Not all appliances are created equal, and that certainly rings true for longtime readers of comic books. While some of us have discovered the phrase simply by taking part in the discourse that surrounds superhero titles, there are those among us who can remember reading Green Lantern #54, which featured the titular character discovering that his girlfriend had been murdered and stuffed in the aforementioned kitchen mainstay.
Since then [and thanks to Gail Simone] “fridge” has become both a noun and a verb, and occurs to a character when, according to TV Tropes, “[they are] targeted by an antagonist who has them killed off, abused, raped, incapacitated, de-powered, or brainwashed for the sole purpose of affecting another character, motivating them to take action.” It shouldn’t surprise you at all to learn that most characters who have been fridged are, you guessed it, women, and for the benefit of men to boot.
This particular topic made its way back onto my radar after an internet-response-to-comic-book-happenings debacle that I don’t want to get into [Brett White goes into what took place as well as the resulting backlash quite well, if you’re interested], where one of the listed grievances against a particular writer was that he had fridged a longstanding female supporting character.
Timothy O’Neil, whose blog has somehow missed making its way unto the links sidebar, tweeted the following with that in mind:
Which is, of course, having a bit of fun at the expense of those who are quick to cast the fridge label on any form of a female character’s death without taking into account its context. Which in turn leads to feminists retorting with their own amount of snark because they feel like they’re being shut down altogether too often:
And I’m over here, trying my best to skirt the line and find some sort of comfortable middle ground.
Last year I delved into my creative writing process a little by breaking down tropes, straight-up stating how difficult it is to come up with original ideas when so many characters exist to buck archetypes, with newer ones playing off of those, and so forth. I’ll be the first to admit that my conclusion was probably too simple:
“Ultimately what really matters is good writing: creating living, breathing characters that your audience will connect to and care about.”
I continue to stand by it, though. The “gentle giant” character trope, as an example, has basically been around forever, but if we had decided to permanently shelve it we never would have gotten The Iron Giant, which is a movie I expect you all to have seen at least twice.
Fridging characters is much more specific than a character whose size belies their peaceful spirit, though, and has arguably seen significantly more use. That’s the real issue, here: overuse. There’s a good cycling of character tropes due to people getting tired of them, but for some reason we’ve very much normalized fridging as an audience. If anything this helps absolve those who overzealously drop “the f-word” whenever a female character bites the dust.
Revenge flicks have and always will be pretty big, and more often than not a man is very upset about what has been done to a woman. Assuming that this is a form of character motivation we’re seeing altogether too often, what is the solution? Do we flip the script until “men in refrigerators” become just as prevalent? Bar killing off or harming other characters at all if they serve as catalysts to our protagonist being spurred to action? Are these options even possible?
The new Ms. Marvel is a character who chooses to become a hero not because of the death of an uncle [Spider-Man] or both parents [Batman], but because she believes she needs to do what she can to help others. Clearly stories, and very compelling ones at that, can be told without any sort of great loss taking place.
Based on that fact alone my advice would be to acknowledge these other narratives and give them the attention that they surely deserve at this point. I don’t think that we should eliminate the revenge flick [which I have a soft spot for, personally], but we should be aware that we’ve probably had more than enough of them for at least a little while. Entertainment should be an ever-evolving thing, and that applies not only to how we tell the stories, but the kind we’re telling as well.