Monday, May 15, 2006

Anti-heroics

Yesterday I saw (saw, as opposed to watched, which means I actually had a real live cinema outing for the first time since, umm, Batman Begins last June) Thank You for Smoking. A smart, funny, pitch-perfect satire.

Thank You's protagonist is Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry--the least sympathetic character you could imagine, aside from a dictator. Yet from the first moments, Nick had the audience on his side. He used his gift of spin to create a reality in which he was the hero and the usual do-gooders--an anti-tobacco crusading Senator, a spunky young female reporter--became the villains.

Such is the triumph of the well-drawn anti-hero. In a novel, we don't have access to an actor with the facility and luminosity of Aaron Eckhart, so we have to find other ways to charm the reader.

Perhaps this is why most anti-hero novels are written in first person. The reader is allowed no emotional distance to criticize the AH's motives and acts. Either they happily go along for the ride, or they toss the book away in disgust, unable to make that moral and imaginative leap.

For instance, right now I'm reading Stolen by Kelley Armstrong, a novel with a female werewolf protagonist. In the first third of the book, Elena kills several men who are trying to capture/hurt/kill her, hunting one of them down as a wolf and tearing out his throat (after toying with him to prolong the enjoyable chase). She then jokes about it with her fellow werewolves.

Obviously werewolves believe they don't need to adhere to the same morality as normal humans. Anything goes to protect the Pack. I can buy into that worldview for the time it takes to read the novel, but I can see where another reader might not be comfortable in Elena's head.
  • Who's your favorite anti-hero? (Mine is Lucifer in Requiem for the Devil, but obviously I'm biased. Hee.)
  • What makes them so sympathetic, you root for them to overcome the "good guys"?
  • Are you just as happy with an anti-heroine, or are there some dastardly deeds --lying, cheating, stealing, killing--you only condone in male characters?
I'm off for a long day of writing and pretending the Internet doesn't exist.

Labels:

12 Comments:

on TV, at least, my favorite antihero is The Shield's Vic Mackey. He's a dirty cop, but he does it with such panache that you can't help but root for him rather than the conventional hero, Forrest Whittaker's relatively law-abiding (but conniving) internal affairs investigator.

Posted by: Blogger Rob S. at 5/15/2006 12:09 PM

Oh, he's one of the best! It's a real testament to the actor and writers to tread that fine line. One minute you hate Vic and wish he'd get his due, then you're rooting for him to get off scot-free. Hate the guy, love the guy! Hate the guy, love the guy!

We stopped watching The Shield awhile ago, but it had nothing to do with Vic.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 5/15/2006 1:05 PM

I remember. In case you're interested, that cat thing was never followed up on (although Dutch remains morally ambiguous in an entirely different way, generally led around by his vanity and/or penis).

Posted by: Blogger Rob S. at 5/15/2006 1:57 PM

It wasn't just that. It was the culmination of a few Season 2 (or Season 3?) eps in a row where the violence made me feel physically ill (Shane running over that guy after beating the crap out of him, the sexual assault on the captain, then the cat thing).

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 5/15/2006 2:05 PM

Ah, right. In that case, not so clear sailing ahead, sorry to say.

Posted by: Blogger Rob S. at 5/15/2006 2:53 PM

Tom Ripley, as portrayed by Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. At the end of the movie, I really wanted it to work out for him, regardless of how gruesomely he had behaved.

Posted by: Blogger Sharon GR at 5/15/2006 6:06 PM

Let's face it, most women find anti-heroes sexy, dark, smouldering, musterious---the kind you don't want to take home to meet your mother or she might run off with him, yes,the kind you know you
d NEVER want to marry...just like your Lucifer. Now it used to be said men wanted this kind of woman, so why wouldn't a female anti=hero do well?

Cecilia

Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 5/15/2006 6:29 PM

I'm with you on Tom Ripley, Sharon. I just wanted him to be happy with that sweet guy he met. The end had that inevitable, Greek tragedy feeling to it, though, like it couldn't have happened any other way without being sappy.

Now it used to be said men wanted this kind of woman, so why wouldn't a female anti=hero do well?

For the same reason an assertive man is admired while an assertive woman is called a bitch.

Most of the resistance to the anti-heroine, I think, comes from women, not men.

While there might be more strong female characters featured in the media than there used to be, it seems like women have to make up for their strength with extra virtue. The kick-assingest heroines have only the purest of motives.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 5/15/2006 7:57 PM

Well not totally Jeri. In the beginning of the movie Elektra, all she wants is revenge. She is angry and becomes an assassin. She doesn't have a change of heart until about the middle of the movie.

Posted by: Blogger Kathy at 5/16/2006 1:50 AM

I hate to point out (actually I love to point out, because I hated the movie Daredevil) that Elektra did terribly at the box office, which only proves my point. No one wants to see a movie/read a book about a female villain (although I won't blame the debacle that was Catwoman on that prejudice).

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 5/16/2006 9:05 AM

Actually I think Elektra did so bad because the storyline was awful. And Halle Berry has said that that was the case with Catwoman too.

Posted by: Blogger Kathy at 5/17/2006 1:00 AM

Well, there's that small detail, too.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 5/17/2006 1:16 PM

Post a Comment

NEW RELEASE!

This Side of Salvation

This Side of Salvation, Jeri's new contemporary YA novel!

Now available in hardcover and ebook.

“A smart, well-rounded, and unpredictable tale...bringing to light issues of belief versus free will, spirit versus body, and family versus self.” —Booklist, **Starred Review**

More about THIS SIDE OF SALVATION

Order from Indie Bound, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.com.

NOW AVAILABLE!

Shattered

"Shattered," a Shade novella!

Available here on this website as a free download in all major ebook formats, as well as a printable PDF (now with photos!).

More about "Shattered"

About the author

Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

Learn more about Jeri...

Photo © Geoffrey C. Baker

Sign up for Jeri's newsletter

  • First draft of secret new project

Current Reads


goodreads.com