The Rise of the Anti-Hero and ‘Breaking Good’

Written by R.G. Yoho on September 30, 2013

Recently, there has been a lot of print and news coverage regarding the upcoming finale of the AMC-TV series, Breaking Bad.

This program, along with a couple of others, such as Dexter and The Sopranos, which were also “highly-acclaimed” by the critics, have given rise to characters in the lead roles who were nothing more than homicidal criminals themselves.

However, I must also be honest and admit that these kinds of character roles aren’t exactly ground-breaking. Nor is it the first time we’ve seen them portrayed in television or cinema.

It could be said that a number of Clint Eastwood’s films, such as High Plains Drifter or Unforgiven, have given us lead characters who didn’t exactly fit the Roy Rogers’ image of wearing only the white hat or shooting the guns out of the hands of the villains.

Yet even in those roles, you often saw bad and ruthless men carrying-out brutal forms of vengeance on other men who were much worse.

As an author, I have often attended writing conferences where they routinely advised us to write “multi-faceted, complex characters, who are neither all good nor all bad.”

Yet despite this advice, I have never fully embraced their inane concepts of crafting an entertaining, readable, and engaging story.

I don’t really care for the concept of morally ambiguity, in my books or in real life.

As viewers across the nation watch these cable programs, they often find themselves in the odd and hopefully-uncomfortable position of rooting for the multi-faceted, complex villain, who is neither all good nor all bad, to successfully evade the police and to prevail in his crimes.

I find this trend rather disturbing.

Much too often, we watch these same scenarios play out in Washington politics, an ethically-challenged cesspool that is desperately in need of heroes.

Based on past practices, the relative success these programs have enjoyed will no doubt give birth to a host of imitations from competing networks.

These sometimes-charming, anti-heroes and their programs might be fading into the sunset, but I fear that we might eventually see the day when American viewers are not somewhat conflicted whenever they sit down to watch them.

It is my hope that the success of programs like Breaking Bad haven’t permanently broken America’s ideas of being good.

Topics: Breaking Bad, Anti-Hero, Right and Wrong, Moral Ambiguity

R.G. Yoho is a Western author who has published seven books, including “Death Comes to Redhawk,” along with a non-fiction work entitled “America’s History is His Story.”