Anti Heroes In Television Essays

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Five important events occurred in the last few months that have radically altered the history of TV’s so-called Golden Age. Going backwards chronologically: Last Sunday, Breaking Bad ended its five-and-a-half-season run with a generally-beloved finale; the Sunday previous, Dexter ended its million-season run with a generally-loathed finale; on Aug. 11, AMC debuted its terrible new show Low Winter Sun and gave everyone the funniest running joke of the year; on June 30, Showtime debuted its terrible new show Ray Donovan and gave everyone fresh opportunity to ponder Jon Voight’s forehead; and on June 25, Brett Martin’s book Difficult Men hit stores, presenting a behind-the-scenes view of the era that transformed television and in some ways providing the blueprint for the conversation taking place now about the overabundance of Antiheroes on television today.

Difficult Men was not the first history of 21st century television nor the best — both those honors belong to Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised — but it had much savvier packaging. Whereas Sepinwall’s book presented a panoramic portrait of the last two decades of TV drama through the prism of a wide-ranging assortment of shows, Difficult Men zeroes in on a hyper-specific subset of TV drama. Mainly, it’s a portrait of the era of the HBO Davids — Chase, Milch, and Simon. More generally, it’s a portrait of the rise of dramas focused on men who have more problems than old-fashioned TV protagonists.

Martin stretches to include Mad Men‘s Don Draper, and it’s only in the last chapter that he starts talking about Breaking Bad. But Walter White is on the book’s cover — again, savvy packaging! — right above Tony Soprano. There are a wealth of arguments raised by the book, and the catchiest ideas are:

1. That the shows covered by the book were not just the best shows, but the most defining and influential shows of the decade.

2. That the shows covered by the book are unified by the fact that all of their protagonists were “antiheroes.”

3. And therefore, the notion of the “antihero” is the defining thing about television in the first decade of the 21st century.

The problem with this reductive thinking is it attempts to graft a clear-cut narrative onto an era that was defined by rampant and diverse experimentation. (The obvious antecedent is Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, another Hollywood biopic focused on the myth of the rebel badass.) The SopranosDeadwood, and The Shield are radically different shows. Linking them all together because they star “antiheroes” was always a tenuous idea, but it was easier to do seven or eight years ago, when it was possible to consider yourself an expert on “good TV” if you only watched cable shows.

And yet, the central idea of Difficult Men — it’s right there in the title — has caught on in a big way. There is a general sense that Breaking Bad represents (or should represent) the end of an entire “antihero” genre — and that the simultaneous disappointment of Dexter’s home stretch and the non-starting new series Low Winter Sun and Ray Donovan are further expressions of just how boring “antiheroes” are now. A widevarietyofessays has generally declared the end of the Era of the Antihero. At the same time, it’s become weirdly common to refer to almost every show from the last decade that was just a little dark as being an “antihero” show. As Laura Bennett pointed out in the New Republic, the term “antihero” is essentially meaningless now, a catch-all term for Protagonist Who Isn’t As Purely Heroic As Sam Waterston on Law & Order.

There’s a slight reductionist logic to all the writers calling for an end to antiheroes. Ray Donovan and Low Winter Sun are bad; hence, it’s time to move on. But those shows are not bad because of their lead characters’ moral ambiguity. As my colleague Mark Harris said in an essay appearing in this week’s magazine: “What great shows understand is that being an outie [Orifice Utilized to Issue Excrement] is not in itself an interesting quality, and bad shows aren’t going to convince us otherwise simply by having every supporting character gaze at the hero in head-shaking wonderment about how one-of-a-kind he is.”

There’s also some revisionism at work here. Tony Soprano is not Walter White. The rough outline of the two characters has a lot in common — suburban dads who are also criminals — but practically everything about their background, their emotional makeup, and their perspective on the world around them is different. (To say nothing about their creators’ perspective on them: Breaking Bad liked Walter White much more than The Sopranos liked Tony Soprano.) The link gets even more tenuous when you throw in Al Swearengen from Deadwood or Jimmy McNulty from The Wire. What really links these characters together is complexity. Al Swearengen is a monster who speaks in prose-poetry and does terrible things for the greater good of the community; McNulty is a vain alcoholic, workaholic, and possible sex addict whose sole redemptive trait is that he loves Baltimore too much.

These characters paved the way for a whole wave of complex TV figures, in the same way that Spider-Man paved the way for superheroes with problems. (ASIDE: They also paved the way for a new renaissance in TV comedy, which nobody has written about yet because writing about comedy is intrinsically unfunny. END OF ASIDE.) But referring to them all as “antiheroes” — indeed, acting like “antihero” is a genre instead of an incredibly vague descriptive term — reduces an exciting TV era into a binary hero/antihero equation. It also ignores how several TV creators took the opportunity for new complexity and ran in all kinds of directions. Olivia Pope on Scandal is an awful person in nearly every way, and yet you root for her. Raylan Givens on Justified is a flat-out hero — he does “bad things” in the ethical sense, but his morals are always in the right place except w/r/t the women in his life — but the show has given him the kind of psychological shading that’s usually reserved for law-enforcement officials with British accents.

And shows all across the spectrum of popularity and goodness — Game of ThronesOrange is the New BlackTremeThe Walking DeadBoardwalk Empire — regularly subvert the whole idea of “heroism,” presenting worlds where any idea of morality is a disputed territory. (From one perspective, everyone on Treme is an awful human being; from another simultaneous perspective, they’re all victims engaged in a daily triumph of the human spirit.)

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Breaking Bad is over, and Low Winter Sun is bad: These two things together do not mean that the idea of the antihero is fundamentally finished. It also does not mean that we have learned everything we can ever learn from the turn-of-the-millennium TV renaissance. The SopranosThe Wire, DeadwoodMad Men, and Breaking Bad were shows filled with stylistic innovation and narrative exploration and thematic interpretation. We miss the point when we reduce them to difficult men.

Catch-22 Anti-Hero Essay

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What an Anti-Hero is from Joseph Heller’s perspective in Catch-22 The word hero is used a lot during this day and age. The problem is people do not understand what that word means anymore. Sometimes most people in life are closer to an anti-hero than a hero. There are degrees of anti-heroes in the world. One of them is the good anti-hero. There are many examples in the world, but most of them come from television. According to Alston, Nathan Ford from the TV show Leverage is considered an anti-hero because he breaks the law to take down the big corporation that is hurting the little guy.

One of Nathan’s famous lines is “Sometimes the bad guys make the best good guys”(Alston). Another good anti-hero that Alston uses is Jack Bauer from the TV show 24. When Jack has to explain to the United States Government for all of the unspeakable things he has done to the people who are hurting the country, Jack replies with “For a combat soldier, the difference between success and failure is the ability to adapt to your enemy. The people I deal with, they don’t care about your rules. All they care about is results”(Alston).

Both of these criminals have done bad things, but still have morals. Another Journalist named Robert Abele shows us some of the darker anti-heroes on TV. Dexter Morgan from the TV show Dexter and Walter White from the TV show Breaking Bad are considered bad people. Dexter has a code to kill serial killers, but he would have become a serial killer himself if not for his step-father. Walther White had to sell drugs for his cancer treatment, but Abele points out “What is the point of no return? ”(Abele).

Most of these great TV shows have to thank Joseph Heller for his work on Catch-22. Joseph Heller is the first to create a modern day anti-hero in Catch 22 because Yossarian is a man who has many characteristics of a villain, but still has goals that many heroes have in their quest and also has many surrounding events that make him seem more like a hero than a villain. Yossarian is considered one of the most interesting characters of the twentieth century. Since the beginning of the book, most readers could tell that Yossarian was going to have a troubling and hard time in this war.

One of the first thoughts of Yossarian was that he was just a scared little man who did not want to go to war, but had to because he was drafted. According to Heller, Yossarian was having a big problem with the enemies. They were trying to kill him, but Clevinger was trying to prove that everyone else was having that problem. Yossarian retorts back with “And what difference does that make? “(Heller 24). Yossarian is a man who does not like seeing the ugly side of the war. Yossarian just wants to be able to go home and just forget about all of the experiences he had in the war.

The problem with this argument is that Yossarian is still a patriot at the beginning of the novel. Yossarian could have decided to run away at any point during his enlistment to the beginning of the book, but Yossarian believes that he does have to serve the great United States of America for all of the great things this country has done for him in the past. If the ending event did not occur, the people of the United States would have had some respect for Yossarian for flying so many planes for his country.

One of the main problems that Yossarian had to face during his time and why Yossarian tries to spend most of his time in the Infirmary is Catch-22. Doc Daneeka explains to Yossarian about Catch-22 that: There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them.

If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. (Heller 55) Yossarian finally is able to understand what has kept him flying each and every single mission. He is obligated by his captain to fly a specific number of flights to be discharged, but his captain keeps raising the number by five any time anybody is his unit is close to breaking the number so that he could look good for his superiors and keep his men under his control. This clause noted above also keeps anybody from trying to get out of the war because it is too tough.

All of these events have led Yossarian not to respect his commanding officers and act disrespectful to them. All Yossarian wants to do is go home. The talk about what life is worth comes up. When Yossarian’s company is talking to an old sacrilegious man, they begin to talk about the war that occurring all over the world. The sacrilegious man states that every country is suffering losses from the big war. Nately who is a park of Yossarian’s company tries to explain to the old man that anything worth living for is worth dying for. The old man replies with “And everything worth dying for, is certainly worth living for”(Heller 247).

Yossarian takes this saying to heart. Yossarian knows there is so much more to life than war. He is trying to get out of this war to try and experience some of the great things that are a part of this life. He also knows that everyone in the world can work a compromise. Yossarian has been working with some of the strangest characters in the world, but he is able to trust them in battle with his life. He knows that if he can work with these crazy people every day, then civilized people can put aside their differences and come to an agreement that will not put anybody’s life in danger.

As we get through the novel, we see many different sides of Yossarian. Yossarian might have started this war with a gun loving attitude, but something changed him. The critic Pinsker reveals that Yossarian had a pretty traumatizing event with one of his fellow pilots named Snowden. He supposedly died after he was shot and the plane went down (Pinsker). Scoggins asserts that the secret the Yossarian was carrying was that when he was treating Snowden with his wounds, he opened up his jacket and all of his guts spilled on the floor killing him (Scoggins).

This whole event changed the way the Yossarian looks at life. He goes from a gun loving attitude with no respect for life to a tragic state of mind and loves life. He has seen how precious life is and now wants to spread to the world that life is precious. The only problem is that he is surrounded by males who only want to kill the enemy. He is a prophet with no people to follow him. Everyone in the camp calls him crazy, but he is one of the few guys there that is sane. The middle of the novel has many important events for Yossarian, but the end of the novel holds most of the character changes for Yossarian.

During the whole time of war, if someone was killed in action they were replaced with someone else who had enlisted or was drafted. Towards the end of the novel, Yossarian notices that most of the new recruits were getting younger and younger. This means that the draft age was lowered so the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force had enough soldiers on the battlefield. These disgusts Yossarian like it should disgust any person who reads this novel who is not a fan of war. Anybody could understand that men should be able to fight a war, but when young adults or eens are fighting the wars they know that this war is getting too bloody and needs to end soon. The final chapters of the novel show the reader the overall transformation that Yossarian has gone through to get to where he is at the end of the novel. When his captain is able to locate Yossarian for his desertion, the captain does not dishonorably discharge him. The captain gives him two options. Either he can be dishonorably discharged from the Air Force or support a bill that would allow even younger men to be able to get into the draft, but he would be sent home with full honors.

Solomon endorses Yossarian because he made the impossible choice. Yossarian decides to run away to a neutral country. He understands that when a gun is put at your head, there are many options for a person to do instead of getting the gun out of their hand or getting shot (Solomon). McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, especially of pro-Communist activity, in many instances unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.

Heller is able to use some parts of his novel to show the bad sides of McCarthyism and how it can have a negative impact on the surrounding area in Catch-22. The main author whom I got most of this information from was from Joan Robertson. Robertson stated at the beginning of the essay that Catch-22 was “First published in 1962, Heller began the notes for Catch-22 in 1953, when McCarthy was at the height of his power, and so it is not surprising to find that the character of McCarthy and the events of the era are so key to the development of the narrative”(Robertson).

Most of the artists and authors back in this day and age wanted to show how corrupt this man and type of system was since they were especially targeting American citizens who were in some form of art or literature. So when they could have, they would sneak in some secret way of showing that McCarthyism was bad. Heller did publish the novel after McCarthyism had faded, but the idea was still fresh in many of Americans’ minds that he wanted to shed some negative light on the subject. There were many people who were hurt during McCarthyism, but according to Robertson Clevinger were confronted at the beginning of the novel.

The strangest of all strange things in Clevinger’s life was the “hatred, the brutal, uncloaked, inexorable hatred of the members of the Action Board glazing their unforgiving expressions with a hard vindictive surface”(qtd. in Heller 83). Even though Clevinger is one of the main people who argues with our protagonist most of the novel, we have to feel sorry for him. Robertson acknowledges that this same brutality is in the transcripts of McCarthy’s interrogation of witnesses. As Yossarian says, “They’re after everybody”(qtd. in Heller 83).

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Nathan Ford, Dexter Morgan, Jack Bauer, and Walter White are today’s modern anti-heroes. All of these men should give some praise to Joseph Heller and his protagonist Yossarian for creating the modern day anti-hero. Most of these TV show characters have the same basic qualities as Yossarian has throughout the novel. Yossarian might not be the perfect man, but he has many redeeming qualities and is in a bad situation that makes him be thrust into the hero position. He is not born a hero, but he is molded into one. Works Cited Abele, Robert. Antiheroes. ” Variety 428. 7 (2012): 48. OmniFile Full Text Select (H. W. Wilson). Web. 8 Jan. 2013. Alston, Joshua. “Too Much Of A Bad Thing. ” Newsweek 153. 2 (2009): 58-59. Readers’ Guide Full Text Select (H. W. Wilson). Web. 8 Jan. 2013. Heller, Joseph. Catch 22. Trondhjem: J. W. Cappelens Forlag, 1961. Print. Pinsker, Sanford, and Denise Wiloch. “Joseph Heller: Overview. ” Reference Guide to American Literature. Ed. Jim Kamp. 3rd ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Jan. 2013. Robertson, Joan. They’re After Everyone: Heller’s Catch-22 And The Cold War. ” Clio (Fort Wayne, Ind. ) 19. (1989): 41-50. OmniFile Full Text Mega (H. W. Wilson). Web. 7 Jan. 2013. Scoggins, Michael C. “Joseph Heller’s Combat Experiences In Catch-22. ” War, Literature & The Arts: An International Journal Of The Humanities 15. 1/2 (2003): 213-227. OmniFile Full Text Select (H. W. Wilson). Web. 7 Jan. 2013. Solomon, Eric. “Catch-22: Overview. ” Reference Guide to American Literature. Ed. Jim Kamp. 3rd ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Jan. 2013.

Author: Irvin Norwood

in Catch-22

Catch-22 Anti-Hero Essay

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