A New Type of Hero: the Role of the Anti-Hero in Contemporary Literature and Film

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Wade Evans
Instructor Reynolds
English 300
19 November 2012
A New Type of Hero: The Role of the Anti-Hero in Contemporary Literature and Film On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred at a Cinemark in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. A gunman, known as James Holmes, dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas grenades, and shot into the audience with multiple firearms, killing twelve people and injuring fifty-eight others. This was the highest number of casualties in an American mass shooting. He was arrested minutes later outside of the movie theater. An ongoing debate exists to whether the movie influenced or caused the shooting. The growing popularity of the anti-hero in contemporary American mass media is a reflection of the change in morals, culture, and lifestyle that took place during the 20th and 21st centuries. According to The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, an anti-hero is “a protagonist…who does not the exhibit the qualities of the traditional hero” (21). The literary origination of both heroism and the anti-hero are addressed in the article “From Hero to Anti-Hero,” written by Dr. Rosette C. Lamont. Lamont explained that the concept of heroism began with the Greeks and was defined by divine intervention or when a god came to earth to do something. Originally, a hero was a man who accomplished a heralded task through being a god or with the help of a god. As Lamont states, “Archaic man did not believe any more than primitive man does in the autonomy his acts” (2). The conceptual origin of the anti-hero also began in ancient Greek literature not too long after the traditional hero gained popularity. According to Lamont, Odysseus of Homer’s Odyssey is the first literary anti-hero. Not to be confused with a tragic hero, an anti-hero is different because the anti-hero is reborn without dying. Odysseus’s success is not self-destructive like famous Greek tragic heroes such as Achilles or Oedipus. Odysseus reaches heroic success through “deceit and subterfuge” (14). As the usage of the anti-hero in plays and other forms of literature became more popular in Greece, plays started mocking rites of passage that traditional hero characters took. This, among other variants upon the concept of the anti-hero, began to catch speed in mainstream Greek literature, and the rest is literally history according to Lamont. Who is your favorite superhero? Is it Superman? The superhuman that fell from outer space right into the backyard of Smallville, Kansas, and was raised by caring parents who instilled within him a strong sense of morals and who ended up only using his powers for the betterment of humanity. Or is it a hero like Batman? Who is an obscenely rich upper-class citizen that had to become superhuman and essentially was a noble criminal that may have had to step on a few theoretical toes to do what is best in the grander scheme of things. If you answer with “Batman,” you more than likely would enjoy reading works such as Hamlet, Paradise Lost, or Fight Club. These literary works/films all are considered to be famous examples of the anti-hero being the main protagonist. Hamlet: 20th Century American Masculinity and Educational Values Redefined Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare is a piece of Western literature that was written in a different time, where the world was a different place. But even today, from mass media outlets such as television and movies, to high school and college class rooms, Hamlet is still relevant. The way literature becomes canonized such as this is through having idealistic content that can stand the test of time and still be applied to modern times. Shakespeare presented a non-traditional hero in the character of Hamlet. Hamlet was different. He was more interesting. He was an anti-hero. Traditional heroes in literature have very few flaws and sometimes no flaws at all. While reading Hamlet, it is almost like...
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