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February 16, 2022

Antiheroes and Why We Love Them

Yesterday, I stumbled across something pretty interesting.

I’ve been consuming a lot of information lately about the art of storytelling. Not only is it for the sake of improving my creative work, but it’s also pretty damn interesting.

Will Storr’s ‘The Science of Storytelling’ has been a fascinating read so far. On the topic of tribalism, he points out that when a film character does something wrong, we often wish for justice to prevail against them. If someone humiliates an undeserving character, we want them to be humiliated back, preferably in front of everyone else!

However, some storytellers narrate a story from the point of view of an ‘antihero’, a central character who lacks conventional heroic attributes.

Think ‘Walter White’ from Breaking Bad, and why we all felt empathetic towards a ruthless drug dealer.

Here’s why Storr thinks we support ‘antiheroes’:

“But the awkward fact remains that, as we experience the story unfolding in our minds, we seem to enjoy ‘playing’ the antihero. I wonder if this is because, somewhere in the sewers far beneath our hero-making narrators, we know we’re not so lovely. Keeping the secret of ourselves from ourselves can be exhausting. This, perhaps, is the subversive truth of stories about antiheroes. Being freed to be evil, if only in our minds, can be such a joyful relief.”

Sometimes we’re not comfortable enough to visibly support the things we do, so it feels good to see things play out in a way we’d like.

Walter White might be a killer, but we still want him to come out on top. We empathise with his struggle and journey, so we overlook his shortcomings.

Funnily enough, the comedian Andrew Schulz mentioned something similar on the Colin and Samir Podcast (highly recommend — it’s one of my favourites).

Schulz talked about how numerous friends had sent him the same video clip by message, highlighting a controversial opinion that they likely agreed with but were uncomfortable with showing public support towards.

It made me think, is this our way of doing the very opposite of ‘virtue signalling’?

Is this our way of showing support towards the deepest, often darkest things we believe in?

I’ve always known that it’s worth paying attention to what people pay attention to, but these two examples have given me a lot to think about.

Can you relate to supporting antiheroes in this way? Do you publicise that support?

How do you share your unpopular opinions with other people, if at all?

I’d love to know.

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