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The Anti-Hero Rides Back into Washington

The latest trend is disturbing.

by
James Jay Carafano

Bio

January 10, 2014 - 8:00 am
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Three of the most popular “holiday” films share common cause.

In American Hustle, a corrupt FBI agent recruits a corrupt businessman to go after corrupt politicians in a mind-numbing series of acts of betrayal, greed, and lust.

In the Wolf of Wall Street, a corrupt stockbroker enlists his equally corrupt buddies to swindle honest people in order to fuel his company’s depraved, drug-fueled lifestyle.

In Inside Llewyn Davis, a selfish, dead-beat, second-string folk singer meanders around Greenwich Village accomplishing not much of anything other than letting down anyone who cares anything about him.

Each film trumpets the return of the anti-hero.

Nothing signals a shift in popular culture more than the return of one the most time-worn tropes of Western cinema.

The anti-hero is not to be confused with the lead character we love to hate, like the sleazy Gordon Gekko played by hair-slicked-back Michael Douglas in Wall Street (1987). Nor is an anti-hero the noble character with deep flaws such as Llewelyn Moss, the day-old beard, enigmatic welder (Josh Brolin) who runs off with the cartel’s cash in No Country for Old Men. Anti-heroes are not flawed, they are both intentionally amoral and the camera wants us to root for them anyway.

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True Grit and Patton did better than Midnight Cowboy and MASH.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (5)
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To be honest, I never saw the anti-hero as being primarily a creature of political fashion.

I find it easy to believe that screenwriters, directors, and actors, by their very nature, get bored and frustrated creating one-dimensional Dudley Do-Right, apple-pie heroes AND paint-by-numbers, hissable villains. They prefer complex characters with an edge to them. After all, Hollywood's ultimate anti-hero was played by none other than John Wayne, in his most memorable role as the dark, unfathomable, Ethan Edwards in 1956's "The Searchers".

My thesis--should you choose to accept it--is that the rise of the anti-hero was enabled by the general wave of post Hayes-Code productions so the phenomenon was only coincidental with Vietnam and Watergate. Of course, Hollywood went overboard with their cultural orgasm of self-hatred (mainly among the Beautiful People) and movie-going numbers began their sharp downward trend (see: "Hollywood vs. America"--Michael Medved, 1992).

Speaking for myself, I have always preferred my heroes with a little bite to them and villains that are not all bad. I say it's part-and-parcel with the conservative nature to instinctively reject the superficial categorizing and pigeonholing of human beings and the conservative acceptance of human nature as sublimely im-perfectable.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Gangs of New York still eerily relevant.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
"lead characters that were morally ambivalent or downright evil and despicable." Which character are you speaking of in the cartoon "Despicable me"? Or for that matter, "Mash"?
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
True Grit and Patton did better than Midnight Cowboy and MASH.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
And there you go (1969...?...!). What was John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn but a classic anti-hero? In this case, a Good Guy with a LOT of rough edges. Kim Darby's Mattie Ross was not out for cosmic justice, she wanted to hunt down and KILL her father's murderers.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
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