Anti-Heroes: Why are we drawn to them?

April 2, 2014 — by Carolyn Sun and Deepthi Sampathkumar

Life is unpredictable. Sometimes almost nothing goes as planned, which  can be frustrating.

Life is unpredictable. Sometimes almost nothing goes as planned, which  can be frustrating. We experience stress and crises on a daily basis, so when we decide to watch TV or read a book, it can be quite depressing and make us even more dull to “indulge” in the perfect lives of fictional characters.
But instead of agonizing over these unrealistically flawless characters, we can focus on their opposites — anti-heroes, or central characters who lack conventional heroic attributes. Figures such as Sherlock Holmes with his sociopathic tendencies, Jay Gatsby with his materialism and Frodo Baggins with his passivity captivate us, but why?
Anti-heroes are the protagonists that are innately good but display qualities that may seem otherwise. Heroes against the normal guidelines of a hero, they do “good” in a different way.
Perhaps we like anti-heroes because we can easily empathize with them. What kind of person can claim that they are unfailingly honorable, truthful, courageous and altruistic? Nobody. We are flawed humans, and anti-heroes embody our imperfections. 
We choose to watch or read about anti-heroes to comfort ourselves. Learning about characters who make mistakes but still succeed in having decent lives reassures us; they are proof that our errors aren’t necessarily the end of the world.
As flawed humans, we don’t want to see the hard-working and virtuous always get rewarded. Perhaps a dark side of us wants to recognize the fact that making mistakes is acceptable.
An example is Dr. Gregory House, a respected specialist in diagnostic medicine from the TV show “House M.D.” Although skilled and extremely intelligent, Dr. House invites criticism thanks to to his rash and unconventional decisions.
When his questionable ethics and addiction to the pain-killer Vicodin eventually lead to his firing, Dr. House’s life seems to be done, for he has no career, no friends and an addiction to drugs. House is able to get past these roadblocks in his life, however, and move on. He demonstrates that when life seems hopeless, we can still pick ourselves up and move on.
In addition, anti-heroes usually have good intentions. Although their methods are questionable, their causes inspire acceptance and perhaps even admiration and respect. After all, the ends justify the means, right?
For instance, Walter White from “Breaking Bad” begins making crystal meth to financially provide for his family. And, sure, Severus Snape from “Harry Potter” constantly hurls verbal abuse at a helpless teenage boy, but he also plays a crucial role in the moral side’s victory. 
Even the serial killer Dexter Morgan from “Dexter” targets only other murderers who have escaped the justice system. As episodes unfurl, he progressively becomes more human: in the series premiere, he introduces himself as a psychopath, one incapable of empathy, but by the series finale, he has developed into a loving father, brother and boyfriend. 
Dexter’s transformation gives us hope that we can conquer our own darkness; he proves that every person has good in him or her. In fact, audiences in their own struggles find themselves actually empathizing with Dexter, which is rather ironic since his entire character is based on the inability to feel empathy. 
Anti-heroes seem to emulate the small evil, imperfect characteristics we all possess. Watching them on television or reading about them in books makes us feel better that, even when life doesn’t go our way, there’s a chance for us, even if we’re far from perfect.
 
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