Anakin Skywalker and sand, Bella Swan and shirtless, fantastical man and beasts, and Nemo and butts. All these characters were whiners, and they whined about things that just don’t really matter too much if they just stopped being so egotistical.
Any harm that came these three’s ways was justified by the sheer vitriol that the audience had towards them. These characters are simply unlikeable.
But what does that say about real life peo- ple?
I’m not trying to imply that people in real life are whiners on the same level as Anakin and his searing hatred of sand, but I do think the audience’s reaction to these characters is telling of what others find not only desirable but also tolerable in any social setting.
If anything, most stories don’t recognize that their whiney character in question is disliked in the first place. Generally, good characters are those that exist along three separate continuums, likeability, competency and activity. Throughout the story, these oftentimes change, but in the case of the whiney character, writers may confuse likeability with activity.
In other words, they make the mistake of thinking that a character is likable simply because they are active in the story and could be deemed plot relevant, yet in reality, audiences often see these characters as insufferable.
Of course, the idea of whiny people being unlikeable is not some new social concept, but it’s interesting that there is a complete lack of empathy from audiences towards these characters. Oftentimes, their problems are cited as drama for drama’s sake.
The characters are unlikeable because all the audience knows about them is that they are personally unstable.
This phenomenon isn’t exclusive towards just characters too.
A friend of mine dropped out of college and moved back home, and in response, his girlfriend broke up with him, citing the fact that he needs to get his life together. While it could be said that my friend wasn’t being whiny, the reason alone is illustrative enough.
We’re often told that good relationships are ones where both partners lift each other up, yet when the going gets tough, it seems not only common but also acceptable to separate from your partner because he or she’s life is a wreck.
I’ve even been told before by someone that all they're looking for in a potential partner is a “stable” person.
For all of the talk about inclusivity and being accepting of others’ problems, there is a noticeable disconnect between what we think the ideal is and how we naturally approach instability.
There is an important distinction to be made here though. Whiny characters in fiction are seen negatively if their personalities and their arcs are based around their personal struggles without any semblance of nuance to who they are. As mentioned earlier, a whiny character may be extremely competent, active, or likable to make up for their personality flaw.
People in real life are perceived in a similar way.
The person who grieves over a breakup for too long no longer receives sympathy in spite of how much it may have impacted them. There comes a point in time where the expectation is that the grieving process ends and life returns to normal.
Now, I recognize that it sounds like the takeaway is to simply be happier, which is obviously easier said than done. Rather, the takeaway is that sometimes putting on an act and easing back one’s verbal and nonverbal complaining is the best course of action.
People don’t like whiners, and they don’t like instability. While these are important things to address in more intimate relationships, in everyday life, it never hurts to tone down one’s negativity. Harming the mood of others can be easily done, and all it takes is one out-of-pocket comment, overexaggerated sigh, or slouched pair of shoulders to do so.
After all, no one’s hurt themselves from at least trying to put on a smile.