Tag Archives: antihero

Heroic Motivation

I’m gonna do something a little different this week. A few weeks ago I wrote a post as a sounding board for a Research Paper I had to write for a class. Now I figured “hey, why don’t I post that research paper?” So I am. It’s much longer than a usual post (nearly 5 times as long), but I feel like it’s one of the best things I’ve written. So here it is, in all it’s A-, MLA-ish glory:

Heroes. There’s no such thing.” So says Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin in Iron Man 3 as he threatens the titular hero and, to an extent, the villain is right. Lately, heroes, particularly in adventure narratives, have taken a turn for the unheroic. Where once there were heroes like Luke Skywalker or Frodo Baggins who, through and through, were good to the core, now heroes are of a murkier sort. Even Iron Man is not a clear cut hero. In the past, protagonists were motivated to do their heroics simply because it was good. They were the good guys; the prince saves the princess and slays the dragon because he’s good and the dragon is evil. But time went on and fiction began to explore princes who weren’t so clean cut, heroes who weren’t good for the sake of good. Yet these protagonists remained heroes; they would still ultimately rise up to do the right thing and save the day (even if saving the day had little effect on the outside world). So what is it that motivates these protagonists who aren’t strictly heroes to heroism? Perhaps it would do to examine reluctant heroes from books, movies, video games, and television as diverse as Pi Patel, Tony Stark, Nathan Drake, and Malcolm Reynolds in the hopes of finding some commonality between them. What drives characters who are ordinary teenagers, irresponsible playboys, selfish treasure hunters, or lawless rebels to acts of heroism?

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With Regards To Motivation

I have a research paper I should be writing. I also have a stack of books near me ranging from On Free Choice and The Will by Saint Augustine, Iron Man and Philosophy, Campbell’s The Hero with A Thousand Faces, Finding Serenity, The Existential Joss Whedon, my own annotated copy of Life of Pi, The Philosophy of Joss Whedon, and a few others too. These are what people in academia call ‘sources’. I think I know what I’ll be writing about, but I’m not quite sure yet.

So, once again, I’ll be writing an essay (that’s not a rant) to hone in on it.

One of the ‘texts’ (a fancy word for story, apparently) I’ll be looking at is Uncharted 2. Because I love said game and the class is called ‘Adventure Narratives’ so it must be done. I wanna explore the tension of Nathan Drake between the two women: Chloe Frazer and Elena Fisher. No, not the love triangle, but rather how they represent his inner conflict. Chloe, who’ll pursue her goal with a keen sense of self-preservation versus Elena, who’s sense of justice overrides everything else. They represent Nate’s struggle to choose between what’s smart and what’s right. It’s fascinating, really, a layer of depth you wouldn’t expect in a video game. Ultimately, Nate chooses to do what’s right, to follow his duty.

(Note: Elena and Chloe are far more interesting than just representing Nate’s duality. But that’ll be in an essay for Games 101)

So maybe I’ll write about the duality of man/the hero, how the hero must choose between right and wrong. Interesting, but let’s read further.

In Christopher Robichaud’s essay “Can Iron Man Atone For Tony Stark’s Wrongs” he explores the duality of Tony Stark and Iron Man. Tony Stark was the one who screwed up his life and put weapons in the hands of criminals. Iron Man is the one fighting to make things right. Iron Man is an atoner; he does the hero thing to try and redeem who he was as Tony Stark. There’s his motivation, and that’s why he does what he does.

Wait. So maybe instead of looking at the tension, let’s ask why an adventure hero does what they do.

In Life of Pi (which is a book I read for this class, and I must include one from the reading list), Pi tries his best to stay a moral man adrift in the lifeboat because he’s a religious man three times over. His motivation is to please God, to serve him even when things look bleak.

Swell. Now let’s look at Firefly, because this is my research paper and if I want to write about Firefly for class then I damn well will. K. Dale Koontz wrote the book Faith and Choice in the Works of Joss Whedon which is proving to be a fascinating read that I’d like to give a proper look at when I’m not hunting for sources. In it he explores Mal’s faith and morality, exploring why he does what he does. In becomes apparent that after Mal’s loss of faith at Serenity Valley, the man chooses to rely only on himself and his crew. Threaten them, you threaten him (see Ariel, 1.09). But why? Koontz believes that underneath his calloused shell, Mal has a wealth of love for his ship and crew. It’s love that makes Mal take action, it’s love that drives him. This is driven home at the end of Serenity, when Mal tells River what the first rule of flying is: “Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens. Makes her a home.” (Whedon) Love is at the core of Mal.

But does this motivation of love apply to the others too? Pi’s religious reverence is certainly fueled by a love for God, so love is there too. That’s an easy one.

Nathan Drake chooses to do what’s right perhaps out of a love for Elena and her sense of justice. We see this echoed in Drake’s Deception when he apologizes for letting her down. His love for her means he wants to do what’s right by her. Hence his going after Lazarevic and being the hero, like what she would do.

It’s with Tony Stark that things get hairy. Or does it? In the film Iron Man, he saves the day at last when he stops caring solely about himself and is willing to love his fellow man.

So I guess it’s love, love of something more than oneself that motivates heroes to, well, be heroes.

Now let’s write this paper.

Btw, I have a new video. Check it out here.

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The Hero and the Antihero

The Avengers came out on BluRay (and DVD, but I’m a BluRay person) on Tuesday. Naturally, I have it. Now, stop your groaning: this isn’t another post just about how good that movie is. Well, okay, it kinda is, but not only. Trust me.

See, Iron Man and Captain America embody two distinct archetypes. Cap’s the hero, Iron Man’s the antihero. But neither Steve Rogers nor Tony Stark fall into the abyss of dull stereotypes.

Typically, these stereotypes are just the archetype in fancy clothes. Rather than getting an actual character we’re treated to the hero who believes that he must do good because it is good and good is what he does (because it’s good). The villain is an evil man who does evil because he enjoys the evility of evil. These aren’t characters. These are crappy plot devices dressed up as characters.

Compare Steve Rogers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s introduced in his movie as a genuinely good guy. He wants to become a soldier not to go on a Nazi killing-spree but rather because he doesn’t like bullies. He’s earnest, he’s good. In The Avengers he’s still that really nice guy. When he meets Bruce Banner he dismisses the monstrosity of the Hulk due to Banner’s intelligence. They want him, not the monster, and so Steve treats him as the scientist.

It’d be easy for Cap to become dull and uninteresting or, worse yet, corny. But he doesn’t because he’s got a character to him. He’s interesting, he has his ideals that go beyond good for the sake of good.

Tony Stark serves as his foil. The hero who’s not all that heroic isn’t exactly rare these days (a hero hero [like Cap] is hard to find instead). Tony wins us over due to his charm and, again, the fact that he has depth. When presented with the truth about his weapons he decides it’s time to fight back. He fights his own demons to keep up the hero thing.

He’s not glib and sarcastic just because it’s ‘cool’. Like Steve Rogers, he has a background to it all. Tony Stark is a man who bears the traits typical of the antihero, rather than being an antihero with a personality painted on.

So we have these two fully realized archetypes. Now what?

Now comes the fun part! What happens when the hero and the antihero collide? When idealism and cynicism meet, what do we have?

Tony and Steve butt heads in The Avengers. Whether it’s Tony messing with Bruce, Steve’s militaristic attitude to losing a soldier or anything in between, they seldom see quite eye to eye. It’s the interplay and clash between the two outlooks (and archetypes) that we find so interesting. A good deal of both characters’ arcs is spent on them reconciling their differences to work as a team (along with the rest of the Avengers). The payoff is, of course, getting to watch Captain America and Iron Man work together. And it means so much more because of the characters and the interplay of archetypes.

The thing about archetypes is they’re universal. Star Wars gives us Luke and Han. Luke’s the wide eyed idealist of a farm boy who yearns to save the world. Han’s the cynical smuggler who’s been across the galaxy a few times over. When presented with saving the princess Luke leaps to the call. Han opts to stay out of trouble until the prospect of payment emerges. Again: hero and antihero.

Luke and Han’s different views and personalities lend a humanizing aspect to the fantastic adventures. It’s not overt and not the focus, but it adds and help defines both characters. We have characters built on archetypes interacting and driving the story. Furthermore, over the trilogy both characters develop: Han gets his dose of heroism and Luke his darkness.

Sometimes both archetypes can be embodied in one character. Take Nathan Drake from Uncharted. Sure, he wisecracks, makes fun of everything, and happily insult his ex-partner-in-crime. But he’s also the guy who’ll risk his neck to save his friends and face a madman to save the world (berating himself the whole time). Within Drake we have an antihero with the core of a hero. It’s the internal tension between two archetypes that gives us a lot the character and heart in the stories.

Archetypes. Yay. Like most every trope/tool in literature/fiction, they can be used fantastically or wind up being sheer crap. Don’t think that sticking a hero, antihero, optimistic bruiser, angry stoic, atoner, and ace will elevate the piece. It’s about fleshing them out, making them interact, and, most importantly, making them interesting.

Normally, anyway.

 

Also: buy my book In Transit! There are characters who embody archetypes in it too! And they’re interesting too!

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