Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hero vs. Protagonist

            People do not understand the terms, "Hero" and "Protagonist".  I keep hearing people describe Walter White of "Breaking Bad" as an Anti-Hero, mostly because he does criminal activity for understandable reasons.  Yeah he is not a "hero" at all.  He is a villain.  He is a villain protagonist.
            To be fair this is a problem created by a cultural norm started with a lot of older movies.  The norm was to portray the good guys in the protagonist role, giving them clear motivations, causing people to think that motivation = heroism, and that main character = hero.
            Truth is, bad guys have motivations, they make decisions just like everyone else in the world and can be motivated by simple or complex needs and desires just like a hero can be.  Luke Skywalker is a hero, he does the right thing for the right reasons (though gains complexity as he does endanger himself and his friends for the sake of trying to bring his father back to the light side), Han Solo starts as an anti villain, does the right thing for the wrong reasons (saving the princess for reward).
            On the other end is Walter White who starts as an anti-hero, doing a bad thing for a good reason (cooking meth to pay for his care and to leave his family something after his death), then moves into full blown villain as he does things out of pride and greed overlooking extreme violence or committing violent acts to continue with his criminal lifestyle even though he doesn't need to.
            Villain protagonists are not common and so people tend to call the main character the "hero" of the story when that is more and more not the case.  TV is a cluttered medium, and in order to gain traction with an audience TV is taking steps toward more and more violent, nefarious, or just evil characters.  This has made things much less heroic.
            Look at the nominations for best series, "Breaking Bad" (show about the complex world of drug dealing), "Homeland" (terrorism), "House of Cards" (political intrigue and dirty dealings), "Mad Men" (ADVERTISEMENTS, is there a greater evil?), "Game of Thrones" (Dark fantasy with mass murder as a series highlight), "Downton Abbey" (Classism and idol rich).  Compared with 2000: "ER" (doctors saving lives), "Law and Order" (cops and lawyers fighting crime), "The Practice" (more complex, lawyers seeking justice and paychecks), "The West Wing" (ultimate romanticized political drama), and "The Sopranos" (the mob).  Things have gotten a lot darker, with only a couple shows analogous to each other and most modern shows taking after the tone of "The Sopranos" more than any of the others.
I have cancer, that makes it okay for me to hurt people in the pursuit of massive wealth.
Just for my own amusement to illustrate my position I am going to list a few of each type of character alignment.
Hero (right thing, right reasons, right methods):
Movies: Luke Skywalker "Star Wars", Hercules "Disney's Hercules", Batman "The Dark Knight", Atticus Finch "To Kill a Mockingbird"
TV: President Bartlett and pretty much the whole cast of "The West Wing", Doctor Green and pretty much everyone from "ER", Ned Stark "Game of Thrones", Hank Schrader "Breaking Bad"
Comic Books: Superman "Superman", Captain Marvel "SHAZAM"

Anti Hero (right thing, questionable reasons, questionable methods)
Movies: Batman "Batman", James Bond "Skyfall", General Patton "Patton"
TV: Jack Bauer "24", Walter White "Breaking Bad" (Initially), Tyrion Lannister "Game of Thrones", Stannis Baratheon "Game of Thrones"
Comic Books: Wolverine "Uncanny X-Men", Jesse Custer "Preacher"

Anti Villain (wrong thing, right reasons, questionable methods)
Movies: Tyler Durden "Fight Club", Will Munny "Unforgiven", HAL 9000 "2001: A Space Odyssey"
TV: Saul Goodman "Breaking Bad", Theon Greyjoy "Game of Thrones" (Very Close to Villain)
Comic Books: Black Adam "52", The Authority "The Authority" (Initially Anti-Hero), Magneto "Uncanny X-Men"

Villain (wrong thing, wrong reasons, wrong methods)
Movies: Joker "The Dark Knight", Hannibal Lecter "The Silence of the Lambs",
TV: Tuco Salamanca "Breaking Bad", Walter White "Breaking Bad" (Later Seasons), Ramsay Snow "Game of Thrones", Gregor Clegane "Game of Thrones"

Comic Books: Apocalypse "Uncanny X-Men"

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