It has been argued that the continuing popularity of the antihero in modern literature and popular culture may be based on the recognition that a person is fraught with human frailties, unlike the archetypes of the white-hatted cowboy and the noble warrior, and is therefore more accessible to readers and viewers . . . In the postmodern era, traditionally heroic qualities, akin to the classic ‘knight in shinning armor’ type, have given way to the ‘gritty truth’ of life, and authority in general is being questioned. The brooding vigilante or ‘noble criminal’ archetype . . . is slowly becoming part of the popular conception of heroic valor rather than being characteristics that are deemed un-heroic.
An approaching film, “The Watchmen”, based on the 1980’s Hugo-award winning graphic novel by Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (illustrator), is probably the best example of this development. Another recent example could be the character of Bruce Wayne (a.k.a. Batman) in the two recent Christopher Nolan films. In general, antiheroes follow pulp fiction and film noir narratives, a response to the traditional comic book heroes of the early war years (e.g. Superman). But they have certainly extended into other arenas as well. An example of what seems to be the most morally detrimental expression of this is the game series “Grand Theft Auto.”
Nonetheless, I sense an increasingly nihilistic worldview attached to antiheroes. In many cases a sense of hope in good has been removed—hope, namely, in something beyond or greater than society. The primary example of this for me is the presentation of spirituality. In films such as “Constantine” or “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” there seems to be an incredible lack of a strong realm of good to counter the clearly-presented realm of evil. The battle is usually between humanity and evil. Yet, as humanity is inherently flawed, it appears to be a battle between a greater evil and a lesser evil. Naturally, not all art forms demonstrate this trend, but it does seem to be on the rise.
Thinking of the latter, there are numerous recent film antiheroes who resort to incredible violence in the name of justice (e.g. “The Punisher”). A quote by the character Aereon from the film “The Chronicles of Riddick” offers another example of a potential shift to unbalance in its narrative:
If we are to survive, a new balance must be found. In normal times, evil would be fought by good. But in times like these, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil.
Is this true? Individuals, human and flawed, can be inspiring models of heroism. But overall I believe they must not take that power and irresponsibly to freely define their own moral action. This, in part, is the battle against extreme post-modernism. For uncompromised hope and victory, there must be a power greater than the fallible antiheroes including even national authorities. The only steadfast answer is God, the lord of creation. Though I will not delve into discussing it further now, one should note how Jesus offers a stark contrast in heroism to the common world hero. In his crucifixion, Jesus was a lion in sheep’s clothing. He fought injustice with the sword of his Word, against human sin nature and against the prince of the world (i.e. Lucifer). Only in this is the world’s search for hope satisfied. It is hope in divine justice and judgment, in grace and provision. It is hope in Love.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness,” Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed, “only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”