More than ever, the anti-hero theme has become a mainstay on TV. Many shows portray these charming characters engaging in all forms of vices that we simply can’t emulate. That however, hasn’t stopped everyone admiring them.
With TV shows such as Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, we stick with the lead character without any feelings of guilt or remorse. In fact, many of us sit and wish for his luck as we play in UK online casinos on a Friday night. With anti-heroes, you constantly remind yourself that this is someone you don’t want to become. In some cases, like Walter White in Breaking Bad, you end up wondering why you even empathise with him at all.
Walter White is a high-school chemistry teacher who decides to go rogue after being told he has lung cancer and very little time to live. To give credence to his heinous actions over five series, he keeps reminding himself that everything he does is for his wife and son. In the final season, he is rejected by the very same family, and, at that moment, what he has become over the course of his rogue period dawns on him.
With all the negatives, why do we love anti-heroes?
One reason is that their actions are deeply rooted in everyday circumstances. People can relate with their struggles as they remember one or two real-life cases that touch on the plots of these shows. The imaginary transgressions, as lived out by the anti-heroes, therefore don’t feel too far-fetched.
Secondly, such characters are often greeted with widespread condemnation and/or countercultural celebrations. This enhances ambivalence on the subject of these characters. An individual feeling revulsion or antipathy for Walter White’s actions, for example, can be pointed to the beginning of the story when he was a nice family man. An argument can be made that without the cancer diagnosis, Walter White may not have discovered such levels of distasteful behaviour within himself. On the other hand, no one can feel good about the character without moralistic inquisition.
What prompted the rise of the antihero?
In the past, broadcasters had strong restrictions on what could be aired. With the rise of autonomous cable TV networks, programme-makers were at liberty to explore the boundaries of what was moral. This explains shows like Banshee and Better Call Saul. The producers don’t have to worry so much about widespread acceptance. As long as the behaviour manifested by the anti-heroes is compelling and there is a context to their actions, producers have a broader canvas to play with. Most importantly, shows with some transgressive element tend to get more people talking, and that generates higher ratings.