HERE IS THE RULE:
You cannot justify the existence of a thing in a story by arguing that it is a necessary consequence of other elements in that same story.
BECAUSE IT IS ALL MADE UP, MOTHERFUCKERS.
Here, I am going to give some examples that will help to flesh this out. Let’s say you are a comics fan, and you aren’t happy with the way that Starfire is being portrayed as kind of a weird sexed-up sociopath. And let’s say Scott Lobdell defends that shit like this:
She is a princess from another world who spent years as a slave in some of the harshest death camps in the universe. To think that we have any idea how her unique world view has been forged by these experiences feels otherworldly to me.
WRONG, YOU DUMMY. She is not a princess of anywhere, she is a CHARACTER IN A COMIC BOOK, and you — YOU, Scott Lobdell! — made up all this shit about her. She does not have real motivations, she does not have a real history, she has not had real experiences that have shaped her real psychology. She is a fictional character, who is informed by the fictional backstory that you gave her, and is participating in the fictional story which you invented. You don’t get to walk away from criticism about your portrayal of Starfire on the grounds that “this is just how she is”, when you made up all of it, sucker.
Here is another example: let’s say that you are unhappy with the way that Batman kills all those guys in Batman Begins, when he blows up that temple. And let’s say someone responds with:
But blowing up those barrels was the only way for him to escape!
WRONG, DUMMY. The entire scenario is FICTION. It’s not like Batman was a real person, and we are watching a documentary about his life and trying to justify his actions by thinking about what we would do in a similar situation. The situation is MADE UP, BY A GUY. It is actually literally there for the purpose of Batman making that decision. It could have been a thousand different scenarios, that would NOT have required Batman to blow anything up, but it wasn’t. Christopher Nolan made up THIS PARTICULAR SCENARIO, and like it or not, it therefore follows that he did it on purpose to illustrate something that he believes about Batman.
His interpretation is up for grabs; we can argue whether or not he’s RIGHT that in a circumstances like this Batman would blow everyone up, but what we CANNOT EVER ARGUE ABOUT is whether or not Batman “had” to blow everyone up.
Here’s a third example from Comics Alliance, that is what got me thinking about this whole mess. It contains AVENGERS SPOILERS, don’t look if you don’t want to read those.
Let’s say that you, like me, are a little bit disturbed by Iron Man’s use of a nuclear weapon against the alien hordes. There are a lot of arguments that you and I can have about this: just how justified is the use of force in the face of an alien invasion? Is it consistent with Tony Stark’s character to do this? Is Tony Stark a moral character for having done this? Is the narrative too casual with the use of mass destruction?
But what about this argument:
What was Tony Stark supposed to do? Let the nuclear bomb vaporize all of Manhattan?
WRONG, DUMMY. The movie is fictional. The scenario was fictional. The consequences are fictional. Everything about this question was MADE UP by a guy (Joss Whedon) who does not get to walk away from criticism about his use of nuclear weapons in a super-hero narrative because “Tony Stark” didn’t have a choice. He had EXACTLY the choice that Joss Whedon gave him, neither more nor less, and insofar as that choice presents a question to the audience, Joss Whedon is accountable for the consequences of that choice. Tony Stark isn’t real, he can’t take action, he doesn’t do anything. The person who’s actually doing things is the writer, and the writer DOES have a choice.
Related things that no longer count as valid arguments:
1. But some people are like that! (Used usually to defend reprehensible behavior.)
Yes, but some people aren’t. When we criticise a character’s portrayal in a story, we’re not criticising the existence of “people like that” (because the character IS NOT REAL, and therefore is not really like that), we’re criticising the AUTHOR’s choice for making the character this way, instead of that way.
2. History was like that! (Used usually to defend the existence of reprehensible institutionalized behavior in a story.)
What, are you writing a fucking history textbook here? If you are making shit up, then you made up the fact that it resembles history, instead of making up the fact that it resembled something that WASN’T history.
3. That’s the way the book / comic / story / &c was.
Motherfucker, you have already countenanced hundreds of changes just to change mediums for this thing; don’t tell me you couldn’t have changed the problem in question. And if you COULD have changed it, but DIDN’T, then you made a choice, and you are accountable for that choice.
Okay, guys, that is all, that is the new rule. If you see some dummy making an argument like this in a comments section somewhere, just refer them to this in order to 1) save time, and also 2) hopefully make them feel bad.