But there are many wonderful heroes who will never make it between the covers of a book because, in her love for hero and story, the writer hasn’t realised that she hasn’t given the hero enough empathy to allow him to get away with unheroic behaviour.
The bolded part is the problem with Nex’s introduction: he hadn’t done enough good deeds and shown enough positive traits to get away with bad behavior. We saw him at his worst before we saw him at his best.
That’s why the Winx fandom sees him as a bad person. It’s why they think his positive moments are rare glimpses of a conscience or Rainbow “pretending” he’s a nice guy (even though he’s supposed to be). Some fans even think he’s secretly a villain!
I think this is also related to a bias called the horns effect (or devil effect). As MBASkool explains it: “If our first impression about a person is negative, we tend to ignore his positive characteristics and concentrate only on the negative ones. We tend to see the person in the light of the negative first impression, and hence there is higher probability that we will not like the person.” Figuratively speaking, we give the person devil horns.
That’s what’s happening to Nex. He has devil horns now. The Winx fandom blocks out or downplays his positive traits and behavior and only acknowledges his flaws and bad behavior. It’s what they saw first, so they think it represents his true character.
The love triangle made things worse because it threw another bias into the mix: the contrast effect. I couldn’t find a definition that wasn’t wordy, so I’ll try to sum it up. The contrast effect is when we judge something based on something else we just saw or experienced, instead of on its own merits. In other words, the first thing makes the second look better or worse than it actually is.(This site had a few good examples.)
Pitting Nex against Roy, who the fandom had more positive impression of (personality-wise), made Nex look even more flawed. The contrast effect made Roy look like a better choice for Aisha than he seemed to be on his own. The problem is we didn’t get to judge Nex on his own first like we did with Roy, so it was never a fair comparison.
How To Repair Nex’s Reputation
Since the Winx fandom has a profoundly negative opinion of Nex, he needs to do something profoundly positive to overcome it. It’s too late to convince them he’s acting out of morality, though. Remember: they don’t think he’s a good person. That’s why his little acts of heroism — saving Roy twice, saving Sky, saving Daphne, etc. — didn’t help. (Also, Rainbow didn’t draw enough attention to them, and the fandom thought Thoren saved Daphne.)
The solution: give him a redemption arc. Rainbow needs to own up to his bad reputation and have him commit to changing his ways. This needs to be done carefully, though. Since the fandom also compares him to Riven, any plot that’s similar to his journey will reinforce their idea that Nex is a rip-off.
I think the best thing Rainbow can do is work through Aisha’s story. She’s a princess with strict parents. If Nex wants to be accepted into her life, he’ll have to shape up.
Even this has some potential traps, though. For example, the fandom might write off his redemption as just an act so he can stay with her — or worse, so he can be king. The change needs to come from introspection, not from the threat of losing Aisha. (The latter would also reinforce the “rip-off of Riven” idea, since a lot of Riven’s angst came from tensions with Musa.)
Giving Nex a backstory might also help. I think the best backstory for him would be one that shows he wasn’t always selfish, arrogant, etc. Maybe he was more mild-mannered as a kid, or maybe he just had a more obvious soft side. Either way, it might give the fandom the sense that he’s not a lost cause as they see him now.
Finally, Nex needs to suffer both physically and emotionally. That might sound cruel, especially since I like him. But seeing him beaten up or miserable might make the fandom feel like he got the necessary karmic justice for his actions. It’s one way to give him a clean slate.
I don’t know what Rainbow will do — or if they’ll do anything at all. To be honest, I’m not optimistic. They got Nex into this mess in the first place. Will they know how to get him out and finally get his love story with Aisha on a positive track that the fandom will support? I hope so.