Hero Hating

I have read all seven Harry Potter books, seen all five movies, and I look forward to the theme park being built in Orlando, Florida, and somehow, I hate Harry Potter. I have seen the first two seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with plans to finish the series by the end of the year, yet I don’t care for Buffy Summers. I have watched and rewatched LOST all the way through to this season’s finale, and I dislike Jack Shephard. I am probably the biggest Star Wars fan I know, but I don’t particularly like Luke Skywalker. The list could go on and on, but I hope you get my point.

I’m Beej, and I’m a hero hater.

I don’t know what it is, but I since I was young, I’ve always had a hard time rooting for the characters I was supposed to root for. I always liked the idea of the bad guy winning. I used to read comic books not for the heroes, but for the villains. I have always liked Venom better than Spider-man (well, maybe not always; he was a stinker in Spider-man 3). I watched Saw when it was new and exciting. When Jigsaw won at the end, I was giddy. The spoiled, alternate ending for Terminator: Salvation made me happy because it was beautiful irony that the bad guys would be leading the good guys. What got me reading comic books in the first place was my hearing about Superman being killed. I was mad when he came back to life because I had watched him die. I had hoped since Chamber of Secrets that Harry Potter would be killed. Words can’t describe the nerdrage I felt when Harry came back to life to defeat Voldemort. I felt cheated rather than exalted.

So what is it about a hero that is so antithetical to my enjoyment? I think I’ve narrowed the problem down to mainly being the hero archetype getting the credit for being special when there is very rarely a conflict overcome by the hero’s talents alone. The hero often has his or her boon companion or ensemble of friends that is often as equally skilled, if not more so, than the hero. And still it is the hero who gets all the credit for being special. I have never thought this is fair, so in my own way, I rebelled and started rooting for the other side.

The first example that comes to mind is Harry Potter. Sure, Harry is a nice enough kid, but he’s really nothing special. The only thing that makes him special is that he has part of an evil wizard’s soul inside him. He never solves anything on his own. Either Hermione or Ron or Neville or Dumbledore or someone else bails him out of his jam, and he’s hailed as being the chosen one. Why? Because he’s the one who the bad guys gun for. He’s the one in the spotlight. And it’s not fair to his friends to be consistently overshadowed when they’re the ones doing the work, specifically Hermione. She researches for him and finds out how to overcome most of his conflicts, but she sometimes gets treated by those around her as an overachieving nuisance, even though she is the one who does the legwork while Harry keeps all eyes on him. Not to mention that without Dumbledore’s guidance, Harry would have been dead long before Voldemort came to Hogwarts. Dumbledore oversteps his implied role as Harry’s mentor and becomes his companion and protector. If not for Dumbledore, Harry would have died in Chamber. If not for Hermoine, Harry would have died in…well, all seven books! And if not for Neville Longbottom, even, he would have died in Goblet of Fire, yet all of these characters play second-fiddle to Harry Potter’s predestination to be the hero, even when he is hardly qualified for such a role. He has a good heart, but, let me be honest, the kid’s a wiener.

In Buffy Summers’ case, she does her part to slay the vampires, and she makes a ton of sacrifices to do things herself, but she consistently whines and complains about everything that she has to take care of alone. And yet, she is not alone. She has the Scoobies. Again, she is the one all the bad guys gun for, but when push comes to shove, she has the support of Willow, Xander, Giles, Anya, Dawn, and a whole slew of other vampire killing buddies. Unlike in Harry Potter, it is not the faceless masses who never appreciate her friends; it seems to be Buffy herself. Before I get any hate, I understand that Buffy loves her friends and there are times when she acknowledges their service, but appear to be more times when the Buffster acts too much like a self-centered teenager for me to like her as a primary heroin. Sure, she goes out on patrol and gets her quota of dusted vamps, but she whines about it and occasionally goes and does her own thing anyway. But the rest of the Scoobies? Do they complain? No, they smile and willingly give up many nights helping her research because they support her and her calling. Buffy’s attitude might change farther into the series than I am (though the few episodes I have caught do not seem to hint at it), but right now, Buffy comes across as so self-centered and angsty that she overlooks the sacrifices the others make on her behalf, and it makes me seriously dislike her.

Aside from all this, I just find villainy to be more interesting. I think there is something in me that prefers the darker elements of characterization over the lighter. I have always been a Batman over Superman guy. Batman’s darker, do-what-it-takes attitude always seems more pertinent than Superman’s All-American Boy Scout shtick. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me that sees more to relate to in darker characters, anti-heroes, and villains, but there seems to be something more real about them than those characters who are always defined solely by their positive attributes.

I like to think I’m a nice guy, a good guy, but when reading or watching TV, I always think of “good” characters and most heroes as being clichéd and boring. There are only so many knights in shining armor I can read about and see on the screen before I start wondering what their deal is. There rarely seems to be anything underneath the surface of these kinds of characters, no real depth. Obviously exceptions exist, but heroes are generally all good and loyal and trustworthy because they’re heroes.

It’s the villains who traditionally break out of the prescribed molds and bring something new and interesting to the viewer/reader, and if it’s not the villain who brings excitement, it is the hero’s companions. The hero’s role mostly lies in simply being the hero and living up to that expectation, while the rest of the world is set for novelty and intrigue. It’s almost as though literature, television, and film require a hero who is generic in some way to allow more in-depth experimentation with characters in the supporting cast and ensemble.

Maybe one day, I’ll find a hero that I really like. Until then, I’ll continue to read novels and watch movies where I root for the villain or love the supporting cast more than the title character. I’ll love stories about anti-heroes and avoid those about the too-good hero. I’ll loathe Harry Potter’s resurrection, and I will look forward to Buffy Summers maturation. I like reading about Luke Skywalker’s ascent to Jedi Grand Mastership in the novels, but the movies make it hard for me to relate to him. I will give Willow and Xander and Hermione and Neville the billing they deserve when perhaps few others will. And I will always love when Batman outdoes Superman because he is willing to do whatever it takes to swing the odds to his side. And it’s not just because that’s how they write it, either.

Comments

  1. Loki

    I'm like this too, though probably slightly less violently so. I loathe Harry Potter, and the biggest tragedy of Lost will always be that they never killed off Jack in the pilot. His character was TAILORED for that – I would probably have even missed him for the rest of the series – but he's far too bland, too boring, too… Jack… to be drawn out and given all the attention he has gotten.

    I disagree on Buffy Summers though. While never in the top tier of the characters I liked on her own show, she very quickly stood out as a little more than just the bland main character. Her tangle with certain death in "Prophecy Girl", her emotional roller-coasters in seasons 2-3, her losing her mother and becoming a surrogate one for Dawn in season 5 and – most importantly in this context – becoming a General, a Leader in the seventh season, these things brought her up above the typical blandness. Especially, as I said, the latter. Her was a revived hero who wished she was still dead, who thought ill of her friends for bringing her back, and who, at the same time, grew into a role not as the hero, but as the general. The general being the one making the tough decisions – often the horrid decisions – that needs to be made to _win_. That's not typical of a main character. (Just compare to earlier seasons of the very same show, where these choices were always left to Giles to make for her) It's dark, it's complicated, and it is engaging. And I can't think of Buffy Summers without thinking of her entire development, season 7 included, and thus, she doesn't really fit the category of bland heroes.

    But that's a long digression. My point is I agree with you. I usually root for the villain, or the manipulative mentor, or even the skilled, overlooked sidekick. Rarely the hero. The times I do root for the hero is when (sh)he has attributes the heroes rarely have – like Buffy in season 7, or for that matter, the increasingly confused Paul Ballard on Dollhouse.

    Or Batman. Like you, I'm a Batman over Superman-guy, easily. Batman is, in fact, my favourite super-hero of all time, and I love every single story where they elevate the reason why: His will-power. The gadgets are symptomatic of his stubborn insistence on always being prepared, always having figured out every possible angle, always having a plan ready. His martial skills are a result of his years of training – a result of his renewed decision, every single day for two decades, to keep shaping himself until he fit with his plans. His deductive detective skills are obviously aided by his vast intellect, but usually root in a simple rejection of defeat. Batman never, ever gives up, and thus he'll stay at a mystery until he figures it out.
    In short? Batman's a super-hero because he's insanely, unbelievably stubborn. He made a plan at eight years of age, and his every single action since that day is about performing that plan in the mos efficient ways he can think of.

    That's usually a description of a demented villain, or at best, a mysterious old mentor-character that aids the more accessible, more relatable, more bland hero. Batman's super-power is basically obsession. That makes him interesting, that makes him more than a bland hero like Superman or Harry Potter or Jack Shepard. So while I agree with your general point, I think there already are heroes like you're requesting, they're just few and far between.

    And again, just so that's said – on Harry Potter, I could not agree more. In fact, I agree so much that I've been unable to talk myself into reading another novel in the series since "Goblet of Fire" first came out, and only watched up to date on the movies this summer.