Bad Dudes

This is the plot of that game that is unrelated to this post

Bad Dudes. No – I’m not talking about the ill fated Arcade game from 1988. I’m talking about antiheroes. The bad boys of our favorite fandoms.

Whether it’s Indiana Jones robbing graves, Han Solo shooting first, or in literature, a bunch of guys not caring so much about things (so ANGSTY!), we love the bad dudes. It’s a fact that the best stuff (video games, movies, books) have complex and interesting characters. However, there is a trend in pop-culture in past years towards characters with little to no redeeming qualities.

I was inspired by the blogger Cora Buhlert, who wrote a post recently about this trend. I had been thinking and wanting to write about this recently, so thanks to her for the inspiration.

This trend is (or seems to be) especially prevalent in Television right now, with shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Rescue Me, and The Shield. I am not opposed to violence in Television, and I don’t believe in censorship, but these shows have characters whose profiles I find revolting, which stops me from even thinking about watching them. For example, the titular character in FX’s “Rescue Me” rapes his wife on screen. Really? Is that compelling, or is it just sensationalism?

In the real world, things are a little less black and white than we would like to believe, or than they are in literature and television and other forms of pop-culture. These shows claim to be showing that, but I think there is a difference between blurring the lines between right and wrong, and forgetting that there was a difference in the first place. Good people don’t rape other people, for any reason. It’s disgusting and wrong, period. So why does this pass as wonderful drama? Who is this being catered to?

These characters aren’t anti-heroes in any sense of the word. This sort of thing isn’t exactly new, however. Characters

who are utterly horrible people show up all the time in Edgar Allen Poe’s work – like the murderer in “The Tell Tale

Party in the back

Poe probably would have written about murdering people who still wear mullets if he was working today

Heart” who cuts up a man because of his weird looking eye (who hasn’t wanted to do that before, right? Anyone?), and the character in the Cask of Amontillado who murders a man over an unrevealed insult. Then of course there is the ever controversial Lolita, written from the perspective of a pedophile. These kinds of characters don’t deserve to be put in the same league as traditional Anti-Heroes.

Analyzing my own perceptions, I am repulsed by Lolita, but drawn to Poe’s work. However, I am aware that this is a morbid curiosity. Seeing into the mind of a killer is interesting, compelling even, and the work has endured because Poe was doing something that hadn’t really been done before. Still, my taste in heroes remains with those who have a moral code of some kind. Han would smuggle, steal, cheat and even kill his way out of a situation, but we find out that even he hates the Empire, and isn’t a murderer. He’s just a man of questionable legality.

This trend has also spilled over, to a lesser extent, in gaming. While the heroes of gaming are still a little more black and white, some are just as terrible as the murderer’s in Poe’s work. Games like “Grand Theft Auto” immediately come to mind, that glorify the objectification of women and the life of gangsters and felons. That’s an easy target. Different, smaller, and somehow even worse is the scene in “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” that puts the player in a position to murder hundreds of innocent people in an airport as an undercover agent trying to keep his cover.

Essentially any game with a system of choice to be good or bad allows the player this option, to see the hero in a different way. The difference here, however, is this violence, sex, and sickening lack of humanity is interactive. Again, I don’t believe in censorship – this falls on parents to stop their children from playing these types of games.

However, in the video game world the heroes who are a little more written out, and a little less left up to the player seem to still use the idea that maybe the hero ought to be a bit likable. Ezio Auditore of “Assassin’s Creed” may kill lots of people, but he’s essentially a good guy, and we identify with his personal tragedy. Nathan Drake of “Uncharted” is a lovable rogue in the leagues of Indy and Han Solo.

So why does this kind of thing pass as some of the most amazing TV ever when it hits the screen? The same reason “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom” are popular. It’s sensational, it’s controversial, and it causes a stir. People love these shows about rapists and murderers because of morbid curiosity and the sheer audacity of it. We, as a people, seem to love seeing the worst in others. Maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s just that the latter of these shows have better writers. And there’s considerably less hair-gel.

I, however, am a big fan of the good guys, and I still think they have it right. Maybe the world isn’t as black and white as I’d like to think it is. Maybe the good guys don’t always win, or do the right thing. Maybe the concept of good and evil just isn’t true.

However, as Hub said in “Secondhand Lions“Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. A man should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in.”



3 thoughts on “Bad Dudes

  1. The Shield disgusted me so much that I switched it off after ten minutes or so. And when I asked a couple of online friends if that show really presented a murdering corrupt cop as the hero and the DA supposed to stop him as the villain (I only watched ten minutes, so there was the possibility I had gotten it wrong and the murderous cop was really the bad guy) I was told that I obviously couldn’t appreciate the nuanced shades of grey of that wonderful piece of television drama. Uh, no.

    I’ve never seen Rescue Me, but it sounds utterly awful. Mad Men doesn’t bother me that much, though. The characters are all unlikable jerks, but at least they don’t murder, torture or rape anyone.

    You’re right of course that loathsome main characters are nothing new. Edgar Allen Poe created more than his share and before that there was The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis, whose protagonist commits all sorts of heinous acts, including raping his teenaged sister and burying her alive. Neither overly bothered me, when I read them. I suspect it’s because Poe’s works are mostly short stories, and it’s easier to witness a murderer going about his business in a 20000 word novelette than in a 400 page fantasy doorstopper. Never mind that all of Poe’s villain protagonists come to a bad end. As for The Monk, the novel is a doorstopper, but so obviously over the top that it is difficult to take seriously for the modern reader. If anything, the heavy dose of anti-Catholicism bothered me more than the lurid violence.

    And IMO you never need an excuse to talk about Harrison Ford, because he is awesome.

    Thanks for the link BTW. Glad you like my post.

    • You’re right about the Shield: the murderous cop IS the good guy. I suppose I’m biased against it since I grew up around Law Enforcement and I feel the show inaccurately depicts a line of work that is made up mostly of good, dedicated men.

      As for Mad Men, wasn’t there one rape scene in there? I haven’t actually watched the show, but I suppose I’m simply turned off by characters who are unlikeable jerks most of the time.

      I can’t believe someone pulled that “you just don’t understand it” card on you. People did that to me during undergrad, but I don’t get it as much now that I’m a grad student. Unless I tell them that I read a lot of fantasy and play videogames.

      You are probably right about the length affecting how we look at certain works. But doesn’t the character in “The Cask of Amontillado” get away with his murder?

      No problem for the link. I love your blog. Thanks for commenting!

      • I can imagine how offensive something like The Shield must seem to real life police officers and their families. Besides, while there are plenty of books or TV shows featuring corrupt cops, most of those feature good cops, too. The only show that came close to The Shield in portraying the entire police force as corrupted was the British Red Riding trilogy (which would be another example of dark, violent and depressing as hell programming) and even there were one or two honest police officers.

        I don’t remember a rape in Mad Men, but then I’ve only seen the first season.

        As for the “you just don’t understand it” card, that particular forum was infested with a person (a bestselling writer even) who always knew everything better than everybody else. He even tried to school me on my own mothertongue at one point. There’s a reason I no longer hang out at that place.

        You might be right about the killer from A Cask of Amortillado getting away with it. It’s been a while since I read Poe and for some reason, I also keep getting A Cask of Armotillade and The Tell-Tale Heart mixed up.

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