Vote #1 Anti-Hero

October 7, 2015

Things are becoming pretty dark around here. And I don’t mean this gloomy winter weather that seems to have tailgated spring. I’m talking about the recent explosion of TV shows and movies that delve deep into some of the scariest, shadiest and deliciously evil parts of our modern world.

Few would deny the dark brilliance of stirring TV dramas such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, House of Cards and the newest issues of DC Comics. Even non-fiction adaptations like the remake of Phillip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison experiment, shows that within our minds resides a small amount of darkness and wickedness that is just reliant on a specific situation to come out. As different as these shows are structurally and thematically, they have one thing in a common: a relentlessly dark tone.

But why the increase in shows that highlight the darker side? What makes us tune into Netflix to watch Breaking Bad's Walter White defy suburban drug laws? To answer this question we must look at the rise of the anti-hero.

By definition, an antihero is a protagonist who lacks the morality, charm, or kindness that a hero should ideally have. They are the flawed hero. But whilst flawed and broken, this is not to say that they are devoid of goodness. Like any human being, they are a complex combination of both good and bad.

We see the anti-hero in all of the pop cultural examples we’ve cited, but perhaps the most striking example is Warner Brother’s highly anticipated film The Suicide Squad (the leaked trailer has 51,080,167 views, and counting).

The Suicide Squad is the first mainstream comic book adaption that glorifies villains in heroic roles and challenges what we thought we know about the traditional idea of heroes.

There are many possible reasons for the rise of the anti-hero, but one compelling theory is that it taps into a growing acceptance of imperfection. This was evidenced in the rise of Wabi Sabi last year, a cultural ideal that embraced the notion that nothing is perfect, nothing is finished, and nothing is constant – an ideal that encouraged us to embrace reality: the good, the bad and the ugly. And it seems that the bad and the ugly is getting more and more attention in entertainment, as it taps into this growing acknowledgement and acceptance of our imperfections.  

The idea of being good every single day is exhausting for most. We can’t all be perfect 100% of the time.

We’ve turned away from the cliché of the hero and toward the more realistic anti-hero, who accepts us and reflects a more realistic view of the flawed, imperfect character.

We’ve found a fictional character that liberates us and doesn’t raise us to ridiculous and unreachable standards.

And I think we appreciate this, at least for 60 minutes of screen time each week.