You’re welcome, Marian! I was hoping you’d chime in. I know we’ve discussed this topic a lot on other comment sections at AAR, but I thought it would be nice to bring it all to one place. As I’ve said in a lot of other comments on this thread, there were definitely times where the fur was flying, and it gave me the idea to create a hopefully pleasant area to explore this issue.
I agree with everything you said in your post. That’s a great point about nuanced portrayals, so I’m glad you made it here where others can easily see it. Will we ever get to read an HR where the hero is a decent fellow but is skeptical about women’s suffrage? Or a villain who couldn’t give two wits about whether or not women have the vote but is determined to break up the couple for his own personal gain? Like you, I think exploring these avenues as a writer and reader is fascinating. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of pressure from both publishing houses and the wider world to keep characters in neat, corporate-approved boxes.
That’s nothing new, of course. Leslie McFarlane, who wrote about 20 of the original Hardy Boys mysteries, said in his memoir, The Ghost of the Hardy Boys, that adventure magazine villains were more fun to write than the priggish heroes. Unlike the heroes- whom the magazine forbade from fighting dirty, drinking, smoking, gambling, or having sex- the villains got to have all kinds of fun before they met their comeuppance. Moreover, he complained about the enforced racism of the era which basically forced writers to make most of the villains at least vaguely foreign. And the bad guys could never, ever be Scottish because they were the ones who ran the magazines. Anyway, if you have a chance, I highly recommend the out-of-print book for its fun behind the scenes stories of what it was like being a freelance writer from approximately the 1920s through 1950s.
But you would think in the 21st century, authors would get more leeway to create nuanced, complex, and controversial characters. I think 1970s media came closest to my ideal in a lot of ways. There are so many movies from that decade that make my eyes go big from the ways they dared to push the envelope. It didn’t always work out, but when it did, it was glorious.