I promise, this post is not about pro wrestling…so stay with me…
In the 1980’s Hulk Hogan was the biggest star on the planet. His theme song was “Real American.” It had true blue, patriotic lyrics like “Fight for the rights of every man.” He advocated saying your prayers and eating vitamins. He lived and breathed off his fans, the Hulkamaniacs. He was everybody’s hero. And then everything changed.
In the 1990’s, people turned on Hulk. They were tired of his platitudes, his goody two-shoes posturing, and started booing him. Then in 1997, the world changed. Along came Stone Cold Steve Austin, the beer-drinking, middle-finger-waving, bald, goateed redneck who’d just as soon beat up your mother as a bad guy. Along came The Rock, a brash, young punk with movie star looks who didn’t go anywhere without wearing sunglasses, saying things like, “It doesn’t matter what your name is!”
And the crowd loved it. Austin and The Rock took everything the Hulkster stood for and turned it on its head. They were good guys, in that people rooted and cheered for them, but bad guys in manner and speak. The swore, they drank, they talked down to just about everyone, and they always backed up their words with fists. They were anti-heroes.
Today, the anti-hero is bigger than ever. You see them everywhere, from such characters on the small screen like Vic Mackey from “The Shield,” Christian Troy from “Nip/Tuck,” Tommie Gavin from “Rescue Me,” even Sydney from “Alias.” You see them on the big screen in characters like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, and pretty much every Clint Eastwood movie ever (save “Million Dollar Baby”). Rappers like Eminem and Lil Kim were hardly the kind of people you’d take home to meet the parents, but we loved their brashness, their underlying pathos. In fiction, you have characters like Jack Reacher. John Rain. Anita Blake. People toeing the line of good and evil with remarkable dexterity.
It seems that these days, the public doesn’t just accept these rebels, but embraces them perhaps more than those who exhibit larger, purer, virtues. Though it’s not just the last few years where the Anti Hero has popped his or her head up. Indiana Jones had a mean streak. La Femme Nikita didn’t take crap from anybody. Bud White and Jack Vincennes had good hearts…but would never let you see them. Even James Bond as originally conceived was a much different, darker character.
But these days, the Anti Hero seems more the norm than the exception. Perhaps its because the world these days is seen more in shades of gray than the good old black and white. There’s no room for “Good versus Evil,” only “Slightly Less Bad versus Slightly More Bad.” And we eat it up. We’ve seen some of the most complex and interesting characters ever created in the last five years, in every conceivable art from.
At Thrillerfest, I had a long chat with a bestselling author about the antihero. His latest book featured such a person, a man with a good heart who’d done evil his whole life, but his world is thrown upside down when he has to protect the one thing he holds dear. It was fascinating to listen to, and I’m eager to read the book. More so than if the hero was Ah-nold or Sly, bland machines who would rather exist in the b&w than straddle the line. The author’s last few books had featured such characters. But he said it was this new creation who excited him more than any other fiction he’d written.
They’re captivating, complex, existing in light and shadow…and we love them for it.
Long live the Anti Hero.
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