“Where have all the good men gone?” sings Bonnie Tyler, echoing what I feel in my own trope-frustrated heart. All I see around me is a wasteland of tortured heroes: the anti-heroes. I was originally tempted to blame everything on the generation around me, since they mess up everything anyways, from the housing market to resurrecting 90s fashion. But after scratching the surface, it is evident that the popularity of the anti-hero is supported entirely by the human condition. It is no news to anyone that people have always needed to hope and believe that despite their flaws, they can still make good and right decisions that help society and make them feel happy. And that’s exactly who an anti-hero is, he’s someone who does the right thing despite adversity.
(I shall continue to use the “he” pronoun to describe the anti-hero, because there are really no popular female anti-hero characters, mostly because anti-hero personality traits are more believable and excusable in male characters.) According to a theory examined by the American Psychological Association, there are two categories that can be used to recognize and define an anti-hero: the Dark Triad personality traits and the life history theory. Not only does it sound super cool, the Dark Triad trait theory is super simple. Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy make up the Triad, and having one or more of them classifies your guy as an anti-hero. In example, Dr. Gregory House from House, M.D. displays Machiavellian traits as he blows past hospital regulations and patients’ feelings to get to his end goal: a cure. Society tolerates him because his overall contribution to the world is positive (even though he’s a total jerk).
The life history theory analyzes the life strategy of an anti-hero compared to the life strategies of other humans. Humans are the slowest creatures. They have a long gestation, they mate for life, they have fewer young and invest more. Anti-heroes typically display characteristics in contrast to this process: spreading their progeny about, removing themselves from social communities. But despite the often unpleasantness of these anti-heroes, they still make up most of our beloved characters! I can’t list them all, but because I grew up with him and adore him, I will list Harry Potter, and just him. Heroes can often be unrealistic, because authors struggle to imagine a character without sin who still can relate to the human condition. The term “good guy” falls flat because he sounds so two-dimensional. But the “bad boy”, the tortured hero? He’s got an edge that makes him stick out.
It doesn’t matter what is going on in the world, doesn’t matter where in the world you find yourself, or which century is happening, stories of anti-heroes will surround you. Humanity is constantly reminding herself that despite brokenness or deformities, there’s still the power to make a decision to fight for what is good and right. However, I have to admit, I stand with Bonnie Tyler, holding out for a fast and fresh hero, strong and larger than life.