Has anyone else noticed the recent surge of popularity in movies showcasing mentally complex, vigilante-style, typically male main characters? Not only that but is anyone else a little unnerved by the accompanying fascination with said characters on social media? Be it Walter White from Breaking Bad, Tyler Durden from Fight Club or Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, there is an unequivocal abundance of admiration and idolisation for these characters plastered all around the internet; from Reddit threads to seemingly harmless memes shared among friends.
Heightened interest in these characters has gathered pace in recent years and has swept up a younger audiences too with TV shows and films that were once only available later at night or carried an 18 BBFC in the cinema becoming more easily accessible through viewing platforms such as Netflix and Prime Video. Certain characters are typically applauded for their cunning, violent and controlling mindsets and it is these traits that question the morality of the overarching idolisation they receive. Perhaps this apotheosizing arises due to the directors' attempts to make the characters seem relatable or in the way the directors invite the audience to sympathise with these villains. Yet, the strange thing about audience’s relationship with these characters that hasn’t been seen widely before is the audience’s sympathy and admiration seems to increase with the villains’ savageness.
So why are they idolised? When it comes to very impressionable young teenagers, any presentation of unrelenting confidence and daring rebellion might be appealing as many seek a non-conforming and headstrong figure to reinforce their sense of rebellion and individuality in a society that tells them otherwise. So, is support for these fictional characters actually damaging, or is it merely an emotional refuge for people that tend to live in a time of emotional uncertainty and are on the hunt for individuality?
At face value, I wouldn’t necessarily say it is. Idolisation and an interest for controversial characters in fiction isn’t uncommon. These anti-heroes tend to act in bigoted, racist, misogynistic or homophobic ways, which are typically accepted as a necessary part of their ‘rebellion’. For these actions to be idolised is where a simple interest degenerates and becomes, possibly, harmful. Young people admiring the characters who display these traits may condone the same discriminatory and bigoted views; in the worst cases, seeing these once devoted fans displaying discriminatory tendencies themselves. I wouldn’t say, personally, that admiring these characters for their character complexity or rebellion is immoral, as looking up to those characters will only ever be as immoral as the preconceived mindsets of the individual. However, some people may use these characters as a mouthpiece for their internalised negative views, therefore providing generalised negative connotations of the people that are interested in exploring the range of the character’s personality. Although I find it slightly strange watching ‘sigma’ videos of Patrick Bateman constantly dancing around in a psychotic frenzy, the disturbing content of this form of admiration doesn’t necessarily promote immoral behaviour in the audience and is instead, like literature, perhaps a relatively safe outlet for exploring the darker aspects of human nature.