Michael Allen was never the hero. He was always the sidekick.
While growing up, Allen, an author and critic on character development, always identified as the lackey or the sidekick. His friends had bigger personalities and their talents overshadowed his. He was their sidekick, their confidant and their right-hand man.
Over time, Allen grew into his own to become the hero.
“When I’m treated as the so-called ‘hero’ in certain circumstances. I can’t help but like that feeling," said Allen, who writes novels, such as "A River in the Ocean," which features sidekick characters.
With the Golden Globes yesterday, Sundance kicking off this week and the Oscars just around the corner, there's a lot of emphasis on the main characters and heroes of films. But some characters, like Mike Wazowski in last year's "Monsters University" and Anna from Disney's "Frozen" might be the main character, but aren't always the hero or leader. These types of characters, though, have just the same amount of impact on young people as the main heroes do, experts say.
But there’s a villainous side to following the sidekick, too. Some who choose to follow the hero face tremendous pressure from peers to fit in with the crowd, experts say. They’ll often cling to a the leader of a group to stay popular and avoid bullying, experts say.
“They say a successful person surrounds themselves with even more successful people,” said Fletcher Rhoden, an author and media critic, “and that certainly is the case with the sidekick.”
What sidekicks show
Derek Burrill, an associate professor at University of California, Riverside, said the idea of the sidekicks stems back to Greek theater and drama, where a chorus, or a group of actors, commented on the protagonist to the audience.
Sidekicks throughout history have been known to round out the main character, Burrill said. Heroes tend to be too strong, too perfect and too far out of reach, but a sidekick grounds them down and makes them relatable for the audience, he said. Main characters are mainly illogical and headstrong, while sidekicks are reasonable and logical — a relationship, Burrill said, commonly seen between Spock and Captain Kirk of the “Star Trek” franchise.
“You have this psychologically, totalized person between these two people,” Burrill said.
The best sidekicks, he said, were those were not only extensions of their leaders, but also “offer a twist, a contrast to better flesh out the overall character experience,” he said.
An example of this is Robin from the “Batman” comics, Rhoden said. He said Robin was more “impetuous, funnier, an upstart. This contrast made Batman more accessible to younger readers, which of course was the reason for creating the youthful sidekick in the first place.”
Bullied and always second best
Rosalind Wiseman, author and parenting educator, said boys and girls create social hierarchies from a young age by creating groups. There are many social types within the groups, like the funny one, or “The Entertainer,” as Wiseman put it. There’s often a loud and brash leader of the group, who has the most power, she said. And beside that leader, usually, there’s a sidekick.
“Sometimes an associate, no matter where you put him, will look for the person with the most social power and cling to him,” Wiseman said. “You literally think there’s things about your life that’ll be better if you’re connected to power,” she said.
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