In the world of fiction writing, "Flanderization" refers to the tendency for characters in TV shows or other literary works to become flattened over time.
Specifically, rather than growing in multiple directions and evolving into more complex versions of themselves, characters often instead become caricatures defined by some previously described characteristic.
The term is derived from a Simpsons character, Ned Flanders, who was originally introduced to the cartoon series to serve as a mirror-image opposite of the series protagonist, Homer Simpson.
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Ned was polite and clean while Homer was rude and messy, Ned was faithful to his religion while Homer often strayed, Ned was giving and overall well-meaning while Homer was selfish and borderline malevolent.
As the series increased in scope (season 33 aired in mid-2022, with season 34 already in production) Ned Flanders (and many other recurring characters) began to flatten—in Ned's case, his religious faith became fundamental to everything else he did, and he was increasingly written as a somewhat zealous Bible-thumper, not just a friendly neighbor who happened to also be Christian.
This tendency to simplify rather than complexify is common across mediums where characters have the chance to iterate, in part because of how convenient and useful it can be to use archetypes when presenting a narrative.
In this context, archetyping refers to having a character serve as a stand-in for a "type of person" we all know, or know of, or for whom we understand the social or historical significance.
The ultra-religious person who's strict but friendly is an archetype, as is the trouble-making son (Bart Simpson), the smart, anxious, under-appreciated daughter (Lisa Simpson), and the drunken, neglectful father who periodically does okay but mostly fails at everything (Homer Simpson).
It's convenient to use such characters as stand-ins for real-life commentary because we all know someone who's a bit like Lisa or Bart or Homer (or Ned), which allows the writers to spend more time telling stories and less time explaining who everyone is supposed to be—we already know how different characters will respond to different stimuli and variables.
Many media critics have pointed at Flanderization as an indication of a broader decline in writing quality, or a sign that a series (or other work) has lost its touch and is basically phoning it in rather than innovating on the characters and world they originally developed (and perhaps even found success with).
Others have suggested it's a more baked-in element of human nature: we simplify people in real life, too, learning their political leanings, for instance, and seeing everything else they do through the lens of how they vote (even if their political alignment isn't a particularly strong one).
This is especially true of people we perceive to be in "outgroups" (not part of our social or ideological tribe), and our stereotyping of others is often a passive thing: it ostensibly helps us organize (and bring meaning to) the world, despite not knowing enough to really be able to categorize people accurately.
Some stereotypes, on the other hand, are more explicit and are actually reinforced for gain ("that other political party is bad and full of bad people—support our political party so they don't win!").
While there's a chance that life is imitating art to some degree with flanderization, then, it's likely that part of why the folks behind such fictional portrayals tend to simplify in this way is that it's something we casually (and sometimes more intentionally) do in real life, as well.
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