Support Roles

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo; the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was, when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”
“What are we holding on to, Sam?”
“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”
Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”

LessWrong has an interesting post about “The Importance of Sidekicks“. The author describes her realization that she is not a heroine, but more of a “sidekick” — and that she is happy in her support role:

“So. I’m Samwise [of “The Lord of the Rings”]. If you earn my loyalty, by convincing me that what you’re working on is valuable and that you’re the person who should be doing it, I’ll stick by you whatever it takes, and I’ll *make sure* you succeed.”

There are a lot of gems in this post, esp. this one:

“Sarah Constantin […] chimed in with some nuance to the Frodo/Samwise dynamic: “Sam isn’t blindly loyal to Frodo. He makes sure the mission succeeds even when Frodo is fucking it up. He stands up to Frodo. And that’s important too.””

Personally, I think this author does have a point. There is a strong need for support roles. There are a lot of large projects that cannot be done by one person on his/her own. It’s just too hard. There are just too many setbacks. That’s where support is needed.

In reading the posting, I noticed two aspects of the given example (Samwise from “The Lord of the Rings”) that I think deserves special emphasis. I left a comment, but I’ll repost part of my comment here:

[…] Samwise is an interesting “sidekick”. I think he differs in at least two other aspects from the typical “sidekick” that deserve special emphasis:

First, Samwise is self-sufficient (“competent”). It’s not the typical Robin character that needs to get rescued by Batman as a stupid plot ploy. He has his own skills and carries his own weight. The hero/ine might save/rescue the world, but s/he does not save/rescue this sidekick.

Second, Samwise is not a little green wo/man working in the background where no-one can see him/her so that it appears as if the hero/ine did everything on his/her own. Same with the other characters that were mentioned (Witch-king, Black, Vader). They are noticed and they do play a visible role. Not only are they a noticeable character, they have a distinct character.

I think both aspects are underdeveloped in the public perception and unfortunately, there are some “heroes/heroines” who prefer to make their sidekicks appear in need of support, or put them in the background altogether. Hmm, and I also wonder whether you could regard the hero/ine as a sidekick to the overall goal. I mean, it’s one thing to see the hero/ine as this great person, but this person is not exactly free either. They have found a cause they devote their life to. So perhaps it’s less a different category but more different levels.

And reading this post and commenting on it made me realize my main objections to supporting roles: They are frequently seen (or even presented by unethical “heroes/heroines”) as in need of rescuing themselves — as incomplete without the hero/heroine — or hidden from sight altogether.

But this is not necessarily the case, or even the default. On the contrary regarding the first part. The sidekicks/supports are the people who definitely do not need rescuing but who support the cause the hero/ine fights for. And as for being noticed and respected … perhaps it really is a chain that the hero/ine supports the cause directly, while the next sidekick supports the hero/ine, and the next sidekick supports the sidekick of the hero/ine and so forth. And they have a role to play on their own. They have worth. Hmm, I’m reminded of this quotation:

“One of the Duke’s men obviously escaped in it, m’Lord. Killed our pilot and escaped.”
“Which of the Duke’s men?”
“It was a clean, silent killing, m’Lord. Hawat, perhaps, or that Halleck one. Possibly Idaho. Or any top lieutenant.”
“Dune” by Frank Herbert

And it got me thinking … I’ve got nothing against people taking support roles — as long as it fits the agenda of the person. I mean, if you want to do it, do it. Supports have a vital role if they stand up to the hero/ine. Reminding me of this quotation:

William Adama: “I’ve been going through Cain’s log and from a tactical perspective it’s hard to find fault in anything she did. Or that Kendra Shaw did.”
Lee Adama: “They butchered innocent civilians, Dad. Come on. How can you ignore that?”
William Adama: “I know that I didn’t have to face any of the situations that she did. I had the President in my face, arguing for the survival of the civilian fleet. I’ve Colonel Tigh keeping me honest, balancing my morality and my tactics. And I had you. Now…you don’t have any children, so you might not understand this, but you see yourself reflected in their eyes. And there are some things that I’ve thought of doing with this fleet, but I’ve stopped myself, because I knew I’d have to face you the following day.”
Battlestar Galactica: “Razor” [my emphasis]

So, yeah, something to think about. If you are more comfortable in a support role, do it. But become very good at it. Become an example — or to put it differently, become a leader in that field. But yeah, make also sure that you are competent and that your work gets appreciated.