Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why We Should Root For The Bad Guys

I've been watching Breaking Bad, a television show about a chemistry teacher turned meth dealer. He is the protagonist, the (anti-)hero, the main character. The show is about him, you are meant to sympathize with him, to feel for him, to root for him, even as he kills people and deals drugs. Is this a good thing? He's a bad guy. You're rooting for him, what does that say about you?


My parents recently stopped watching Breaking Bad. The show is quite dark but they also don't like 'rooting for the bad guys'. They stopped watching The Sopranos for the same reason. You're not supposed to want the bad guys to win, the gangsters and the drug dealers. So why do we feel this way? Why do we watch these shows about the bad guys? I have a theory.

THEY AREN'T BAD GUYS! At least, that isn't all that they are. Television has become so good these days in creating three-dimensional characters, in making characters that feel real. These characters, the gangsters, the serial killer(dexter), the drug dealers....They seem like actual PEOPLE. That's why we root for them. Maybe they are criminals but they are also fathers and husbands and wives and lovers and friends. They are just like you and me and everyone else except that maybe they make poor choices. Walter White isn't a drug dealer. He is a husband, father, and supports his family. He just also happens to be a drug dealer, but that isn't 'who' he is. He's a person. That's just one aspect. That's why we can root for him, like we can root for anybody. People are people, with feelings, belief's and thoughts as all of us. Television shows where 'bad guys' are the main subjects show this very clearly. They make you sympathize with them which I think is a good thing. People don't want to sympathize with 'bad guys'. They would rather think of them as 'evil' so they don't have to feel bad when those 'bad guys' get punished. If we root for a drug dealer on tv, what about drug dealers in real life? If we root for criminals on television, what about criminals in real life?

I think it's a good thing to realize not all 'bad guys' are just 'bad guys'. They are real people like you and me. They've made bad decisions of course and should not be excused for what they've done, but they shouldn't be seen as less than 'people' either, without their own thoughts and feelings.

I think of Swearengen in Deadwood. He is obviously a 'bad guy'. He deals in everything and kills people numerous times. Yet you end up rooting for him because he's the guy who's going to fight for the good of the camp despite all his bad qualities. He's not a bad guy, just a guy who does some bad things.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't have said it better. Routing for the bad guy makes us feel weird, but that's empathy we're feeling. We get attached to other humans that are expressing emotions (even if it's just slightly with Dexter) and suffering in the same way we might. I hate dehumanizing the enemy, and the military treats it as a necessary evil, and I don't know how to avoid it, but I'm thinking harder every day. If we just had an empathy committee, that'd be really useful maybe...A new job for me to fill in government!