We all know those knights in shiny armors who ride in to save the day. They’re heroes and they’re liked. But we like unconventional, not-quite-heroic characters too. Sometimes we like them even more.
Why do we root for characters with questionable motives or means? Characters who are ruthless, treat others with disrespect, and shy away from nothing to accomplish their goals? Characters who break the law, and definitely not just by running a red light? Murder, blackmail, drugs, threats, general criminal activity…
Things like this weren’t always so popular. The knight in the shiny armor is a cliche because it was used so much, and people loved it at the time. There was good and evil. It was good guys vs. bad guys. I remember when I was a child and the general message everywhere was that evil will suffer the consequences in the end. These days we’re sitting at the edge of our seat, wishing our ‘bad guys’ to escape their pursuers.
Of course this is all very dependent on the POV of the story. If our protagonist is a just and sensible cop who’s trying to catch a serial killer, we want him to succeed. If our protagonist is a twisted yet complex serial killer, we want him to evade that police search at his house.
We don’t want right or wrong anymore. We crave for the in-betweens, the moral gray areas, the “lesser of two evils”-type of situations. Because when was real life strictly black and white? Most people aren’t inherenty good or evil. Good people do bad things, and vice versa. It’s life. It has seeped into stories. And I believe it’s there to stay.
Maybe we want something they have: power, authority, guts. I’m sure we can all think of a fictional situation where Character 1 tells Character 2 off and makes you wish you could say things like that. I’m not encouraging you to do that, but sometimes the fictional jerks have the best comebacks to nasty comments. They know exactly what they want and how, and they will achieve it.
Maybe it’s a refreshing break from reality. While most of us do want that serial killer to get caught and trialed in real life, in fiction we can indulge in a series of what ifs and see how the story plays out. See what’s it like on the darker side. We’re intrigued but we want to keep our own moral compass intact.
But it could also be a harsh glimpse to reality. The world isn’t shiny and perfect. One look at the latest news confirms as much. People aren’t perfect either and very few could be called a hero. Do we see our world mirrored in all those fictional antiheroes? What we’re hoping to see there can vary from deeper corruption and decay to finding light and redemption, but perhaps it’s a way to handle everything happening around us.
Maybe it’s something different entirely. Maybe we’re being led to believe we should root for them. Maybe it just happens. In any case I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of them.
What do you think? Who are your favorite antiheroes or outright villains and why? Do you usually root for the good guys or the bad guys?