Do you root for the drug dealer in a TV show instead of the cop trying to fight for justice?
Nowadays, when watching a show, we actually find ourselves wanting the villain to win.
There is no longer a clear cut of good and bad. Rather, the two opposites have been morphed together to create the new star of television: the anti-hero.
The new age of television is full of anti-heroes — the main character who doesn’t have the usual good qualities that are expected in a typical hero. These characters commit murder, lie, cheat and steal, but for some reason we still idolize and root for them.
You can’t escape the anti-hero, because he or she is all over modern-day television. Walter White , Dexter , Don Draper and Nicholas Brody all seem like really good guys, but are they actually?
The first anti-hero can be recognized as mob boss Tony Soprano . Though he commits unforgiving actions, as an audience, we still think Tony is a good guy. We think this because through his illegal activities, we see him on the therapist’s couch every week trying to make sense of his problems. He has a family, can run several businesses and has good friends, which allows us to look past the atrocities he commits.
We consistently root for Walter White and hope he succeeds while he is killing, lying and manufacturing illegal drugs because he has a story that we can sympathize with. TV watchers perceive his criminal acts as justifiable and make sense out of them because White was just trying to help his family.
Dexter and Don Draper show us flashbacks of their terrible pasts, so we excuse their actions and pity them. We hope they both succeed and feel their pain when something doesn’t go as planned for the two.
Each anti-hero has a past, and something has caused them to be the way they are now. They have a background story that allows the audience to understand and ache with the character. We have compassion with the anti-hero because they reflect the complex, not perfect world we live in today.
The anti-hero doesn’t play by the rules and they decline the constraints and expectations society lays upon us. They do the things we are afraid to do as normal people. We can live through the anti-hero and not have to apologize for corrupt actions.
We want to see people who don’t behave correctly, who don’t always make the good decisions because it’s realistic.
As people, we realize no one is perfect, so we can see through the characters’ flaws.
Each character is delivered with at least a bit of humanity. They all have families or somewhat normal lives that allow us to see their repeated sins as versions of ourselves gone wrong.
We’re rooting for every man who lies and cheats because they all have a character flaw that, when we analyze ourselves, we can see as a weakness in ourselves too.
Though not many of us can relate to wanting to kill, we can connect because of the reason the anti-hero is committing the crime. We justify the crimes because the motive is relatable. We all know the feeling of wanting revenge or the need to help our family or friends. We can see the good because they stand for something that makes sense to us.
The anti-hero reminds me of sociology or psychology class, where the professor brings up a slide and says, “Should a man let his wife go without medicine or break into a store to steal her drugs?”
The anti-hero makes a crime morally justifiable. We allow the character to do illegal things because they give a reason for why they are breaking the law and we agree.
We sort of think, “Well, if I was in that situation, I’d probably do that too.”
We like to watch the anti-hero because we want to see those who don’t always make the right decisions — those who don’t behave correctly. After watching these types of shows, we no longer feel so badly about the acts we’ve committed, because we see characters on TV doing them as well.
The anti-hero can make us feel better about ourselves and therefore, we like them. Who wouldn’t like someone who makes you seem like a better person in society?