Friday, October 24, 2014

Heroes, Antiheroes, and Us

Over on CT Alissa Wilkinson offered some questions for thought and discussion on the idea of female antiheroes--you know characters like Olivia Pope from Scandal. She asks
Where do we get the idea that protagonist ought to equal hero?
Protagonist technically means "first sufferer" or in other words: the character whose perspective you most closely follow as they encounter conflict. Wilkinson also asks a series of other questions
are there uncomplicated, unironic heroes on TV today? And were there ever really in the past? And do we want uncomplicated heroes? Could they be dangerous in any ways? How much of this is distinctly American? Are there ways that heroism outweighs the danger of presenting unmitigatedly good guys (other than Christ himself)?
I encourage you to read the whole article here.

She also references a couple other pieces.

This one which spurred her own thoughts.

And these two which she offers for reference.

You can read my response below:
I think we get the idea that protagonist equals hero from our own subjective viewpoint. As embodied humans we view ourselves as the "main character" of our life. 'Life's a movie,' and the camera follows me: it watches how I interact with situations and people and gives its overwhelming approval of (nearly) everything I say and do. Even when we lose an argument or flail in clumsy (or sinful) behavior we console ourselves: "If I had said _______ then they would have agreed! And if the circumstances had just been a little different I would have done right." We blame our failings on the externals... I'm the hero of my story.

When we then turn to the screen, we see the protagonist and imagine: "Ah. This person is the main character (like me). So s/he is the hero (like me)." And even though 'relatability is a trap--[a] cage for artistic ambition,' most viewers try to relate or see themselves in the shoes of the hero. When the character breaks out of that mold by doing something *I wouldn't do* then we react like pushing a parasite out of our body. We don't have to be taught to treat protagonists as heroes, it's simply our disposition. Something Disney reinforced by following our dreams in the shoes of one-dimensional princesses/kings. And something parents and teachers reinforced in the stories they told: children's stories like Aesop's, or retelling stories in child-fashion (eg. Sunday school Noah/Jonah/Gideon/David).

The truly phenomenal stories are the ones that develop a dozen (complicated) characters so well that you don't view any single one as *me* or as *hero*, but you view them as a cohesive whole. Playing to one another's strengths and weaknesses. Acting wisely even in moral ambiguity--since there is often more than one 'good' action to be taken. Stories like these are found in Tolkien's works, Doestoyevsky, Jane Austen, Alexander Dumas, Shakespeare. These stories teach people to analyze virtue and wisdom in the context of relationships and circumstances.

And certainly, if someone is going to make a character all-good, that character will have to be God... or else they will be bound by human limitations (or quasi-human limitations) and will fail to be all-good at a moment need.