Sam Thorne on the rise of the antihero….
Ever since the turn of the century, culture’s been going in an odd, strange direction. Typically recent entertainment content has had an emphasis on blood, violence, and sexuality in attempt to be ‘edgy’ in it’s style and texture. More interestingly is how morality is depicted through the ‘good guys’ of the past few years in cinema and TV. It’s not uncommon for a main character to openly murder or kill, while an authority figures are depicted as entirely incompetent at catching our hero. That’s a bizarre thought isn’t it? Especially how we just accept it as an audience, lap it up in fact.
Let’s take a look at Dexter. Love it or hate it, Dexter was the pinnacle of long-running episodic drama for a while before it dropped the ball a few seasons in. But whether you’re still hooked, or stopped watching years ago, Dexter started a trend. I can’t say that for certainty, but it seemingly did. Ever since we’ve had several characters on TV shows who are damaged, amoral, and violent. The show rationalizes Dexter’s need to kill by it being a twisted instinct inside him, as he hones it to only kill what he deems ‘bad people’. You don’t realise quite how subversive Dexter is until you realise who some of the ‘villains’ of the series are. Of course he does deal with other serial killers, but I found the character of Sergeant Doakes riveting. So, Doakes is a hard-ass cop who suspects Dexter and is quite hot on his trail. Doakes is a character that would have been the star of an action movie from the 80’s or early 90’s. Doakes is the former ‘good guy’, what a typical male protagonist used to be. And yet he isn’t. We’re made to villainize him in our own heads.
Obviously not everything follows this formula, but seemingly anything that’s doing quite well for itself on the Television. How could we possibly ignore Breaking Bad on this topic? For one, it’s in the name. Walter White is a normal guy, then bam, he’s a drug producing chemist with a penchant for toppling his former drug-lord bosses. As an audience we flock to these stories about immorality, of people just abandoning their former selves regardless of the consequences. We’re slowly becoming obsessed with tales of the bad guy, while the cookie cutter ‘good guy’ is at home, sorting his mineral collection.
Quite simply, the good guy is a dull cliché’. Even when they’re not, they’re not exciting, they’re not adventurous. Sure, a lot of people revelled in seeing Starsky and Hutch sort out this week’s errant ruffian, but there’s a reason that kind of show is mostly extinct. Even detective shows like CSI, or NCIS heavily glamorise violence and murder in a way for us to gawk and revel at, as an escape from our boring lives. Seeing the bad guy and how he ticks is an incredible buzz and it won’t be going anywhere, due to the sheer success shows like Dexter, Breaking Bad, Hannibal, and Bates Motel have received.
Viva la bad guy.