends, or World War II characters. Italians are inefficient, or criminals, or wear Armani, and the women are either grandmas who make pasta, or are Sophia Loren. Australians are usually “outback” types who vaguely remind us of mountain time zone Americans – except Australians wrestle crocodiles, face down poisonous spiders, and all hang out on Bondi Beach.

Free Stock Photo: Businessman holding a globe.
Free Stock Photo: Businessman holding a globe.

South Americans? Middle Easterners? Sub-Saharan Africans? Chinese? I don’t even know where to begin. How much time do you have? 🙂

The reverse is often similarly amusing. For instance, American characters on British television (often played by British actors) are almost certainly loud and well-to-do, pompous and provincial. When they turn up on Foyle’s War, trust me…. ****SPOILER ALERT AGAIN**** they are the killer.

I remember EastEnders years ago tried some “18 year old” female character who’d arrived at “Albert Square” after growing up in the U.S. I can’t remember the character’s name, but she was on the show several years. It didn’t last, though. Suddenly, her American accent vanished and references to the U.S. ceased. Maybe the British audience didn’t buy it, or didn’t want an “American” in EastEnders?

I’m not saying we should have nothing but blandly “conventional” characters in our fiction. It’s just that all too often we can see the stereotypes flying at us from a mile away. While there is indeed usually at least a kernel of “national” truth in them, if they are portrayed too predictably they can actually undermine the tales.

Anyway, have a good Thursday. I am, as you know, originally from Long Guyyyyyland, Nu Yawwwk. Fugetabouwdit. 😉

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Author: “Conventions: The Garden At Paris,” “Passports,” “Frontiers,” and “Distances.” British Airways frequent flier. Lover of the Catskill Mountains...and the 1700s. New novel of 1797-1805, "Tomorrow The Grace," due out in 2019.