Death of the Critic

The Other

Written by: Tom Blaich

We’ve talked about the Other and bothering before, but it is a topic that deserves further examination. The Other is all about setting up the relationship within a story, about creating conflict and division. And it can be used in multiple different ways. It is a rather simple idea as well. The other is different. They don’t belong. They are strange and don’t fit in for some reason. It could be any number of things: their race, gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, class, species. Anything that differentiates them from the norm as defined by the story and it’s protagonists.

By setting up these barriers, it gives the character something to work through. Look at Dances with Wolves or Avatar, where the main character has to try to connect with a society of others, breaking through all of the barriers that entails. But it doesn’t have to be on this large of a scale. in fact, many times it is not.

Widely pointed out in Queer Theory and Feminist Critique, the other can often be a person who falls outside of social norms and is targeted for it. It is why we have character tropes like the noble savage or the magical negro, or even the non-threatening gay friend. Othering takes these people and says that they are different, fundamentally so, than the “normal” (read: white, straight, rich, and therefore good or correct) main character.

Being an other is rarely a good thing. An other is seen as fundamentally less than someone who is part of the norm. Being a “deviant” is a serious character flaw, whether or not it is controllable by that character, and if they manage to overcome this, they become a “noble savage”.

So how does this impact our criticism? By recognizing others and how they are depicted as such by a text, we can examine why the norm exists and how a text operates within it. Why does a movie need a “noble savage” for the audience to care about a group of natives. Why aren’t gay characters allowed to be in an openly sexual relationship like their heterosexual counterparts? Many schools of criticism look at the interplays of otherness to help better understand the world views presented and the societies within them.


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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