The dark attraction of antiheroes is widespread in our modern culture and society. It includes characters of all kinds. For example Walter White, Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Marvel’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Maleficent, etc. In the world of cinema, television, comics and literature there are many more antiheroes than heroes. Antiheroes are fascinating. Their moral values are often questionable and their behavior is sometimes even punishable. Even so, many people are still drawn to their dark side.
It is also clear that such psychological profiles have increased over the past ten years. People are no longer attracted to the virtuous characters as defined by Carl Jung in his archetype of the hero who, for whatever reason, fought against evil. The eternal saviors who brought light and fought the darkness are no longer inspiration today.
But why is it like that? What happened? There is no single reason, there are many different causes for it. The anthropologist Levi-Strauss said that no myth, legend or archetypal figure is random because all of these entities have their representation in the real world. In a way, people have started to feel closer to these fallible, imperfect, and sometimes even immoral characters than to the glorious heroes of yore.
If you want to learn more about the causes and the inner relief that is hidden behind the figure of the antihero, you should definitely read on!
The dark allure of antiheroes
The era of heroes seems to be over. Perhaps their heyday ended much earlier than it should have been. Figures like Hercules and Perseus have long since lost their former glory. Yes, the world of literature produced unforgettable personalities like the Count of Monte Cristo, but it was James Joyce who renewed that concept. He gave the world his novel Ulysses (English for Odysseus), in which people suddenly came into contact with a group of antiheroes that bordered on the comic and tragic.
In a way, every antihero has exactly the same ingredients: the haze of the traumatic and the downside of the comic. The Joker is an example of this, and while he may sometimes be mistaken for a villain, he carries the essence of the antihero in his DNA. He is a man with a terrible past who disguises himself as a clown, laughs at cruelty and paints a smile on a sad face.
It is easy to put yourself in the shoes of an antihero because he is not always happy and that is easy to understand in this day and age.
Authentic and imperfect anti-heroes
But it’s important not to confuse the textbook antihero with the one who is just plain imperfect. Tony Stark (Ironman) and Batman symbolize the latter. They have light and dark sides, one is eccentric and even irresponsible, the other has a complicated past that includes the death of his parents. Still, they are both heroes. They are characters who solve big problems and, as Carl Jung put it, symbolize the archetype of the Savior.
But actual antiheroes don’t save anyone. Because they have too much to do themselves to get up every day to be a savior. They are characters that emerge from adversity, trauma, loss and betrayal. They create their own world out of it, in which their own laws apply and their own value system prevails, which differs from that of the majority.
Good and bad dissolve and these characters can move in both spheres. They are capable of great deeds and are masters at breaking the rules.
Their dark attraction is based on empathy
Although people admire heroes, they still identify with the antiheroes. How can that be? Isn’t it a contradiction in terms that you can identify with characters like Walter White or Tony Soprano and enjoy what they do? This happens because the human sense of empathy leads us to identify more with those who are unhappy, desperate, frustrated, and who rebel and defend themselves against a failed system.
Walter White, for example, is a very personable character because of his cancer diagnosis. He’s a high school chemistry teacher. Still, he has no choice but to make methamphetamine to support his family. Then there is Maleficent, a fairy who was betrayed and abused by a lover and who not only abandoned her, but literally cut off her wings.
It’s pretty easy to identify with characters like this. Her dark side is attractive because you can empathize with the subject that brought her there.
The antihero sets you free in a failed society
The Punisher, Daredevil, Jessica Jones … In recent years there have been a multitude of adaptations of these characters even beyond the big screen. Something about these antiheroes works like a balm, a cathartic remedy. They represent many of the things that people would like to do but would never actually do. These antiheroes break the law in the name of justice. And they do so with the conviction that their actions are justified in a failed society.
There are times when the antihero takes drastic action against injustice. In addition, their extreme reactions are quite attractive and the viewer admires their determination in the face of things that they would never dare to change themselves.
The antihero never changes (and nobody wants that)
The dark allure of antiheroes cannot be denied, it exists. And this despite the fact that they lie, are cruel, treasonous, and even violent murderers. They can be very contradicting. Often you hate them and don’t really want to deal with them any further. Yes, at some point you even avoid them because they violate your own ethical and moral principles. But sooner or later you want to know more about her. So then you watch another movie or another episode of this series. Or you read another comic or another book …
Deep down, you don’t want these characters to change. For example, if a superhero strays from the path of good, he will do his best to get back on track. In contrast, the antihero will never try to change, and that’s what most people like about him: his (or her) imperfections.
In summary, it can be said that the heroes of today have been ousted by antiheroes. In a way, they act as a mirror of the darkest desires of people; those longings that you would never reveal to anyone.