(I originally wrote this on Winx Club Amino, but I’ll post it here, too. This is an edited version.)
I’ll start with a quote from Irish author John Banville:
Fictional characters are made of words, not flesh; they do not have free will, they do not exercise volition.
A fictional character is a product of someone’s imagination. Their name, appearance, personality, thoughts, actions, and dialogue were decided for them, so they could play a certain role in the story.
How do we figure out what their role is? Watching (or reading) and interpreting is how most of us do it. But if that’s all we use to judge a character, we might miss the big picture. Sometimes, the most important details aren’t mentioned or shown. We have to find them ourselves.
People place a lot of importance on whether they like a character. But which is more important: liking someone or understanding them?
What’s the difference? Think about your favorite celebrities. You might like them for their appearance, their music, their acting ability, their personalities, or their acts of kindness, but unless you know them personally, you can’t understand them. You haven’t lived their lives, and you don’t know what’s going on inside their heads.
If you don’t understand them, do you really like them or your idea of them?
This applies to fictional characters, too, but it’s even more complicated. To understand a character, we also have to understand the writers.Why did they create the character? What are their intentions for them? The answers to these questions have nothing to do with whether we like the character.
Ultimately, understanding a character is more important than whether we like them.
Angels or Demon?
Have you noticed once you’ve formed an opinion about someone, you maintain it no matter what they do or what anyone says about them? That’s because your brain cherry-picks evidence that justifies your feelings and ignores information that might prove you wrong. As a result, you only see the best or worst in that person, depending on your first impression.
Psychologists call these bias blind spots “the halo effect” and “the horn (or devil) effect.” Here’s how they work:
Halo Effect: If our overall impression of someone is positive, we pay more attention to their positive traits than their negative traits. (The person always wears a halo.)
Horn Effect: If our overall impression of someone is negative, we pay more attention to their negative traits than their positive traits. (The person always has devil horns.)
You can guess how this applies to fictional characters. Characters we love are awesome/the best/etc. no matter what they do or what we know about them, and characters we hate are awful/the worst/etc. no matter what they do or what we know about them. We ignore anything negative about the characters we love, and we ignore anything positive about the characters we hate.
To quote the Spanish-Hebrew poet Moses ibn Ezra:
Love blinds us to faults, hatred to virtues.
Since Nex made a bad first impression on the Winx fandom, he’s being judged through the horn effect. No matter what he says or does, people only remember his flaws and bad moments. His positive traits don’t matter or get explained away.
There’s another part to the horn effect. As Right Attitudes explains it, “a person who is judged negatively on one aspect is automatically judged negatively on several other aspects without much evidence.”
Does this happen to Nex, too? Absolutely.
Here’s an example. We know Nex is flirty, since he flirted with the Winx in his debut episode. But because of his bad first impression, the fandom also labels him a “womanizer”. Many Winx fanfics also show him hopping from one relationship to another.
Has he done anything to deserve this portrayal? No. He’s only had eyes for Aisha since they met. But the horn effect turned “he’s flirty” into “he can’t commit to one girl”, even though he’s proven otherwise.
People also base that belief on his appearance. They think he looks like a womanizer, so he must be one, even though there’s no evidence in the cartoon or in other media.
I used to judge Nex through the horn effect, too. When Rainbow first introduced him, I hated him. Now I like him — not just because of his good moments in the show, but because of what I’ve discovered about how Rainbow wrote his character. I even like some of the things I used to hate about him, because now I think I know why he is the way he is.
Next time, I’ll talk more about Nex — what I think his role is and how he benefits Aisha’s character.