March 25, 2018

Why Emulating Anti-Heroes is Not a Good Idea

Hollywood has long been the epicenter for trendsetting. For many men, emulating the style and behavior of their favorite characters from film and TV is part of growing up. Whether it is mimicking the comic delivery of Steve Carell or the stylish look of the latest James Bond, men are influenced by what they see on-screen. It should come as no surprise that in today’s society focused on ending sexual harassment, men need to look at anti-hero characters in popular media and reconsider emulating their conduct.


Who are the Anti-Heroes?

An anti-hero is a flawed character that may or may not make correct ethical choices. Hollywood has numerous examples of flawed protagonists. Often, they make bad moral judgments and frequently act in their own self-interest. In film and television, this writing device is used to hold the audience’s interest. A character is written to portray someone as being flawed but typically doing the right thing when necessary.

These flaws frequently include alcohol abuse, violence, harassment of women, or even being emotionally withdrawn from the society around them. At one time society was more accepting of these types of flaws exhibited by men in real life, but times are changing. These days, a substance abuse problem could require drug rehab in California, emotional outbursts call for anger management therapy, and harassment of women is simply unacceptable. Those with a tendency to keep their negative thoughts and feelings to themselves are encouraged to speak openly about them in an attempt to change.

Yet many men continue to idolize fictional anti-heroes who, as a product of the demands of a fictional universe, are written to resist the urge to conform to these standards. While such behavior makes for exciting and interesting films and television, the real world outcomes are rarely so enjoyable. This emulation can even result in depression, the result of trying to act in a way that is not natural or honest.

Examples of Anti-Heroes

The media fawned over the character of  stylish and suave Don Draper in the hit television series, Mad Men. Draper was a successful advertising executive who created some of the most widely recognizable advertising campaigns in the 1960s. As the series progressed we saw Draper repeatedly have affairs and were shown flashbacks that revealed that he had stolen his identity and had an abusive childhood.

Not all anti-heroes are abusive to others or to themselves. The character of Michael Scott, from the American version of The Office, is an anti-hero. He completely lacked a moral compass and was willing to bend ethics for the sake of making himself look good to others. His character flaws extended to every business and personal relationship he had.

Finally, James Bond was, at one time, just a hero. He saved the world, got the girl, and his license to kill gave him permission to eliminate villains. Today, many consider him to be an anti-hero. His treatment of women has led some to accuse him of harassment and sexual assault. The fact that everyone knows his martini is shaken and not stirred makes others wonder if he has a problem with alcohol abuse.

Expectations of Behavior

The #MeToo movement and resulting takedown of dozens of influential media figures brought to the forefront the importance of addressing sexual harassment. One of the reasons listed as a source for this type of behavior being accepted by so many for so long was the portrayal of men and women on-screen. In particular, the behavior of anti-heroes who had been looked up to for their ability to succeed despite having character flaws.

A discussion of anti-heroes will often lead to a heated debate. Questions will be asked about their underlying motives. Is it OK for them to act the way they do if they eventually achieve a worthy goal? The answer, of course, is no.

For men in today’s culture, the important thing is to understand that how they act is more closely looked at by others. Men should strive to be good people and make sound ethical choices while enjoying life. It is possible to both enjoy media and not emulate the anti-heroes you see on-screen. After all, it’s just a movie. Real life is far more complicated, delicate, and serious.