Confessions of a Drama Hypocrite

Confessions of a Drama Hypocrite:

Warning: contains spoilers about recent dramas, because it's more fresh in my memory.

    Starting a drama is always an anticipatory process:


However if we see something we don't like, feelings quickly turn:


Then we start preparing for murder: 


A lot of us are not shy to voice our opinions about certain character portrayals. We band doormats as "pathetic", we whine when more interesting characters are shoved into the background, in favour of the one we couldn't care less about. Don't deny. We've all done it.

The thing is, recently I've been feeling...more guilty.

Not enough that I will stop name-calling characters if they're beyond exasperation, but certainly enough it makes me feel remorseful. If my life were a TV drama, and a faux audience described it as "boring, pathetic and not worthy of screen time" - it would certainly annihilate me. That is, after wondering how broadcasting rights got past the fact I didn't give permission, then who the hell signed the contract?

(Off topic: Maybe I have an evil twin?)

I imagine being told you're not charismatic enough, or smart enough or interesting enough to even be considered a main character in your own life is not a pleasant thing. However, that still won't stop me from character assassination. But when I'm doing so, a part of me feels acutely uncomfortable because I'm aware there are people out there, in real life, who are treated like doormats and can be seen as pathetic - and would I say it to their face? Would I like it if anyone said it to me?  Hell, even some of us could go through pathetic moments that we don't want to share with the world, just because it's tough and we can't afford to be vulnerable.


But somehow when it comes to drama - and even fiction - we yell, and we scream and we curse characters that are not "worthy." This is a long-standing conflict that will remain forever in my eyes. When I read fiction, I will always expect full characterization and interesting characters to take precedent - but we are an impatient bunch and not really invested. In dramas, if we see a "pathetic" character, we want to watch them become strong and grow - but rarely are we interested to stick around, and watch the character be pushed around and around, repetitively, until something changes. This is true to real life. We always want to be there when a character is taking charge of their own life, but the majority of us don't want to watch the struggle unless there are proactive steps to lessen it.

It's human nature and we're a flaky bunch.

Laugh, and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone - Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

Here are two common pathetic "tropes" characters can exhibit in a drama:

These are all characters I've called pathetic in the past or seen being called pathetic by other people. I feel nervous, because some of them are popular actors from popular dramas^^

Number One: - 

Being a doormat. People can be mean to you, cruel even, but you just sit there and take it or cry and don't do anything about it. Or you could just be a coward in confronting situations. Few examples: 

It started with a kiss / Playful kiss


Xiang Qin and Ha Ni are variations of the same character. They play the naive, gullible girl terribly in love with a cold, intelligent genius. He puts her through a lot of grief, and is verbally mean, but the girl just sees that as a sign to try harder for his affection. At no point does she she sit him down, and explain how his behaviour might not be okay. 

Heaven's Promise



This is a drama I'm currently watching, so I can't help including it in my examples because it's hot in my memory. From the outset, you will label lovers Na Yeon and Tae Joon as pathetic. Like Hwang Jung Eum's character in "Secret" - Na Yeon sacrifices her life and aspirations just so her boyfriend can achieve his. In both cases, said boyfriends screw the heroine over and we all roll our eyes, because it's so effing...doormat behaviour. I include Tae Joon in the mix, because he's willing to be bossed around by the Jang family just to make a name for himself, and lately Se Jin - Tae Joon's latest woman turned wife, because she's become uber jealous and stalking him like a demented woman, forgoing her own identity. 

She was Pretty


I include both friends in this one, because at one stage or another - they were both labelled pathetic in the forums. Hye Jin (the one on the left), because she makes no effort to improve her appearance or improve her situation at work, and later on - Ha Ri, because episodes dragged with her pretending to be her best friend, just so she can stay close to Seong Jun and not lose him. A lot of viewers called her actions cowardly. 

Number Two : -

Just crying a lot in general. Guaranteed one person will call you pathetic, even if you're dying from a terminal illness or unable to get over long-standing grief. Sometimes you can be crying for "no reason" - but no matter how deep your reason (or not) - if it's continuous - you WILL be called the "p" word. By someone. Somewhere in the world. Not that I blame them at times. Few examples:

The HeirsPark-Shin-Hye-The-Heirs-Korean-Drama-Fas

The Heirs was not a good drama for Park Shin Hye. It required a lot of tears, and a lot of us were sick of it. It's made a lot of people morbidly cautious of Shin Hye - they're scared she'll start crying in whatever drama she's in, and breathe a sigh of relief when she isn't.

Marriage Contract


Hye Soo is dying from cancer, and cries a lot for it. Several people were agitated and didn't like seeing her so...piteous. 

Missing you


A drama from 2012 that contained a lot of sobbing. Soo Yeon has been through a lot, so you'd think we'd be more understanding, but as the episode count went on, and there seemed to be no let-up of crying, a lot of us asked if it was too much to ask for, to have one episode where there is no crying. What's the word? Oh yeah, you all know =.=

Pathetic. Some wield that word, implying it's a negative thing.

And I admit - even I do myself. And will keep doing it.

Doesn't mean I don't occasionally think about it and tell myself not to use it so flippantly. Using words to describe someone is a powerful tool, and more of us should be aware of exactly how much power. But that is one hypocrisy that I don't think will ever die, and wouldn't want too. I don't want to watch a drama, seeing the same scene over and over again - at the end of the day we're investing in a story, not in an actual person. The characters could be very interesting, in a drama, and I'd still be pissed if they repeated similar scenes over again, containing emotions like happiness. 

Keep the two worlds separate and we'll be fine.

Comments (38)

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  • Reply
    Ceki Jun 11, 2016

    Nice :)

  • Reply
    Lumiere Jun 11, 2016 - edited

    I really like this article (Y)!

    I understand your guilt. My guilt used to prevent me from dropping dramas that I thought were bad. I felt it was disrespectful for the cast, producers, and the crew who worked really hard on it. Thankfully, I matured out of it...

    As for weakling female leads, I think people who are too good for their own good do exist for real, but as a lot of people said in the comments the acting is what elevates a character from being a plain doormat to a real person with sensitivities and problems... The acting changes pity to sympathy or whatever...

    I noticed that Koreans, in general, like to glorify crying. The results of this over-killing use of crying is the viewer's detachment more than anything. I don't feel the same problem when watching Japanese dramas. I remember one *important* crying scene was shot from behind in a drama I forgot. We were only allowed to see the actors back and to hear the little sound they made instead of seeing the pouring rivers on their faces...

  • Reply
    Pixiemage7 Jun 7, 2016 - edited

    TBH I'm really tired of watching dramas with female characters that are weak and has very slow character develepment. But I think it also depends on how the story was written and who potrays it. For example, Xian Qin from ISWAK. She's a stupid girl who always follow around Zhi Shu but she has her strong points as well so I never found her character annoying. Instead, she was adorable. I think the way Ariel Lin portrayed it was a big factor. So IMO, I don't have Xian Qin in the list of doormat character. If you look closely, she's more than that.

    • Reply
      yoorin21 Jun 8, 2016

      I understand what you're saying. Rarely in dramaland do we see weak characters who are strong on the inside. When we do, it's usually a great actress who can pull it off. One of those is Xian Qin from It Started With a Kiss. Another character would be Mi Young from Fated to Love You. Even though she seemed weak on the outside, she was actually very persistent and stayed true to her heart.

  • Reply
    rainruma Jun 5, 2016 - edited

    Yes ... we all hate "Doormat"/ "Pathetic" characters .... way too many of them in Asian dramas (females especially).
    However, I believe the actresses playing them make it worse. They cry, cower, pout, use child-like pitter-patter steps bcz it is the only way they know how to gain "Sympathy" from the audience....ughhh!!!!

    I learned this after watching Jang Na-Ra in Fated to Love You ... ... she truly earned my Respect by showing that such "meek" characters can be portrayed differently:

    She took a weak , meek , obedient , dumb doormat , "post-it" Girl .....and.... created a soft-spoken , super-nice , sensible & sensitive smart Woman ...
    She gave the character DIGNITY !!! .... she became "Sympathetic", not "Pathetic"!.... She gained our "Empathy", not our "Pity"! ....
    Any other actress would have made "post-it" girl a weak doormat ... (by putting their head down, pouting , over-crying, and cowering Needlessly!!!).
    And Vice-Versa, I've seen too many lesser actresses turn a decent character into a "Pathetic" one!

    So defining "Pathetic" or "Doormat" is not just the "actions" taken by a character (how the character was written) .... As JNR showed, such "weak" characters won't seem "pathetic" if portrayed by the right actor! ...

  • Reply
    radhz_dramalover Jun 5, 2016

    i think the word 'pathetic' is really strong word. one should be really careful in saying it loud.better not say it.

    i would definetly not want to be judged as pathetic for crying. neither would any one. but i was unaware of Uee being criticised for that. she has the most valid reason to cry. this is so wrong. i totally defend her action. but yeah there are few makjangs which unrealistically has so much of weeping scenes. i generally dislike them, but not call them as pathetic.
    also judging some one being doormat as pathetic is so wrong. because i have seen many in my life. may be it is the place i live. but there are people who let others dominate them. they genuinely feel low about themselves, I walk and talk with 'doormats' who are not confident about themselves.Yes I would love them to change. i pity them. but i can't call them pathetic.

    Calling pathetic someone is letting them know, they are total failure. its too dangerous, if i had to add.

  • Reply
    BrightestStar Jun 5, 2016 - edited

    Great article really enjoyed your article :D

    I agree we are all guilty of that, but sometimes some viewers overdo it. Like when I was watching Ode to Joy on Viki. I generally enjoy seeing what people think of certain scenes on the spot, but many times I found myself having to just turn off the comments for this drama. They just go on insulting characters because they have flaws and aren't perfect, and they hate on somebody for being "old" and make everything he said to be creepy while the good looking guys get a free pass for doing worst. It takes out the enjoyment of seeing how these flawed characters go about their day and their lives.

    As for me I have seen people in RL do the same mistakes over and over and never actually grow, and because I know that's reality I get impatient when I see it in dramas. I always know it's my issue but I can't help complain. It's like seeing my friend's life going on in drama while I'm trying to escape it because I'm just sick and tired of the RL drama.

    • Reply
      amrita828 Jun 6, 2016 - edited

      Oh dear, I had to shut off that viki comment sections many times myself for the same reason. The things I've seen lately are unbearable, with either extreme badmouthing or people chatting among one other about totally unrelated things.I used to enjoy the comments in the past because it was a little like watching in good company, but now it's like going to the cinema and being surrounded by people shouting on the phone. :P

    • Reply
      Eunha Jun 9, 2016 - edited

      there is a serious difference in comments in older shows and those in the newer. if someone wants to badmouth at least it should be about the plot and not on the actor's looks, plus after saying it once you don't need to keep repeating the same bad comment every single time the character's face comes. ughh i'm annoyed, i liked seeing people share views similar and not to mine on viki like you but now -_-

    • Reply
      BrightestStar Jun 9, 2016

      I know it feels like it's becoming a trend. I was like come on! I get it. You don't like him, you don't want them to end up together, just shut up and watch how things go, or simply drop it! The rest of us want to see what happens. In any case at least we can turn in off :P

  • Reply
    sunflower63 Jun 5, 2016

    I enjoyed reading this article and yes, there have certainly been many times in which I thought that some of the main leads of a drama were pathetic. I admit it is more often doormat type of characters exactly as you described which makes me very frustrated and I generally keep on telling myself that it is a cultural difference so I should go with the flow...
    I also admit that I can't bear dramas with excessive crying (Missing You is a perfect example!) as it's true that some situations are tragic and sad but there is really no need to express this so litterally and so often as I am sure the viewers get the message anyway.
    Unfortunately I get the feeling that Asian writers (mostly Koreans I have to admit) believe that viewers need to be constantly spoon fed in order to understand exactly what the characters are going through which is not the case at all.

  • Reply
    Katy Jun 5, 2016 - edited

    'autistic' can you please not, that character is not autistic. autism is a spectrum and some people can be the most loving people in the world. Don't write about what you don't have a clue about. Nowhere is it said this character is autistic, he's just an asshole

    • Reply
      BrightestStar Jun 5, 2016

      Someone told me in the original Manga he had behaviour that closely resembles autism.

    • Reply
      cityhunter83 Jun 7, 2016

      you should have spent some time looking into this before declaring him autistic to explain away bad behavior or to appease those who would. I've spent some time looking into this, going back and examining specific instances fans point to to justify this claim. none of his behaviors are consistent with an autism diagnosis. in fact, in all incarnations, a great deal of emphasis is placed on how perfect he is.

      having read some articles online doesn't qualify you to present this as a fact about the character. I do not have delicate sensibilities. I do have a husband, daughter, step daughter and two nephews on the spectrum and have spent the last 16 years of my life living and socializing with autistic people and I think any group of people would be at least a little miffed when you identify an asshole as part of their group as a way to explain or excuse his assholishness, which is what people are doing when they put forth this claim, and what you have done by repeating it with no context.

    • Reply
      George Jun 8, 2016

      As someone who has autism I agree. Too often people label assholes or "quirky" people as autistic and it takes away from the fact that its an actual disorder, not a personality type.

    • Reply
      Kachiiing Jun 8, 2016 - edited

      I'm not labelling assholes as autisitc, urgh. Can anybody point me to where I actually said that? What I said was "autistic people shouldn't get a free pass" which was a simple old sentence arrangement problem, and what I meant was "autism shouldn't be used as a free pass to excuse assholeness" in response to someone telling me he was autistic.

      Though I appreciate there are people out there who use autism to describe bad or quirky behaviour, I'm not one of them. Although I worded myself wrongly in the original, what is bumming me the most is new words being put in my mouth I didn't say. Thank you!

  • Reply
    theairtwit Jun 5, 2016

    I would protest that heirs wasn't a good drama for anyone, but it did put kim woo bin on my radar so I won't complain TOO much.

    I love jung so min but characters like ha ni irritate me beyond words. weirdly (or maybe not?), I wasn't as annoyed by her doormat characteristics but by how her entire world centered on this guy she liked. everything she did or took interest in was because of him, & I can't wrap my head around that. it felt like she was never her own person, & I found that immeasurably disappointing. even more so because she never, to my recollection, stood against his poor treatment of her. I'll even admit to looking down on her, which I feel bad for doing, but I also thought she deserved better than this cold, hard prickbiscuit of a man.

  • Reply
    ladytristeza Jun 5, 2016 - edited

    yeah i will gonna tell you my cure on pathetic stupid heroine what let herself to be a trashed by her is it - i just start reading skip beat again (it´s manga) or watch MLFS or any other good drama/anime with kickass fuck amazing heroine HAHA

    • Reply
      KdramaInspirit Jun 7, 2016

      Cheon Songyi also comes to mind when I think of a female lead with really strong character in spite of her circumstance. I can't forget that episode when all her sponsors were dropping her but she went ahead of them telling she's the one dropping them instead, LOL! She's not the pathetic damsel in distress.

  • Reply
    realdeal Jun 5, 2016 - edited

    If you find yourself cursing on screen because how pathetic this certain character is then the producers of this show succeeds, that is the main point of her character anyway to make you involved and be invested with her character and watch her to grow. Well this is drama not real life so unrealistic characters exist, on a pathetic level that you would not imagine. About calling a real person pathetic, I haven't done that and probably I willl not, but what I hate the most are those people that intentionally want themselves to look pathetic so that people around them will pity them.

  • Reply
    silent_whispers Jun 4, 2016

    I don't think I've called a character pathetic. Maybe not for me, not developed enough, or so on.

    I'm more upset about a character crying for endless scenes because that's plot and character development that you lose.

  • Reply
    CherryBunny Jun 4, 2016 - edited

    I love this article, however, I have to point out an error you made. In all adaptions of Itazura na Kiss, Playful Kiss and It Started With a Kiss included, there is no proof that Irie is autistic at all. As a parent of an autistic kid, I have commented before that the character shows some traits of a person on the spectrum, but nowhere is it mentioned that he actually is.

  • Reply
    MysteryMel-Bookish Jun 4, 2016

    Interesting article - usage of two words that invoke strong feelings & imagery: "doormat & pathetic." Many drama writers utilize both and many more feelings & imagery to engage the viewership thus increasing ad $$. Comments that attack the actor for writers direction of using any of the above mentioned words steers you away from real issue at hand, "the actor who is either a BAD FIT for role, POOR/INEXPERIENCED skills, and or lack of chemistry with role and other actors." Sadly, several of the above mentioned dramas contain many actors who are stretched to their acting limits making the drama, story and actor wallow - NOW that's drama!

  • Reply
    purplenette Jun 4, 2016 - edited

    I don't understand why crying makes a character pathetic. If your heart hurts, then what is wrong with crying? Some people are more sensitive than other people. I'm not saying that some characters don't bother me, but it isn't usually the crying that is the problem. It is their attitude. I just want to yell at them to find the true self within and gain strength. Also, some people are just nice and kind to people with out expecting anything in return. I admire those people. They treat people as they would want to be treated. I think that makes a person stronger and not a doormat at all.

    I did like your article. Great discussion topic!

    Oh...and Hye Soo who is dying in Marriage Contract should get a pass.

    Edit and I didn't like any of the character in Playful Kiss...I hated that drama.

    • Reply
      Eunha Jun 9, 2016 - edited

      i use to think crying was annoying but now i see that after they cry they get right back up and to me that shows strength like you said.

      i like how in recent shows there are nice characters, but that doesn't mean i don't like the shows with jerk ones because lets face it, those shows can be quite entertaining, i mean with nice characters its mostly oh look how cute but with a "jerk" (as long as not too much) I start thinking hmm is he just evil or maybe thats his way, what is his motive and so this applies to "doormats" as in will they change, what role will they have, i feel bad for him, proud at this moment and so on. There is just more material to talk about

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