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Minor Characters, also called “generic characters” or “background characters”, are featured in many types of media, including television, video games and comic books. Though they often play little to no role in the official story, fans often apply their own ideas to these characters, creating a fandom around them.
Minor characters can range from having little to no canon name, personality or backstory to those who appear with specific characteristics or a few lines. Sometimes they are shown taking on various occupations, furthering the plot line without becoming involved in it. They can observe the main plot events as if bound by the Bystander Effect, the psychological phenomenon where people do not help in emergency situations when other people are present.
Background characters are also used frequently in live-action television shows where large casts are required. Sometimes, their repeated inclusion can become a running gag within the show itself; this is common in The Simpsons  with characters like “Yes!” guy (shown below, left), the crazy cat lady (shown below, center) and Hans Moleman (shown below, right).
Delevopment of Minor Character Fandoms
While these characters are usually not intended to be integral to the story, some background characters have attracted the attention of fans. Fans may apply a name to the character based on his or her physical characteristics, and may even build a personality and backstory surrounding the character. One of the most notable examples of this practice is the character Derpy Hooves, who eventually landed a speaking role in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
In some cases, the fandom surrounding background characters becomes so large that the shows that first featured them begin to reference them more frequently, and sometimes even give them more on-screen personality. In this way, fan- driven content can be featured in the show itself, which can build a rapport between the show creators and the fandom. However, it does not please all fans who may look at the practice as the show’s creators bowing down to fan pressure.
An early example of fan-named minor characters are the “Redshirts” from Star Trek: The Original Series. These nameless characters were designated as generic crewmen on the Starship Enterprise and often accompanied more important characters on dangerous missions. The Redshirts were typically killed off immediately, as they were used to demonstrate the physical danger that the main cast was in. The fandom picked up on this and began to make jokes about how wearing a red shirt was “bad luck.”. This was later referenced within spin-off shows, where characters would make similar jokes on screen.
Figwit is an example of an entirely fanon personality from the Lord of the Rings series. After his appearance as an extra in the 2001 movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the character was given much fan devotion, and has been the subject of fanart, trading cards, action figures, and even a documentary. His name was bestowed by a college student in 2002 as a made-up acronym for “Frodo Is Great … Who Is That?”, meant to convey the distraction felt by viewers upon seeing his face in the film. The appreciation led to actor Bret McKenzie reprising his role with dialogue in the third film The Return of the King as a nod to the fans.
Glen Coco is a background character from the 2004 comedy film Mean Girls, who is shown receiving four Candy Cane-grams from a character named Damian dressed up as Santa. Despite the seconds-long mention and little screen time for the character, the phrase continues to come up on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook, where a fan page for the character has more than 4100 likes as of August 2012.
Characters from Community
The American comedic sitcom Community is well-known for its recurring minor characters. These include Fat Neil (shown below, left), who was mentioned solely by name three episodes before taking on a small role, Star Burns (shown below, center), known for his star-shaped sideburns, and Magnitude (shown below, right), who does not have many lines outside of his catchphrase “Pop pop.”
Characters from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
A large number of background characters from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have been given fan attention. Most notable amongst them are Derpy Hooves, Vinyl Scratch, Doctor Whooves, Lyra and Octavia. While each of these characters have only a minor role on-screen, fans have given them personalities, backstories and large amounts of fanart based around their coloring and cutie marks, tattoo-like symbols located on the ponies’ flanks meant to represent their personality or talent. The creators of the show, Hasbro, have included a number of small nods to the fanon personalities, most famously culminating in a scene where Derpy Hooves interacts directly with one of the main characters.
Poorfag-chan first appeared as a faceless character seated in the back of a classroom in a scene of the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It was brought to the attention of 4chan users on /a/ (anime) in January 2011 as she is the only student depicted without a laptop. Several backstories, including one where she lives in a cardboard box and another where she is an evil character secretly involved in the series’ main plotline, were created on 4chan and YouTube that year.
The Cabbage Merchant is a minor character from animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Originally meant to have a one-time appearance, his popularity lead to him returning several times as a salesman who specializes in selling cabbages. However, he was often plagued by misfortune when running into the main cast of the series. In the sequel series, The Legend of Korra, the cabbage merchant makes an indirect return when it is told he was able to create the Cabbage Corp, a company specialized in creating automobiles.
Marauder Shields is the final enemy that appears in Bioware’s Mass Effect 3. After the poor reception of the game’s ending sequence, a 4chan thread was created, suggesting that this enemy was placed there specifically to stop players from reaching the ending. In that thread, he was given the name Maurader Shields for the default name that appeared when the main character, Commander Shepard, went to fight him.