Today’s Dexter Week article is written by Miss Erika Eby, owner of HiJinks Studios and published author. When I first met Erika, she was introduced to me as Bob, with Miss Bob being her unofficial title. She was the president at the time of the renaissance re-enactment group at our college. Needless to say, it was a great start to a friendship. Having tabletop gamed with her a few times, and seeing Rodrick in his first inception, I knew that she was the one to write this entry about the Anti-Hero. I was very very happy when she agreed to write this article for me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
Semi-Coherent Ramblings on the Psychology and Creation of Anti-Heroes
Written by Erika Eby
There’s something innocent about wanting to believe that there are good guys and bad guys, black and white, easy to spot, and Superman will show up and know who is who and save the day. Kids’ shows are easy. The bad guys do something bad and the good guys rise to the occasion and take the moral high ground. Maybe someone waivers for a moment, but the whole thing is wrapped up with a pretty bow in under half an hour.
As we grow older, we realize that the world just doesn’t work that way. There are shades of grey and there are always loose ends left to tie up. Things rarely get tied up neatly, and when they do, it’s rarely in a way that we’d like.
Sometimes that means we cling to those childhood ideals of heroism even tighter. Sometimes that means we are drawn to the dark imperfections in our world and ourselves. It’s Superman or Batman; Cyclops or Wolverine. Me? I’ve always liked Batman better…and between you and me? Scott Sommers is kind of a pretentious prick.
What exactly is an anti-hero? Well, it’s hard to sum up. Early definitions all pegged the anti-hero as a villain, a “hero” that does not display heroic qualities. The reality is much more complex than that. Anti-heroes are murderers, thieves, and bastards. They blur the line between good and evil, right and wrong, or show us that the line was blurred or absent entirely before they every got there. Often times they have good intentions, but their actions are opposite of what is expected of a hero. Other times they do good things, but we see they have selfish or less than wholesome intentions at heart. Anti-heroes constantly force us to examine the difference between what is right and what is necessary.
As individuals, usually we’re drawn to anti-heroes sometime in our early teen years. As a culture, you could almost say the same thing. America’s rebellious and hormonal teen years were quite probably Vietnam. The years during and after Vietnam brought a number of gritty heroes or gritty reboots of old heroes.
There’s an ebb and flow to this mentality. When times are rough, we look to the anti-hero to do what is necessary, even if it may not be “right” by traditional standards. When times are good, we want to believe that there are still heroes out there. Batman is a perfect example. He started out as a vigilante that carried a gun and didn’t mind roughing up or killing criminals. Then in the 50’s, times were good and psychologists worried about the impact of such things on the minds of children, so the Caped Crusader’s world became more colorful and his demeanor more paternal. In the 60’s the character became more campy and lighthearted.
Sales dropped off in the late 70’s and early 80’s, in the Cold War and Post-Vietnam era. Enter Frank Miller and suddenly Batman is the Dark Knight once again. Not the hero the people want, but the hero they need.
That’s the delicious thing about anti-heroes. They speak to some primal, carnal, need inside our souls. They are a catharsis for every moment of every day when we’ve fantasized about getting even, about saying what we’re really thinking. Regardless of what it is that makes them anti-heroes, they speak to that dark passenger inside of all of us that we don’t want to admit to having.
This is the wonderful thing about Dexter, who may well go on to become one of the most iconic anti-heroes of our generation. The frills and trappings of a twisted sense of Chivalry are gone entirely. He pushes the idea of an anti-hero farther than most authors would ever dare take it. Dexter is a sociopath. He feels no remorse. He murders people and he enjoys the hell out of it. But he murders people that none of us would really miss. Murderers, child molesters, rapists… Like with Boondock Saints, he is killing people that many people talk about taking a gun to, vigilante style, anyway.
The thing that really makes an anti-hero, though, is the fact that some part of us likes them. We are drawn to them like moths to flame. Dexter is captivating and charming, and not just in the manipulatively charismatic way that sociopaths tend to be. He is equal parts repulsive and endearing.
This is what makes anti-heroes so challenging as a writer. There’s a fine line to walk between lovably wicked and just appalling. Creating an anti-hero is much harder than creating a hero, but also much more rewarding (at least in my humble opinion). Heroes are easy. They always take the high ground. You program in a set of morals and values, wind them up, and let them go. Heroes can get away with being flat and stale as cardboard. Not to say that all heroes are, plenty are not, but they at least have the choice.
A flat anti-hero is usually just a villain. In order to walk the fine grey line, anti-heroes need to be complex and well developed. They need to have justifiable reasons for their actions, well developed intentions, and something that makes them feel “real.” All important characters should be developed until they have that breath of life – you add details drop by drop until finally the cup overflows with a personality all its own—but anti-heroes need that quality in order to be likable.
Take my own pet anti-hero for example: Roderick, a vampire that was spawned from a role-playing game and is now the protagonist of one of my works in progress. To quote the owner of this blog “The man is a bastard, but we still love him.” He’s a womanizer and a drinker. He takes advantage of drunken college girls to get his hemoglobin fix. He has selfish interests and he is willing to lie, cheat, steal, and manipulate to accomplish his goals. He also has a soft spot for an abandoned fledgling he meets up with. He has a tumultuous love-hate relationship with his sire. He can be an aloof prick, but he’s also grappling with the loss of his humanity as he feels himself become more distant and cold as the years wear on. He’s been under development for years, growing and changing until he’s become more real than some of my friends.
That’s really why anti-heroes need that extra time, that last detail that makes them spring to life. We’d all like to be heroes sometimes, but the fact of the matter is: we’re not. We’re human. We’re all anti-heroes. Simple, complex, flawed, and beautiful.
About the Guest Blogger: Erika Eby is a professional freelance writer, editor, photographer, and photo editor. She has a strong writing background with over four years journalistic and academic experience. She graduated with honors from Carthage College and holds a BA in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing.
An avid technology buff, Ms. Eby tries to stay on the cutting edge of technology. She works part time as a photo technician and electronics specialist. Her hobbies include writing, drawing, photography, fitness, new age, and a wide variety of board, table top, computer, and console games. She has also recently started the company HiJinks, a freelance company for writing, editing, photography, and everything in between.
A jack-of-all-trades, her works can be found around the internet on Associate Content and Hubpages. She is also the author of an upcoming book titled “Writing Great College Research Papers: 101 Tips and Tricks to Make Your Work Stand Out” from Atlantic Publishing.