We’re all familiar with anti-heroes on television.
We have Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. Tyler Durden from Fight Club. Severus Snape from Harry Potter and the psychopathic lead character from Dexter. We feel conflicted over these characters – we love and we hate them simultaneously. We root for them then distance ourselves from them. We both abhor and appreciate these characters because they are the realest damn characters we ever see depicted on TV.
But nobody wants to be them.
We hate anti-heroes in part because we’re scared that we are exactly like them – Flawed. Immoral. Lost. We don’t want to recognize the parts of ourselves that resemble these complicated characters because we’d rather be the heroes themselves. The pure ones. The strong ones. The people who always say the right thing and make the right choice and move through their lives in a blaze of honourable glory.
We want to be the heroes but we’re quick to ignore the unattainability of that desire. There are no one-dimensional characters in real life. And you’re certainly not always going to be the hero of your own.
The truth is, you’re going to mess something up at some point. Probably something huge. Something that makes you hate yourself – that knocks you down one or ten pegs. And that’s the point where it will become all too easy to take on the victim role. If you can’t be the hero, you’d rather be the helpless one. The unaccountable one. The who got dumped on by life and needs a hero to come along and save them.
We hate the anti-hero character because we prefer moral extremes. You’re batman or you’re the joker. You’re good or you’re evil. You’re somebody we all want to root for or you’re someone we hope will crash hard and burn. And we want to put ourselves into these extremes too. We’re either triumphing over our lives – riding in on a blaze of glory, or we’re hiding from it – waiting until we’re worthy of better circumstances. We don’t want to play the anti-hero because we don’t want to dwell in moral grey areas. We don’t want to half-root for ourselves.
But here’s the truth about heroes: None of the real-life ones are pervasively moral or gallant. None of them did everything right along the way. Not a single hero in the untelevised world has done the right thing at every opportunity they’ve had. They’ve all been anti-heroes at some point. They’ve all had to accept the darkest parts of themselves.
We are not the stock characters we’d like to be. Those don’t exist in real life. In real life, we all fall somewhere in the middle. We’re all the brave, wretched, strong, hopeless, determined, awful anti-hero that we so loathe to watch on TV. We exist in shades of grey. We’re all the people we half-root for.
And perhaps that’s something we have to get more comfortable doing – half-supporting ourselves. Half loving what we’re doing with our lives and half working on it. Developing the ability to segregate the parts of ourselves we are proud of and the parts that are in progress. When we lump it all together, we get a black-or-white version of ourselves. And the amount of energy it takes to shift from one category into another seems insurmountable. We forget that we’re halfway there. We forget that it’s not all bad.
There are times when you just need to be the anti-hero of your own life. You need to look at yourself as you are – not as you have been or as you hope you will be – and understand that you are not entirely one way or another. You’re not a hero riding in on a white horse to save the day. You’re not a villain, trampling over others on your way to the top. You are, in every way, a little bit of both. You’re a person who has good intentions but sometimes-twisted methods. You’re a person who’s made some bad choices but wants to turn things around for themselves.
Because here’s the thing about anti-heroes: They always do turn things around. By the end of a movie, every character that started off as a bumbling, self-loathing mess changes into somebody we root for. It’s the very end of the archetype – to transform. To grow outside of themselves. To pick up the pieces and move on from what they once were. These are the characters we abhor but they should be the ones that we admire. Because they’re realer than any hero out there and they’re more honourable than any victim.
Being the anti-hero of our own lives is something we all need to strive for when we’re down on the floor. It’s not a weak character to play – it’s the strongest one imaginable. It’s one who knows that where they’ve been does not necessitate where they are going. That their dark parts do not have to overcome their brave ones. That as flawed and as scared and as hopeless of a situation as they’re in, they’re not waiting for someone else to come along and save the day. They’re going to pick up the pieces themselves.
Because that’s the thing about heroes – they are not born in real life. They’re made. They are the failures who kept fighting. The villains who repented. The catastrophes who clawed their way back up from rock bottom. And the anti-heroes who overcame themselves.