A Brief Study of the Antihero

Posted: 2011/01/31 in Blog

Through our history we have all looked up towards someone that stood on a pedestal, in our minds, above everyone else.  Most traditionally, the people and characters have been people that accomplished great good or stood their ground against some sort of suppression and have earned the title of Hero.  As time has passed we have tired of our heroes and have started looking for something more, seductive; this birthed the rise of the Antihero.  The antihero is a person or character that performs amazing feats but they do so through less than morally or legally acceptable means.

Antiheroes themselves can probably be broken into tragic heroes and protagonist villains.  Tragic heroes have usually suffered through some sort of transgression in their past but are now rising above their past to achieve something good.  Tragic Heroes would include: Batman, XXX, and Oskar Schindler.  Protagonist Heroes truly are villains but are placed in the spotlight and followed for what it is that they are doing.  Protagonist heroes would include: Michael Corleone (The Godfather), Dexter, Alexander the Great, and the crew from Ocean’s 11.

Pure and tragic heroes give us something to aspire to and believe in.  Most every one of us would like to believe in the inner good of everyone around us.  These heroes stand up as our protectors and defend us from evil because it is their duty to do so.  The golden age of comics was full of these kinds of heroes as it inspired a nation and people loved these characters.  Antagonist heroes were born of a darker place within us. These antagonists gave us something darker and more care free to look towards.  The sheer amount that Alexander the Great accomplished inspires people to this day to go out and make their own claims to greatness, but when we really examine his accomplishments, they were of conquering and enslavement.

So why do we need the antihero and what purpose do they serve?  The antihero is a manifestation of the darkness in our world into the stories that are told.  No longer can we naively watch Superman catch the bad guys to save the day, we need the Dark Knight, Batman to beat the living crap out of the scum of the Earth; and then we need The Punisher to come in and kill them all in a massive blood bath.  Finally we say screw it and watch Michael Corleone run his mafia from up high while he criminalizes thousands.  It’s a deep seed inside of us that sort of just wants to watch others suffer and/or watch ‘the man’ get taken down.

There may be a danger to celebrating the Antihero.  The more we celebrate these acts, the more we see these acts come into real life on the news.  Most will say that there is no correlation between fiction violence and real world violence, but I must ask if we are that blind to the trends.  In books, on television, in the movies, and in our video games, we are finding more and more antiheroes of both kind emerge to give us our share of bloodshed.  Can a mature adult handle gunning people down in the airport while playing a scene from Call of Duty?  Yes, they can.  How about the six year old kid sitting on the couch watching daddy do and seeing how positive of a reaction comes from cheering him on?

I know that only accepting the Pure Hero is both naïve and boring; I also recognize that just because the antiheroes do it, doesn’t mean that we are promoting their audiences to do so.  I just question whether or not we ever consider the impact of these things in our world.  Do we blindly follow our lust for dark adventure, can we separate the line between fact and fiction, and what do we need to do to better our society?

An amusing side note to all of this is that I am a fan of the darker fictions, antiheroes of obth types, and I do play all of the shooter games that I can get my hands on. This is merely a point that I have been pondering and felt the urge to explore.

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