Born Sexy Yesterday
April 30, 2017 10:21 AM   Subscribe

An interesting dissection of a common gendered trope prevalent in sci-fi, in which the mind of a naive, yet highly skilled girl is written into the body of a mature sexualized woman. (SLYT)
posted by Lurch (70 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
The sad thing is that when I read "the mind of a naive, yet highly skilled girl is written into the body of a mature sexualized woman," The Fifth Element immediately popped into my head. I imagine it isn't difficult at all to reel off a list of works in which this trope appears.
posted by Gelatin at 10:29 AM on April 30 [8 favorites]


I love the Fifth Element, but Korben's relationship to Leeloo is flat out gross. Still, this was a really well done video. One thing I found surprising was the general tone of the YouTube comments...i.e not instantly a hateful wasteland of angry MRA pouting, which was heartening.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:37 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


From the comments:
What creeps me out the most about this trope is how it associates childish traits with sexual overtones, thus sexualizing traits of children. It's a nasty pedophillic undertone.
Also, this is one of the major reasons why I can't stand most anime. That and countless other disturbing relationship ans social tropes.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:40 AM on April 30 [26 favorites]


One thing I found surprising was the general tone of the YouTube comments...i.e not instantly a hateful wasteland of angry MRA pouting, which was heartening.

Ditto. Get the feeling, however, that if, say Feminist Frequency, had made the exact same video, the comments would have been overflowing with crap.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:43 AM on April 30 [18 favorites]


Even the new change your face app tends to infantilize women into neonatal big eyes/tiny nose/rosebud lips and overly large forehead
posted by infini at 10:51 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]


Interesting video and post. I think the opposite trope would be whatever you would call the female characters in a standard PDK novel, e.g., "demonic ex-wife."
posted by My Dad at 10:56 AM on April 30 [8 favorites]


This was a well-constructed video essay. He's got some other good ones on his YouTube page as well; I liked The Stormtrooper Paradox about the use of violence in the latest sequel.

Get the feeling, however, that if, say Feminist Frequency, had made the exact same video, the comments would have been overflowing with crap.

Funny you should mention that; the author is credited as a producer and co-writer on some of the Feminist Frequency videos along with Anita Sarkeesian.
posted by whir at 11:06 AM on April 30 [5 favorites]


I'd actually expected this to be about a trope where a girl's mind is literally transfered into a mature woman's body, so that the author projecting himself into the protagonist can engage in pedophilia "accidentally". If you didn't think you could dislike Orson Scott Card more I present his 1996 novel entitled—wait for it—Treasure Box.

But the OP vignette is a much more interesting analysis than just observing the number of literal instances of pedophilia which appear in speculative fiction.
posted by XMLicious at 11:08 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Get the feeling, however, that if, say Feminist Frequency, had made the exact same video, the comments would have been overflowing with crap.
Yupyup. Feminist analysis goes down easier when it's delivered in the voice of a man.

Interesting video, anyway.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:09 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]


Oh, it's Jonathan McIntosh. He's good. He has of course, been subject to his own (smaller, obviously) share of gator haterade.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:16 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


a standard PDK novel

What is this?
posted by Dysk at 11:17 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Interesting video and post. I think the opposite trope would be whatever you would call the female characters in a standard PDK novel, e.g., "demonic ex-wife."

I'm sure that there was a lot of diversity among his ex-wives
posted by thelonius at 11:18 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is great. It's so obvious when it's pointed out. He needed to go one step further on the gender-flipped versions; women already do much of the emotional labor with "naive" men, so it's not a fantasy at all. I can't quite articulate the difference between this and the male student/female teacher trope (or The Graduate) but those are also from a male POV and not (most) women's fantasy.

The only same-gender mass-media movie I can think of is Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I'm sure there are others. It's definitely a common trope in gay porn, where the naive one is a straight guy or student.
posted by AFABulous at 11:19 AM on April 30 [8 favorites]


This is my main problem with 13 Going on 30 (although not sci-fi). Hard to get passed the fact that the adult male protagonist falls in love with a woman who has the mind of a 13 year old.
posted by CMcG at 11:26 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


This was really good, for the most part, and I'm stealing the phrase for wider use. Analyses of gender dynamics and fiction can really wear me out, though, largely because they tend to highlight depressing/scary aspects of culture that can sting when they're noticeably present in stories that aren't consciously engaging with them. That, on top of navigating these same unpleasant facets of society in real life and the effort to acknowledge them in fiction and art without throwing fiction and art away, can sometimes make this go from Interesting Brain Food to Taxing Emotional Labor pretty quickly.

So, the warmer reception this has because a dude is reading it? That's the meta game.

a standard PDK novel,

There's almost always a Born Sexy Yesterday character deliberately contrasting the "demonic ex-wife," as well. I love PKD, but gender in most of his books is pretty...grating. What's especially odd though is I thought he did a fair job writing from a woman's perspective in the one or two times he attempted it. Suddenly, women are interesting people! Then we slip back into quasi-autobiographical PKD and women are either Quirky & Awesome or Quirky But Toxic as Hell.
posted by byanyothername at 11:27 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Gah, now I want to see a movie where the same trope applies, but her naivety is taken to extremes so much that it destroys the sexual fantasy. I.e, it starts out framing her sexually, then it reveals she's never used bathrooms before so she shits/pisses herself and doesn't understand the difference between thought and emotion and is generally an interpersonal trainwreck because of it. But she still manages to be incredibly skilled in a few things and ends up saving the everyman on multiple occasions.
posted by Philipschall at 11:27 AM on April 30 [18 favorites]


And, Standard PKD Novel: Chip is an assistant mechanic at Burt's Body Shop who clocks out one day and finds himself in a kooky alternate reality he suspects is a simulacrum. As he continues going through his humdrum life, his ontological ping-ponging results in increasingly bizarre experiences. Eventually, for no real reason, he decides both versions of reality are a false front being put up by a deceitful demiurge figure to keep everybody from finding out that it's really the past and the true reality is the body of God.

Or maybe it was all the drugs. Anyway, Chip spends most of the book hanging out with stoner friends, getting into arguments with a faux-sentient toaster, mooning over this cool high school girl who's super awesome but incompetent at everything (unless she's a secret agent, but Chip will never know) and dealing with his ex-wife who literally breathes fire and once ate a live baby in front of him. Also, it's ten years in the future, so women don't wear tops anymore and the slang is twenty years out of date.

I do love PKD, but man.
posted by byanyothername at 11:34 AM on April 30 [29 favorites]


Gah, now I want to see a movie where the same trope applies, but her naivety is taken to extremes so much that it destroys the sexual fantasy.

I feel like the MRF plot in Arrested Development kinda does this.
posted by snofoam at 11:37 AM on April 30 [19 favorites]


Aziz Ansari had a bit on his SNL episode that was kinda like this.

What if there was a female version of the manbaby, where being emotionally six years old means she's self-centered and arrogant and says mean things just to be funny
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 11:37 AM on April 30 [5 favorites]


now I want to see a movie where the same trope applies, but her naivety is taken to extremes so much that it destroys the sexual fantasy.

My wife pointed out that Elfen Lied is this subversion to some degree, where she starts out in love with the very average protagonist, but it turns out that she really *is* quite alien (mutant human technically?) and dangerous.

Steven Universe occasionally has flashbacks that show how difficult Greg Universe had it, being in love with Rose Quartz, who despite looking humanoid, very much wasn't. But then again, SU subverts or avoids a lot of hurtful tropes.
posted by explosion at 11:41 AM on April 30 [6 favorites]


What if there was a female version of the manbaby, where being emotionally six years old means she's self-centered and arrogant and says mean things just to be funny

Oof, this description of my personality was painfully on-the-nose
posted by potrzebie at 11:50 AM on April 30 [11 favorites]


This is interesting, but it's also very handwavey. There's a whole bit about how it's a trope based on power and fear that may or may not be true, but there's no evidence offered to suggest that it is true. It's just stated as being true, as if it needs no support.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:51 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


This is my main problem with 13 Going on 30 (although not sci-fi). Hard to get passed the fact that the adult male protagonist falls in love with a woman who has the mind of a 13 year old.
It's been ages since I saw it, but isn't Big kind of the opposite of that? Tom Hanks's character attracts an adult woman because he's sweet and innocent, not like those cynical guys her own age.

I actually do think there's a trope, although maybe not in sci fi, of an inexperienced guy who charms a more-experienced woman because he sees the real her and not just the sexy facade that the other, sex-having guys are seeing. It's kind of a nice-guy thing, I think. That was kind of what was going on with the movie Tramps, which I recently saw on Netflix.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:54 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]


So... PDK = PKD = Philip K Dick?
posted by Dysk at 11:56 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


It's pretty inside-baseball to never expand the acronym.
posted by Dysk at 11:58 AM on April 30 [9 favorites]


That was an interesting watch. I never thought of Korben and Leeloo as gross, I guess because isn't she a magictech clone of the Perfect Being the aliens were bringing to Earth at the start of the film? Like she starts out like this, but by the time they head to the cruise ship she's made up a lot of ground, age-wise.

The Star Trek TNG episode Rascals has about 5 minutes of the opposite, when Keiko ends up with her adult mind in a kid body, and Miles is really squicked out.
posted by BeeDo at 12:07 PM on April 30 [7 favorites]


We used to call this trope "Tell Me of This Earth Thing Called Love."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:16 PM on April 30 [28 favorites]


This was a good overview of the trope. When he got to talking briefly about stories where the trope is reversed—like in Big, it included a scene from Starman in which Karen Allen is teaching Jeff Bridges how to eat with a fork, and to eat his sandwich before his dessert. I thought, "No wonder this isn't a super-sexy trope for women. As a mother of four, I basically spent a decade of my life teaching people to eat with a fork instead of their fingers, not to walk into traffic, and how to wipe their own butts. I don't care how sexy Mr. Alien is, the last thing I need is do it again. There are easier ways to get laid."

I do agree with the comment up-thread that the analysis of why this is a popular trope—masculinity, power differentials, and so on—is very shallow. It's the kind of thing that seems right on the surface, but deserves a much deeper exploration. I'm sure that has been done elsewhere.
posted by Orlop at 12:20 PM on April 30 [29 favorites]


> "I don't care how sexy Mr. Alien is, the last thing I need is do it again."

Are we limp and hard to manage?
posted by kyrademon at 12:31 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


I thought, "No wonder this isn't a super-sexy trope for women. As a mother of four, I basically spent a decade of my life teaching people to eat with a fork instead of their fingers, not to walk into traffic, and how to wipe their own butts. I don't care how sexy Mr. Alien is, the last thing I need is do it again. There are easier ways to get laid."

Sing it! One reason I never had kids was because I didn't want to go through the whole "teach a tiny human how to human" thing. Damn skippy I don't want to teach a grown man that. I don't find the mommy/teacher role alluring; I think many (most?) women do not. In fact, one of the most prevalent marriage complaints I see online in places like Ask MeFi boils down to, "I have to be a parent figure as well as a wife to my husband. I am not happy, and I am not turned on by him anymore."

It makes me wonder, if most men were to truly take on equal roles in parenting - not just the fun Kodak moments stuff but the quotidian nose-wiping, manners-teaching, daily grind, would Born Sexy Yesterday become a discredited trope? Because it seems like so much work to me - and I don't even have kids, but I am a woman in a culture that assigns caregiving to women.

And I loved Starman! (Thanks for jogging my memory on that, Orlop!) I just don't want one of my own, thanks!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:32 PM on April 30 [8 favorites]


It makes me wonder, if most men were to truly take on equal roles in parenting - not just the fun Kodak moments stuff but the quotidian nose-wiping, manners-teaching, daily grind, would Born Sexy Yesterday become a discredited trope?

I would suggest no, at least in anime and some sci-fi where the trope seems often linked to underdeveloped male sexuality in terms of how it appears viewers are being asked to identify with the character. It's not that he's "normal", but that he's something of a failure or otherwise feels himself rebuffed by normal society, unable to do the things he believes others can do with ease. It's through the admiration of this womanchild that he is able to realize his own potential, suggesting, as the video somewhat mentions, the insecurity is as much about the male being insufficiently masculine and inexperienced as it is about infantilizing women, in which cases it falls outside bounds of family raising.

That isn't to say there aren't plenty of other examples of the trope being more an experienced male fantasy of the teacher student sort, where life is easier with the man in charge and the woman without demands, but there are some differences, I think, between the two versions of the trope and the video examples seemed mostly of the first sort.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:53 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Gah, now I want to see a movie where the same trope applies, but her naivety is taken to extremes so much that it destroys the sexual fantasy. I.e, it starts out framing her sexually, then it reveals she's never used bathrooms before so she shits/pisses herself and doesn't understand the difference between thought and emotion and is generally an interpersonal trainwreck because of it. But she still manages to be incredibly skilled in a few things and ends up saving the everyman on multiple occasions.

Doesn't quite fit the mold, but the Rita plot line from Arrested Development kinda springs to mind. They also play with the "incredibly skilled in one thing" part of the trope by setting her up as an olympic silver medalist, without mentioning that it's the special olympics.
posted by tkfu at 12:55 PM on April 30


This was a good overview of the trope. When he got to talking briefly about stories where the trope is reversed—like in Big, it included a scene from Starman in which Karen Allen is teaching Jeff Bridges how to eat with a fork, and to eat his sandwich before his dessert. I thought, "No wonder this isn't a super-sexy trope for women."

it probably says something about me that I had a crush on the alien in Starman when I was little (and Data from TNG). I love the subversion.

Ally Sheedy would also have been better off with Johney 5 than Steve Gutenburg, too.
posted by jb at 1:00 PM on April 30


So... PDK = PKD = Philip K Dick?

I think so? That was my first thought. I've never read any of his books, but the name is well-known enough that it kind of makes sense to acronym it, he's a sci-fi writer, and a quick google of [Philip K Dick feminist criticism] suggests that he has a reputation of having some asshole notions about women.

Maybe I'll keep on not reading his stuff.
posted by bunderful at 1:15 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]


Gah, now I want to see a movie where the same trope applies, but her naivety is taken to extremes so much that it destroys the sexual fantasy. I.e, it starts out framing her sexually, then it reveals she's never used bathrooms before so she shits/pisses herself and doesn't understand the difference between thought and emotion and is generally an interpersonal trainwreck because of it.

Interestingly, movies with women directors and writers often have scenes involving women pissing. It isn't exactly a defining characteristic of women directed films, but the connection is strong enough that if one sees a film where the female lead is shown taking a piss it seems far more likely to have women in the creative roles than otherwise.

For me, my issue with the trope as described isn't that it's inaccurate, it's spot on in the broad sense, so much as it's too limited in the variety of ways the use of "woman as other" or woman as metaphor is used. For example, there is some difference in use between women used as symbolic exemplars of civilizational innocence, such as is often the case in westerns, or movies where the male falls in love with someone outside their race, and when it is used as an example of sexual innocence in the face of male experience or matched inexperience.

There was a spate of movies in the early seventies where a jaded male found new enthusiasm for life through connection with a much younger, inexperienced, but sexually active woman/girl, where the films seemed centered on male anxiety and desire in a shifting sexual landscape. That use of the trope has lessened, but the matched inexperience version seems stronger, suggesting much of the same insecurity, but aimed at a different, and younger, audience.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:32 PM on April 30


Sorry, yeah, I almost simply clarified, but "PKD" is a common abbreviation for Philip K. Dick.

Dick is well worth reading; just almost comically bad at writing female characters, unless making a conscious effort not to screw up. The Born Sexy Yesterday trope comes up a fair bit in most of his novels.
posted by byanyothername at 1:32 PM on April 30


now I want to see a movie where the same trope applies, but her naivety is taken to extremes so much that it destroys the sexual fantasy. I.e, it starts out framing her sexually, then it reveals she's never used bathrooms before so she shits/pisses herself

I might be kind of jaded, but I think the way these characters are usually done--not just as adult women but as basically the sexist adult women could possibly look--I have questions about whether anything short of literally and constantly this would be enough to subvert the trope. Anything gross enough to actually offset the way these women look in other contexts would basically be distracting in every other respect. Like, I think she'd have to not just be incapable of using the restroom on her own, but also incapable of being taught to.
posted by Sequence at 1:40 PM on April 30


That ad absurdum is usually played for laughs, i can think of a few examples. Like "Teeth" and Jenifer", where the trope is pushed into horror.
posted by eustatic at 3:02 PM on April 30


I think this is a sub-trope of the wider issue in stories that women are presented as having no social life independently from the male protagonists, or any meaningful history of their own. When watching Sleepless in Seattle last December, I was struck by how both the leads are firmly rooted in their communities, careers and social life. That's usually only true of male protagonists. In so many stories all the women might as well be recently created AI beings with neither a past nor pre-existing relationships.
posted by Kattullus at 3:05 PM on April 30 [5 favorites]


Sorry, yeah, I almost simply clarified, but "PKD" is a common abbreviation for Philip K. Dick.

I actually went and looked up PDK on Wikipedia and just ended up more confused. PKD is at least googleable.
posted by Dysk at 3:20 PM on April 30


Like she starts out like this, but by the time they head to the cruise ship she's made up a lot of ground, age-wise.

There's also this scene pretty early on.
posted by effbot at 4:01 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: never expand the acronym
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:04 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]


An opposite of this is in The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. The main character is an adult man who retains the body of a boy, and does have affairs with older women. This made the film version famously controversial - in contrast to the tropefication of child's minds in women's bodies.
posted by neutralmojo at 4:15 PM on April 30


Skipped ahead to the Star Trek part, and was a bit disappointed that he concentrated on the example of Seven of Nine, even though she qualified by virtue of being emotionally seven or so, the age when she was assimilated by the Borg, since there was even a better example earlier in the series with Kes, who belonged to a species whose average maximum life span was nine.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:43 PM on April 30 [5 favorites]


Getting picked out of your ordinary life, despite never having done or even tried to do anything extraordinary, definitely is a big part of this. That sub-part of this trope has interested me for a while. It's the nice guy fantasy. The piece mentions the manic pixie dream girl. You just sit around and one day someone decides you're awesome. I'd also point to other variations of this in the first Harry Potter, Twilight, and even things like Dead Poets Society or Rebecca.

I'd never thought of Sexy Born Yesterday this as a trope--honestly I could only think of Fifth Element off the top of my head--but of course it adds in all this creepy stuff.

Other random observations with no particular point:
- Contrast with getting snatched by a dryad or fey princess. Having sex with a more experienced beautiful woman == cautionary tale.
- It struck me that both the standard and gender swapped version of this put the female in the position of choice. I don't mean this in a feminist way--it feels more like a symptom of believing women are "leveling up rewards" (Belle Waring's phrase.) You don't turn down leveling up rewards.
- Does this happen as much in novels? I can't think of many in novels, but of course I couldn't think of many in movies either before the video.
posted by mark k at 4:55 PM on April 30


The first novel that came to my mind was (Metafilter's own!) John Scalzi's Old Man's War.
posted by miguelcervantes at 5:02 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]


Yupyup. Feminist analysis goes down easier when it's delivered in the voice of a man.

What about reading a book or an essay? Maybe, as a Gen Xer, I was lucky because I had Somer Brodribb as a poli sci prof.
posted by My Dad at 6:15 PM on April 30


Meta: NETA
posted by sylvanshine at 7:37 PM on April 30 [5 favorites]


I wonder a bit how much of this (and many other things related to male insecurity) relate back to girls entering puberty earlier than boys.
posted by snofoam at 7:43 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


I have no problem whatsoever with the exploration of power exchange fantasies, but the problem I've always had with Born Sexy Yesterday in particular is the fact that the person born yesterday is always incapable of informed consent, just as an actual child would be. The intersection of this trope with the highly irritating Manic Pixie Dream Girl has drastically narrowed down my science fiction and fantasy reading list over the years.

In general, I'm getting a bit tired of exploring the sexual psyches of mostly male creators. So much of what I read seems like thinly disguised authorial wish fulfillment that even some of my favorite creators have been re-examined and found wanting. Joss Whedon is a prime example of this--characters I once thought were empowered have since been exposed as merely competent at a particular thing--fighting, being a beautiful but nerdy intellectual, doing emotional labor for a clueless and/or emotionally absent male. I can still enjoy BtVS or Firefly, but I don't really think of Joss Whedon's shows as particularly feminist in the way I once did.
posted by xyzzy at 7:51 PM on April 30 [9 favorites]


Wow, I am pleased that someone has given this trope a name and explained the problems with it. I love this. Especially:

"...fear of losing the intellectual upper hand."

A large part of the appeal of Born Sexy Yesterday is probably that the male protagonist gets to do an absolutely unreal amount of mansplaining, and then be sexually rewarded for it.
posted by Knowyournuts at 8:13 PM on April 30 [38 favorites]


I'm curious if anybody can cite an opposite example, where a newly formed/born/instantiated character arrives instantly cynical, worldly, and street-savvy beyond the savvy of the protagonist character.

But yeah, the Born Sexy Yesterday trope goes hand in hand with conventional concepts of masculine entitlement. It's the fantasy of being able to get a beautiful woman by virtue of being a quasi-functional being in the modern world.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 8:48 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Cartoonist Kelly Turnbull has some better examples of this trope, reversed, in a tumblr blog post on "Sexy Naive Men" (specifically, Brendan Fraser's George of the Jungle; JCVD's Universal Soldier; Rocky of the Rocky Horror Picture Show).
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:51 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]


Dick is well worth reading; just almost comically bad at writing female characters, unless making a conscious effort not to screw up.

Well he WAS a writer from the classic era of science fiction. You know the era where you would have things such as "Having solved the problems of communicating with the alien race and faster than light travel, he decided to study the greatest, most incomprehensible mystery of all- the human female."

There were very few SF writers in the classic era who could write women at all well.
posted by happyroach at 10:41 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]


I'm curious if anybody can cite an opposite example, where a newly formed/born/instantiated character arrives instantly cynical, worldly, and street-savvy beyond the savvy of the protagonist character.

Not exactly that, but close, is the trope of the excessively wise child, often a girl, who comments knowingly on events that the protagonists are involved in while other adults seem oblivious. It isn't as common any more, but it was quite a big thing for a long time. You can see it in movies like Philadelphia Story, The Goodbye Girl, Paper Moon, and variations in movies like True Grit where the character is a lead rather than a commenter on the action. It is usually used for comedic effect where the one's who should know something don't, and the one that shouldn't know does, but can also be a dodge that reverses the dynamic of the sexy innocent-adult to adult-knowledge in a young girl and in that sense is not really an improvement.

Then you have movies like The Major and the Minor where the idea of this trope is played out at length, with Ginger Rogers disguising herself as a twelve year old to avoid paying full train fare and through comedic complications ends up falling for a man who doesn't fully realize she's actually an adult. The movie was remade, in a way, with Jerry Lewis taking on Roger's role, which when played out one can see how a gender reversal doesn't really improve the dynamic since it's still a male fantasy being played out with the boy, "innocently", seducing a woman instead.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:09 PM on April 30


I'm curious if anybody can cite an opposite example, where a newly formed/born/instantiated character arrives instantly cynical, worldly, and street-savvy beyond the savvy of the protagonist character.

The one that sprung to mind was Tommy in Third Rock from the Sun (The Joseph Gordon Levitt character). He appears the youngest, but is actually the oldest of the team, a running gag, and knows the score better than the rest of them pretty often.

The new-to-the-world character who knows what's up immediately is more likely to come off as bad writing, or need lampshading, I think. Or fall into "She's infinitely more qualified, but you're the chosen one" territory.
posted by DebetEsse at 12:51 AM on May 1 [4 favorites]


In horror movies there's sometimes a Greek-chorus-type character who continuously warns of exactly what is going to happen but is ignored, who can be a child. Uncle Sam comes to mind, where it's a memorably nerdy little kid in a wheelchair with glasses.
posted by XMLicious at 1:16 AM on May 1


I'm curious if anybody can cite an opposite example, where a newly formed/born/instantiated character arrives instantly cynical, worldly, and street-savvy beyond the savvy of the protagonist character.

Weird Science
posted by snofoam at 4:19 AM on May 1 [6 favorites]


The Star Trek TNG episode Rascals has about 5 minutes of the opposite, when Keiko ends up with her adult mind in a kid body, and Miles is really squicked out.
I don't know. "Despite the fact I know you have exactly the same mind and memories as my adult wife, your body is currently unattractive to me and thus I refuse to even hug you" doesn't exactly strike me as the ethical opposite, even if the physical situation is in some sense reversed.

Also, the commentary here has been really interesting. Thanks, all!
posted by eotvos at 7:08 AM on May 1


Great video.

Wasn't there a story in 1001 Arabian nights where there is a princess who is locked up in the castle away from any men by her father, the king, because of a prophecy that she will fall in love with the first man she meets other than her dad? And then some guy sneaks into the castle and meets her by chance and voila?

I could be making this up, but if not then the trope definitely goes back further than classic Hollywood. (And imperialism and western-style racism, for that matter)
posted by ropeladder at 8:52 AM on May 1


Yeah, ropeladder, I was surprised that there was little mention of some of the older, canonical examples of this trope prior to 1950s Hollywood. How can you talk about "woman falls in love with the first ordinary guy who comes her way because she doesn't know any better (or know any other man)" without referencing Miranda in The Tempest?
posted by alligatorpear at 9:11 AM on May 1 [3 favorites]


Rapunzel, Snow White (the name itself!), and good old Eliza Doolittle, who in Shaw's Pygmalion is the immortal Galatea
posted by infini at 11:55 AM on May 1


Fascinating video, and really makes me rethink some of these movies. I'm sure Mefites are pleased that Mefi-favorite Cloud Atlas made the list of instances where the trope is subverted (I know I am)!

Of course, this trope is the entire joke of the Castle Anthrax scene in Holy Grail - played for laughs, of course.

"Oh, I am afraid our life must seem very dull and quiet compared to yours. We are but eight score young blondes and brunettes, all between sixteen and nineteen and a half, cut off in this castle with no one to protect us! Oh, it is a lonely life -- bathing, dressing, undressing, making exciting underwear.... We are just not used to handsome knights."
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:02 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


> Wasn't there a story in 1001 Arabian nights where there is a princess who is locked up in the castle away from any men by her father, the king, because of a prophecy that she will fall in love with the first man she meets other than her dad?

Ooh! Ooh! That's the beginning of Diana Wynne Jones's Castle in the Air (no idea if it's also in 1001 Nights). I think that whole setting is playing with fantasy tropes.
posted by henuani at 2:02 PM on May 1


Skipped ahead to the Star Trek part, and was a bit disappointed that he concentrated on the example of Seven of Nine, even though she qualified by virtue of being emotionally seven or so, the age when she was assimilated by the Borg, since there was even a better example earlier in the series with Kes, who belonged to a species whose average maximum life span was nine.

Indeed. That led to this infamous exchange:
EMH: I mean he desires you.
KES: That's not true. Tom and I enjoy each other's company. We're friends.
EMH: Whenever you walk into the room, his respiration increases, his pupils dilate and the colouration of his ears turns decidedly orange. Until I noticed the pattern, I thought he was suffering from Tanzian flu. It's there for anyone to see. Maybe not in the same diagnostic detail as I see it, yet --
KES: Are you saying that I didn't want to see it?
EMH: You're only two years old. There may be a few things you don't know to look for in a man. In time, you'll understand.
Yikes, guys.

(Also, obligatory plug for the Voyager rewatch threads! It's, uh, mostly not like that.)
posted by mordax at 2:26 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]


...without referencing Miranda in The Tempest?

They did show several scenes from Forbidden Planet, which is based on The Tempest.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:34 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]


The one that sprung to mind was Tommy in Third Rock from the Sun (The Joseph Gordon Levitt character). He appears the youngest, but is actually the oldest of the team, a running gag, and knows the score better than the rest of them pretty often.

Third Rock as whole has a whole bunch of inversions or subversions or doens't-matter-a-versions of the trope, as all of them are "born yesterday" and none of them are exploited as sexy even as naivete about sex is an ongoing gag.
posted by mark k at 12:05 AM on May 2


now I want to see a movie where the same trope applies, but her naivety is taken to extremes so much that it destroys the sexual fantasy.

Not sci-fi, but Leon/The Professional hits this pretty hard.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:30 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


now I want to see a movie where the same trope applies, but her naivety is taken to extremes so much that it destroys the sexual fantasy.

Although not sci-fi and therefore in the "creepy in the standard way", this somewhat happens in Juno where Jason Bateman's character finally understands that Ellen Page's character is a teenager, and even if they like the same things, she's not an appropriate target for romantic affections from an adult man.

In the end, the two teenagers get together as they both are in the the same maturity range (both physically and mentally).
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:36 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


Wise before being born yesterday - Alia Atreides?
posted by squink at 6:57 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


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