Monday, June 18, 2012

Best fictional butlers and valets

Lurch from The Adam's Family (You rang? Anyone else answer the phone like that? I do...)

Kato from The Pink Panther series (Forever assigned to testing the Inspectre's fighting skills. I've never been sure if he likes his role or hates it.)

Alfred Pennyworth from Batman (A spot of sanity in an insane world.)

Domovi Butler from Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl (Butler and uber-efficient and loyal bodyguard in one.)

Kryton from Red Dwarf (Rimmer is a smeeee heeee!)

Reginald Jeeves from the P G Wodehouse novels on Bertie Wooster (You will never see anything to funny as his reaction to a bad tie.)

Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (One of the few horror show butlers)

Nestor from The Adventures of Tintin (Patient and long suffering but loyal to a fault.)

Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air (Long suffering, hilarious and also the orchestrator of many an adventure.)

Carson from Downton Abbey (Fierce absolute ruler with a heart of gold and a past on the stage.)

Agador Spartacus from The Birdcage (So ridiculously camp and over-the-top gay that most butler stereotypes are lost beneath his campness. In this he's rather distinct as a butler if not as a gay character.)

Waylon Smithers from The Simpsons (In love with an evil man who'll never accept him as anything but a servant and someone to be buried with - and not in the good way, mad collector of dolls, voice of reason unless it is to do with his love. If ever there was someone deserving sympathy in The Simpsons it was Waylon Smithers.)

Andrew Martin (robot) from Isaac Asimov’s The Bicentennial Man (I think therefore I am? One of the best thoughtful robots ever written. This isn't my favourite picture but I don't feel like digging through my way too large collection of books to find my favourite which appears on a cover from one of the many printings of this book.)

Delbert Grady from Stephen King’s The Shining (Who is the real caretaker?)

Edmund Blackadder from Blackadder III (I'll never think of turnips in quite the same way again...)

Ianto Jones from Torchwood (Strangely either loved or hated as a character but rarely anything in between. Personally I liked him but found him a bit spineless for one with so much spine - the contradiction was confusing but he saved the day many times.)

Niles from The Nanny (The only light in that show as far as I'm concerned.)

Walter C Domez from Hellsing (Just plain lethal. He'll cut you to pieces.)

While looking about the interwebs on butlers I noticed that there are a degree more gay butlers than expected by the usual percentage cut. I wonder if this is because the role of serving and caring for someone has often been represented by women and having a gay man play a butler is an easy due to the idea of gay men being feminine in nature. While this assumption is quiet wrong in most cases there are of course feminine males, making it possible if not always plausible. 
What is interesting about this representation of gay men though, is not that there are some strange assumptions behind it but rather that the butler role is one of the earliest and most commonly accepted role for a gay man to appear in. Why? Because butlers are ubiquitous and immediately command respect even though they can wheel, deal, lie, cheat, steal and wreak general mayhem if they want to alongside being caring (possible) and a servant. They are both lower and higher, disrespected and respected, set apart yet essential, male yet female (both epitomes) and so on and so forth. Butlers are so complex to begin with that throwing in the gay characteristic does not in any way make them more complicated or less likable. Butlers are by-and-large butlers first, despite their personalities, inclinations and sexualities.
Oddly, the maid doesn't get such license and if anything is cast as an idiot, an overworked slave and a possibly compromised person. They are often looked down upon or cast as part of the scenery. Only rarely have they been given admirable and significant roles but when this does happen they do indeed shine. Of special note in recent maid fiction is the show Downton Abbey which has a brilliant array of maids, good, bad, innocent and ugly in nature.

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