The Problem With Love and/or Friendship

It slices! It dices! It redeems the black-hearted, restores hope, purifies the corrupted, and can even raise the dead! And it doesn’t cost you anything but your originality! It’s the Power of Friendship (or Love, for those people who buy the Obligatory Romance package, and you can get it anywhere.

Now, I don’t have a problem with the idea of friendship or attachment or what have you having an additional metaphysical heft beyond the standard metaphorical interpretation. I mean—helping prevent despair? Source of last-minute strength? Maybe if we’re being really generous boost that can let an action supplemented by it do something slightly impossible? Sure. Enchantment for which “Love” is an end-condition? That I can work with, though I find it slightly silly. The emotional manipulation the Generic Villain often references when dealing with new recruits to the dark side being dragged kicking and screaming back to the light? If the character’s the kind who falls for that guilt trip, I don’t consider it that unrealistic a narrative element; same goes for the power of ‘If I do this Thing That Is Against Societal Norms, the love of my life will disown me’. And of course, there’s the semi-related power of teamwork, in which a group that has worked together for a long time is bloody scary because they know how to coordinate their strengths for maximum effect; I’ll admit, that one’s one of my favorites, particularly in a gaming situation.

In sum, in its lesser stages, as a semi-metaphorical gestalt to an already impressive effort or as the desired objective of a spell design dating back to fairy tales and beyond, powers having to do with love, friendship, demonstrated synergy and all-around asabiyah don’t strike me as too bad a thing.

But what bothers me is when power of friendship/love/what-have-you gets turned into the cure for just about anything. Your girlfriend’s possessed? All you need is Love! Your buddy ended up under a rockslide? Friendship will save the day! Huge world-eating monster that makes Godzilla shiver in its scales and hide behind the nearest mountain range? If we all stand out here and friend at it (possibly bringing out our laptops to friend it as well, belt and suspenders rarely hurts; does this place get wifi?), surely it will not only decide not to eat us, but somehow be fed by the sheer strength of our friendship, preventing the kinds of famines that would result from its monstrous appetites whether it liked us or not—and will then proceed to deal with the next rampaging monster by giving it a big hug and a red balloon. (….okay, maybe the balloon was an exaggeration, it’s really hard for something that big to blow one up without popping it. A hot air balloon instead?)

Come on, people, just because it’s a well-vaunted tradition that occasionally contextually works doesn’t mean you can make it the deus ex machina for everything. If you can’t figure out how to write yourself out of a scene, invoking the Power of Friendship and/or Love will not fix your plot. If you’ve got a character who gets out of everything with the Power of Whichever, and your metaphysics do not explicitly allow for this, expect a balancing quantity of hate to be aimed in your general direction. And if the existing dynamic does not actually support the power, forget it; we’re well aware you called it the Power of Love because the Power of Unresolved Sexual Tension doesn’t sound like it should be driving anything but Nielsen ratings or book sales, but unless you can demonstrate to me that these characters actually have love or a friendship and aren’t just kept together by plot concerns and (possibly dubious) sexual chemistry, I’m not buying it.

4 comments

  1. Brickwall says:

    “Asabiyah”? Your unrelated research is showing.

    Also, sexual frustration can equal hunger in its power, depending on the individual. I wouldn’t put it on the side of warm fuzzies, but there’s no question that it at least makes people willing to do crazy/stupid things, if not necessarily able. Certainly, enough gravestones could be correctly inscribed “He/she was just trying to get laid”.

    Admittedly, I don’t see the power of friendship/love used to do anything plot-huge, and even when I do, it’s in a situation where it can be, and often is, a complex, oft-subverted mechanic of sorts. I suppose it’s one of those things that should arise out of the fact that such conditions exist, not out of the necessity for it in the plot. Which is true of nearly ANY plot device, really.

  2. Ravyn says:

    Sorry for the language; I use it pretty regularly (though I suppose it deserves a post in its own right, it’s in interesting concept). The term is Arabic and means “group-feeling”; I picked it up from my Eastern Classics professor in college.

    As to the use, I see it decently regularly (or at least, regularly enough to be wary of it).

  3. UZ says:

    Agree with Brick re: the power of Needy. When three goddesses ask you which one deserves the golden apple, which one do you choose? If you’re Paris, you choose Love, and subsequently wreck half of civilization…

    Mind you, didn’t anyone feel like telling Menelaus about that whole thing?

    Apocryphon: Ya, and they were totally arguing, dude! And then they were like, Paris will know what to do! He’s always super fair even though he’s only a mortal.
    Menelaus: Paris?!
    Helen: Who’s Paris?
    Menelaus: Hector’s weanie little brother.
    Apocryphon: And then they offered him like money and power and true love, and he was like, true love dude!
    Menelaus: Good choice!
    Apocryphon: So then she got the apple and she told him who his true love was…
    Helen: Ooh who was it who was it?
    Apocryphon: Uh… look at the time…

  4. Ravyn says:

    My issue is mostly with calling the Power of Needy the Power of Something Warm-Fuzzier; it’s false representation, is what it is.

    Love the dialogue! The image of a bunch of Greek Epic Names talking like modern teenagers amuses the living daylights out of me.

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