RTFU

Rooting For Evil

By
Updated: July 14, 2014

 

By Kelly Crigger

“I can’t watch this anymore,” I say to my wife.

“Why?”

“These are bad dudes. They rape, kill, and foment biker stereotypes. Why should I want them to succeed?”

“Because it’s a good show and you want to see what happens next, bonehead.”

She’s right. It’s a very good show, but at the same time they’re pressing my moral panic button and I feel ashamed to find myself rooting for the Sons of Anarchy. So much TV content nowadays feature a protagonist that is inherently evil yet we keep watching and even hope that he or she gets away with their nefarious activities. Hollywood does such a good job of building up a character that we want to get behind him even though he does very bad things that we find ethically reprehensible. So who’s to blame, us or them?

The Sons of Anarchy, Boardwalk Empire, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Americans, Shameless, Game of Thrones, Scandal, Dexter, House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and of course The Sopranos all feature main characters who engage in illegal activities like murder, racketeering, drug smuggling, blackmail, torture, payoffs, book cooking, cat juggling, you name it. There’s no two ways about it…they are bad people who do bad things.

And yet their characters are presented in a way that you feel like an inept nerd for not being on board with their cause so you stretch your own moral standing and become sympathetic with the characters. We want the Sons of Anarchy to run guns and get along with the Mayans because we hold out on a flicker of hope that Jacks Teller will see the error of his ways, change the club, and maybe not hide Santa Claus’ body in the California redwoods. We want Walter White to succeed in dealing his homebrew meth, Francis Underwood to pass laws for his own good, Dexter to get away with murder, Don Draper to have yet another affair and not get caught by his Sainted wife, and Olivia Pope to solve a crime even if she has to use Presidential power to pervert the law. We get so involved in the characters that we compromise who we are in order to see them win. And that’s the scary part. Is our integrity that weak that we can sacrifice it at the altar of entertainment? Are we that easily manipulated by a compelling story? Or are we just so insanely desperate to fix someone?

I think it’s a combination of all three. I think we’re easily connected to a character and made to feel sympathetic to his cause no matter how wrong it is. I think humans are addicted to the feeling of hope and channel that into a fictional character that we want to change into a better person. And I definitely think we need someone to fix (especially parents like me).

But this is also entertainment. We’re Americans and at the end of the day we watch TV to be entertained. That means we need to have a reason to keep watching no matter how bad the hero (or anti-hero) is. If the storyline is good and the characters are interesting then we compromise ourselves in order to see them succeed even if it means rubbing out some unlucky innocent bystander to achieve their goals. The days of a consistently squeaky clean protagonist who does good things and teaches his sons great moral lessons he learned fighting the Great War are over. As sad as that is, I get it.

sopranosThe modern age has been flooded with so many hard luck, derogatory, and filthy stories from the seedy underside of life that nothing shocks us. Nothing. Leave it to Beaver has no place in this world of thongs, blowjobs, crack, implants, and chicks in thongs giving blowjobs to get crack and implants while dropping more F-bombs than the Memphis Belle. June Cleaver is too sterile and generic. We need hard hitting cop dramas, life-or-death ER rooms, a Southwest drug war, high stakes 1950’s infidelity, medieval incest and torture, and a scorned housewife who slashes off a penis in the middle of the night just to arouse our interest. In this day of 1000 channels if it doesn’t make my jaw drop then why watch it? I have the power to watch anything at anytime which raises the ante on Hollywood. So the viewer has a powerful bloodlust like never before and who’s really to blame for it?

Hollywood is a profit motivated market and one of the most cutthroat of all. With every movie made, millions of dollars are at stake and the competition to break into the industry is incredibly tight. Take it from a guy who has tried for years to get his screenplays noticed by anyone…this field is tighter than a nun’s cunt at midnight mass. So can you really blame Hollywood for using their talents to make money even if it means manipulating your feelings and making you question who you are? Or do you, the viewer, who’s so easily swayed away from your own moral base really hold the rose of blame? Are they just giving us what we want and if so, why do we want it so much?

Cooking meth and selling it on the street is as vile and anti-social as it gets, so we’re revolted by this kind of activity in real life no matter who’s doing it. Yet as you watch Breaking Bad you see Walter White’s motivations and his constant struggle to overcome the obstacles created by law abiding citizens placed before him and those who are even worse than him so you cheer him on. Cook baby cook! Sell it on the streets Jessie! Kill those rival drug lords because they deserve it and you don’t!!

Watching that show and any like it where the protagonist is morally and ethically fucked creates a conflict inside us. Do I want to fix Walter White and Jacks Teller or am I really the one who’s broken here? Maybe that’s why we keep watching. It’s not about them so much as it is about us. In that case I’m glad I stopped watching.

Comments

comments

11 Comments

  1. Jeremiah

    July 14, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    It is really funny that I read this article while I am marathoning Dexter episodes.

  2. leftoftheboom

    July 14, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Temptation is the challenge. The internet provides every cyber vice you care to name and the rest can easily be found a short distance from the home. We live in a world of instant gratification where every desire can be granted and yet we still have crime.

    Why? Because the pleasures still cost money and there are easier ways to get it than working and those ways also deal in the pleasure of power. Power is more addicting than meth. A criminal gang or individual wants money but the want power, they want to exercise power because in the end, power is the final answer.

    The people who make the shows, who write the stories, it is about money, but more power. Who controls the mind of the people, controls the world.

  3. Kelly

    July 14, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Leftoftheboom…I think you’re really an uber successful screenwriter masquerading as a vet. Damn you and your always accurate know-it-all human emotion barometer.

    • leftoftheboom

      July 14, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      I try to use my powers only for good, lately. But I can promise that Hollywood has never heard of me.

  4. JoeC

    July 15, 2014 at 8:21 am

    Do people watch this because it is really what they want to watch, or is it because there aren’t any viable alternatives? I see the same thing happening in radio. A new song comes out and it sucks, but the DJ tells everyone how awesome it is and then plays it 3 times an hour until everyone believes him. I think the TV industry is doing the same thing. They bring something out and tell you before it’s even been shown that it’s a “great new hit series” and people jump on the bandwagon.

    • Common Sense

      July 20, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      It’s 2014, the internet, Netflix, and regular old DVD rental all have options. In addition, the shows mentioned are very highly rated- NON network shows. If you don’t like it- there has literally never in the hisory of humanity so many other options.

      • Common Sense

        July 20, 2014 at 12:10 pm

        Meant to post:

        “there has literally never in the hisory of humanity BEEN so many other options.”

  5. Gunship Load

    July 17, 2014 at 10:53 am

    I am reminded of a song by “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen…

    57 Channels and nothin’ on.

  6. Common Sense

    July 20, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Firstly:

    “Cooking meth and selling it on the street is as vile and anti-social as it gets, so we’re revolted by this kind of activity in real life no matter who’s doing it.” -You are wrong, MANY people don’t give a shit what anyone else does as long as they don’t deliberately hurt people around them.

    Secondly:
    Why didn’t you mention all of those “good guys” who act like pieces of garbage. Ever watch “Blue Bloods”, where the police go around kicking the shit out of everyone to get a confession. How about every cop show for the last ten years- where the police just do what they want and it’s all justified?

    People watch shows like Sons of Snarchy, because it’s well crafted and engaging. The Jax Teller character doesn’t advocate hurting innocents, and wanted to sell guns to gangs who kill eachother. In reality this might be a pipe dream- but as far as his personal narrative goes, he is trying to do right. Dexter kills other killers, Nucky Thompson just wants to pedal some liquor- against a law which is ridiculous.

  7. Common Sense

    July 20, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    You wrote:

    “The Sons of Anarchy, Boardwalk Empire, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Americans, Shameless, Game of Thrones, Scandal, Dexter, House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and of course The Sopranos all feature main characters who engage in illegal activities like murder, racketeering, drug smuggling, blackmail, torture, payoffs, book cooking, cat juggling, you name it. There’s no two ways about it…they are bad people who do bad things.”

    I disagree that they are all bad people who do bad things. In all of those shows there are some people who do “bad” things, but there are also available characters that you could root for who don’t do “bad”.

    You are also making the judgement that “bad” is synonymous with “illegal”. Many of these characters carry out illegal activities, but are not by definition “bad”. They don’t seek to do evil, but they take actions that are considered illegal or socially taboo.

    People like these characters for two reasons- FREEDOM, and POWER. Most of these characters act in a manner that many would like to, without the constraint of social taboo, they exhibit freedoms we legally don’t have. They would like to punch out the person who hit their car, or shoot someone who is child murderer. As much as people like to root for the underdog- they also are impressed by cleverness and the ability to achieve power. People want to see how the powerful (gang leaders, politicians, corporations) achieve their status- and having an imaginary window into that world is entertaining.

  8. jer

    July 20, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Is America not dexter to the world???

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