Introduction

This essay provides a description of such a trend of current pop culture as shows and films. The attention will be paid to the background of popularity and high demand on it. This essay will cover the reasons of high availability of anti-heroes. The main enthymeme will be that anti-heroes reflect real life characters because they are a mirror of human nature. This essay will cover several questions and issues. It will investigate whether shows with anti-heroes are so popular because they reflect the dark sides of our individuality. Moreover, the paper will seek to discover whether human dark side is as horrible as it is shown in popular shows. Finally, it will explore whether the most popular shows gain their popularity due to the negative character of their main heroes.

Films and Shows with Anti-Heroes

This essay will cover the topic of high popularity of anti-heroes against the background of the most popular shows and movies of the last several years. Among such shows are Breaking Bad (with the anti-hero Walter White), House of Cards (with the anti-hero Frank Underwood); all films about James Bond (with the anti-hero James Bond), films about Iron Man (with the anti-hero Tony Stark). These films and shows have several similar features. The first one is an anti-hero who has a doubtful character. He can break moral norms and laws for the sake of gaining his aim. Several visions and explanations as well as the answer to the question whether these shows and movies are so popular because characters of main heroes reflect individual characteristics of each viewer will be provided below. This essay presents description and analysis of main heroes of the films and shows mentioned above because all of them contain another considerable similarity. This similarity is reflected in their popularity and a strong plot. Viewers have to start with the first episode of season one of Breaking Band and House of Cards in order to understand them and become interested in these shows. Is it enough to see several series from the second or third season of these shows in order to understand the plot, the main idea, and all social issues being covered? The majority of people will have a negative answer to this question. People who were involved in production of these shows (producers, actors, even operators) not only describe some story but make it interesting. They master the plot of the show, and representation of this plot forms from episode to episode. This idea is supported by Murray and Tobias: “greatness in a dramatic series isn’t possible without a strong (i.e. predominant) serialized element. That’s the common denominator of all significant shows of the last decade – The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bed et al – which thrive because they’re constantly moving forward and revealing new things about their characters and their cinematic universes”. The character of Walter White has changed under the influence of numerous stresses and shacking situations. Different sides of character of Frank Underwood have become evident only as per his actions in numerous life and political situations. Viewers can not even know a thing or two about the extent of his craft, dexterity, cruelty, etc. Additional attention should be paid to political events depicted in House of Cards. Producers not just visualize the story of one of the Congressmen who intends to be the President of the USA (adaptation of the novel of Michael Dobbs). They make it interesting by incorporation of elements reflecting the current political situation in the world (for example, interaction of the President of the USA and the President of the Russian Federation; the issue of persecution of homosexuality in Russia, etc). Much attention should be paid to the fact that the majority of series of these two shows end with an unexpected turn of events: “sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised by the direction a show heads in, as has been the case consistently with Breaking Bed”. So, viewers desire to watch the next episode to see the decisions and actions of main heroes in these stressful situations: “unlike wholly serialized shows, you don’t feel like you’re reviewing a book chapter, yet it’s rich and varied enough to give you something to sink your teeth into every week”. Noel Murray and Scott Tobias made the following assumption in the work How Has the Culture of TV (and TV-Watching) Changed?: “any show that doesn’t demand to be watched in full can’t be that good”. Are Breaking Bad and House of Cards good shows? The majority of people will have a positive answer to this question because the series are popular. This is also supported by the fact that these two shows are among the most favorite shows in the USA and the UK. However, are these shows good as they proclaim good, highly moral, and ethical behavior? McLuhan pointed his opinion on this matter by the following: “the products of modern science are not themselves good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines their value”.

The popularity of films about James Bond and Iron Man all over the world is unarguable. It is supported by numerous admirers (several generations like films about adventures of James Bond), tremendous budgets and box office, great play of actors, work of producers and musicians, a great number of visual effects, impressive landscapes, etc. These films were nominated for numerous national and international awards and obtained them. There are no doubts about popularity of these films. However, let us return to the question about Breaking Bad and House of Cards: are these films good as they proclaim good, highly moral, and ethical behavior, or perhaps, their popularity is granted by unusual and impressively broken behavior of main heroes.

This essay will describe negative sides of behavior of main heroes of the shows and films mentioned above in order to converge to answers to these questions. However, are these sides really bad? Do they bring evil ideas into our minds? Or do they just reflect dark sides of human nature? This essay will cover the following enthymemes: these main heroes are bad because they are humans; these shows and films are popular because they depict the behavior of anti-heroes. Both common and distinct characteristics of each main hero will be described further.

All of them have a flawed moral character. They can perform immoral thing in order to achieve their goals. Are all of these goals beneficial to the society? It is a rather arguable question. On the one hand, main heroes intend to protect society from the evil (like James Bond and Iron Man) or grant their families financial help (like Walter White). However, actions of these heroes are also directed at acquisition of funds and power. Walter White could stop his activity and not become the main drug baron on the territory of the USA by killing or suppressing of his competitors. He could stop, but he did not do that. 

The next distinct characteristic of all anti-heroes mentioned above is steadfast moral views. These people take sharp and strong decisions. They reach their goals notwithstanding any moral or social issues which arise on their way towards reaching the settled aims and tasks. Morality, ethical norms, social oppression (oppression by their family, friends, and colleagues) can not stop them. Is moral determination a desirable trait for everyone? A lot of people want to reach their goals, be powerful, independent, and rich. However, most of them are stopped by morality and ethics. Does human ego insist on reaching the goals mentioned above even though they require to break moral principles? Breaking Bad, House of Cards, films about James Bond and Iron Man are so popular since they show us people who reached their intentions despite everything, unlike the majority of common man. 

Is the life of anti-heroes unreal? Do the shows and films mentioned above reflect the stories far from reality? One can argue that plots depicted in these shows and films are fictitious. That is why the behavior and character of main heroes is also unreal. These shows and films are popular because they combine real and unreal events. Of course, no one (maybe except scientists) has an iron costume for flights (like the main hero of Iron Man), but nowadays, the technological progress is present in all spheres of our lives. Not each person is a drug baron, but sometimes people face considerable problems with health, financial issues, inability to help and understand our families, lack of recognition by the nearest and dearest (like Walter White). Sometimes people should make considerable efforts to change their behavior, profession, and lives in order to alter these situations and solve existing problems. Not everyone is a Congressmen; however, the majority of people want to obtain power and recognition of the society, like Frank Underwood. 

All these anti-heroes have numerous features of character which are common to a great amount of Americans. All of them are reliable. Their reliability is reflected in their imperfectness. These heroes make mistakes, take dishonorable actions, feel fear, anger and disappointment, and a lot of other emotions. At the same time, all of the characters are rather complex as they combine numerous features and feelings, good and evil, intentions to help the society and gain their personal benefits. They face considerable social issues in shows and films (like the majority of people), which they are obliged to solve in a manner which is not acceptable for them. Usually, life conditions force them to make unethical and immoral steps, sacrifice their own interests and those of their nearest and dearest.

 

Additional attention should be paid to the combination of real world situations and behavior with the fantastic and unreal. For example, adventures of James Bond are rather artificial; however, they take place in common places of our world like mountains and casinos. On the one hand, the main hero is a common man who performs complicated tricks. James Bond wears costly clothes and drives expensive cars. This reflects such a negative feature of this hero as narcissism. The character of James Bond shows his strong assurance that he is much better than others. Is James Bond an anti-hero? On the one hand, he saves millions of lives of common citizens by struggling against evil. On the other hand, this personage does not correspond to the existing norms of ethics, morality, and law. James Bond performs frequent manipulations with other people for his own purposes. Unlike millions of people in this world, he has the right to kill (or a so-called license to kill) any person if he considers that it is necessary for achieving his goals. 

It should be mentioned that manipulation with other people is among the most notable inherent features of all anti-heroes mentioned above. All of them use their charm and force of argument, economic and political influence, friendship and family relations to make other people do things and perform actions which they want notwithstanding the fact that these actions can harm and endanger lives of people who perform them. The art of manipulation is reflected in almost every step that they make. Is manipulation becoming so popular and widely used because it is an inherent part of our everyday life? Nowadays, almost every person is being manipulated by his or her friends and neighbors, employers and colleagues. He or she is obliged to perform unfavorable actions as per request of other people because of his or her personal dependence (honorable attitude, etc) on these people. The pressure of dependence and manipulation makes people’s life more complicated. Mass media, popular culture, and its reflection via shows and films propose views to change the social roles. Viewers identify themselves with main heroes of movies or shows. They enjoy the ability of these anti-heroes to manipulate others and force them to do what they want (but not be manipulated by others). These actions of anti-heroes reflect inherent desires and wishes of representatives of the modern American society.  

Background of Flawed Moral Character

The next question raised in this essay concerns the backgrounds of the flawed moral character of main heroes and the whole American society. It should be noted that several past years have brought a considerable concussion into the American life and behavior of people. An unstable economy, non-fulfillment of political promises, terrorist attack on September 9, 2011, the War in Iraq, numerous destructive hurricanes, and other stresses have made human behavior sharper and personalities more reserved. Some people have become more oriented on gaining their personal benefits instead of serving the whole society. It is also supported by the fact that the American society is an individualistic one. It proclaims personal rights, liberties, and their security by the law (as each person is considered to be unique, he or she can freely express thoughts and visions that do not harm others). However, this behavior is significantly deeper and sharper in shows and movies.

One more considerable issue raised in the films and shows containing anti-heroes under analysis is reflected in the desire of fast results, fast acquisition of wealth, fast recognition, and fast life of main characters. Frank Underwood breaks the law, cheats, and kills people in order to become the President of the USA prior to official elections. Walter White murders numerous people, lies to his friends and family, makes and sells crystal meth in order to earn money. James Bond and Tonny Stark risk their lives not only to gain general benefits for the whole society but also for their own pleasure. All of them have a similar characteristic of their behavior, the desire to obtain quick results by jeopardizing their social position, their life and lives of the nearest and dearest. Desires and intentions are put above life and social relations.

The individualistic character of the American society combined with the concussions of the recent years lead to stiffening of human behavior. With the existence of a strong understanding that hard work and ethical behavior will lead to prosperity and stability, people’s beliefs are wavering. Viewers are less interested in highly moral and ethical main heroes of shows and films because they clearly understand that these heroes are far from reality. Happy endings do not always happen in our lives. Nowadays, a lot of people are interested in heroes who can stand against horrible life issues and find solutions in Catch-22 situations because their life has led to the formation of their character and devaluation of moral principles. Films and shows reflect people’s existing or desirable behavior. People need not only anti-heroes who struggle against numerous issues in their lives but also love stories, adventures, fantasies which describe honor, self-immolation, and virtue. However, this essay stresses on the idea that modern pop culture consists of a great variety of different anti-heroes. 

The Message to the American Society

The modern American pop culture and means of mass media not just show the life of anti-heroes, their actions, and behaviors. They also reflect the existing behaviors of common people. Marshall McLuhan stated in his work Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man that “the media is a message”. It brings some idea to population. The media is a message because it is the reflection of people’s thoughts and actions, intentions and desires, the real and unreal. Each film or show has a message to the audience. McLuhan stated the aim of this message brought by media by the following: “to a highly literate and mechanized culture the movie appeared as a world of triumphant illusions and dreams that money could buy”. 

The increased amount and great popularity of films and shows which describe lives of anti-heroes are based on a considerable growth of anti-heroic behavior in the American society. Common people want to be strong and steadfast. They do not want to be manipulated by the society; they prefer to manipulate by themselves. Viewers strive to gain fast results (fast money, fast recognition, fast acquisition of power) instead of hard work and gradual career movement and development. Some of them want to have an ability to break the existing laws and regulations, social norms and standards to obtain their personal benefits and not to be punished for breaches. Anti-heroes reflect the dark side of human nature. Their moral character and ethics are broken and flawed. The character of anti-heroes is realistic because it reflects brokenness of people’s intentions.

This essay has explored the issue of the modern American pop culture that has a personal and social value, i.e the growing popularity of films and shows with anti-heroes. In this work, several shows and films have been analyzed: Breaking Bad, House of Cards, films about James Bond and movies about Iron Man. All of these films and shows have an anti-hero as the main character of the plot. Anti-heroes have similar features such as the desire to obtain benefits quickly (money, power, and recognition), narcissism, a flawed moral character (reflected in breaking of laws and regulations, moral and ethical standards for their personal benefits), and manipulation of other people. The popularity of these shows and films is based on the fact that these features are close to viewers as they show desires, intentions, wishes, and perceptions of the audience. The shows and films mentioned above contain the message of social behavior and the existing issues of the American society.

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