Tuesday, February 3, 2009

With Darkness as an Ally (Part 1 of... Like, a Couple)

There is, it seems, some talk beginning to form on the subject of the antihero, one of my secret favorite subjects. Since deciding to write here about some of my favorite antiheroes (and why I consider them so) I whipped up a quick Google search to try to find out what words of wisdom other members of the online community had to say.

First up (since two of my sources comment on it) is Joshua Alston of Newsweek with the article Too Much of a Bad Thing. It was published this month - for those of you interested in whether or not I've retained my college-grown need to cite my sources. It's easier on an online document, of course. But I'm getting sidetracked.

Alston writes about the apparent deluge of anti-heroic characters appearing in our television programs. Most of the shows he cites I have not actually seen - the only exception is House, which I catch online thanks to Hulu. I cannot disagree with his assertions one way or another regarding the actual characters; he's probably on to something. But one point of contention I have is that he writes as though the antihero in popular culture is somehow a new thing, brought on by:
"...the political climate of the past eight years primed audiences for antihero worship, that in the midst of a war started with faulty intelligence, suspected terrorists sent to black sites and a domestic eavesdropping program..."

Or maybe he's just talking about an apparent recent streak of popular antihero characters that have electrified television. But the Wikipedia page of fictional antiheroes has quite the list going, and I doubt it's even close to exhaustive. And while many of the worthy individuals that show up on this list are quite recent creations, there were some surprises from decades past that made me smile.

Two other bloggers weigh in on Alston's article - Dr J of readmorewritemorethinkmorebemore and anotherpanacea (apologies, I didn't espy an author line). In December of 2007, Dr J first wrote of her favorite antiheroes, much as I intend to do later here, and there was sufficient discussion to warrant a second entry in January of this year. What I appreciate here (and at anotherpanacea) the most is the emphasis and preference these writers place on the satisfying complexity of the antihero character, especially in comparison with the traditional, black-and-white vision of a protagonist. Alston would prefer simple and straitforward characters, asking "... aren't the times we're living in dramatic enough?" He asks for simply dramatic characters who are trying to get by, as many television viewers are. Dr J counters:
"What we love about antiheroes is that they are trying to subsist in the world in just the same way that the rest of us do, which means that they often plunder when they are trying to save, save when they are trying to plunder. They aren't heroes and they aren't villains, because there is no such thing as a hero or a villain in the world that we look rationally upon."
She continues, making the point that I very much agree with - that because these characters are not simple, we are able to identify with them all the more readily. anotherpanacea finds the antihero a thing to delight in, saying that they are "complicated and fun". The complication is what draws us in, and the element of fun, of vicariously partaking in all the badness and moral flexibility of these antiheroes, is what keeps us coming back.

And now, for the fun part. My favorites. Where to start? How to organize? I must brood.

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