I want to focus on the appeal of bad-guys or antiheroes. Bad-guys come in all sorts of guises. A favourite is ‘the policeman who doesn’t play by the rules’, a character so clichéd that comedians run skits on them. In real life, Policemen who break the rules tend to be associated with corruption and make defence barristers think all their Christmases have come at once. In fiction, they are the life-blood of the police procedural.
Apparently, almost any low life can be turned into an anti-hero if it’s done right. For example, the A-team were a cuddly bunch of heavily armed mercenaries. How did they become sympathetic characters? Then there is Dexter, your local friendly psychopathic murderer, or how about the Man-With-No-Name, Clint Eastwood’s bounty hunter. While on that subject, why were they called spaghetti Westerns when they were filmed in Spain? Should they not be Paella Westerns? I’m a geek, these things bother me.
So what distinguishes a bad-guy hero? They have one defining feature in common that I have already mentioned. They break the rules. They don’t give a damn for the law or conventions of society. Most of us live in fear and trepidation of ‘them’, the man, our masters. Our cars are insured, taxed, serviced and MOTed. We creep around at the speed limit in case of radar traps, terrified of points on our licence. We swear impotently at scrotes who cut us up, but not too loudly in case they hear.
The Saint, on the other hand, treated the road network of England as a giant race track laid out for his personal benefit. When a road lout tries to cut up his Silver Hirondel sports car, Simon Templar floors the throttle and puts the swine in the ditch. When said swine catches up with The Saint in a country pub and expresses his displeasure, The Saint puts him to sleep with a straight right to the jaw. That’s the way to do it! All men want to be Simon Templar and all women want him to make love to them.
The Saint is brave, charming, handsome, strong, sexy, intelligent, educated and lethal. He cuts through life like a bullet through a pumpkin. What makes him so appealing is that he protects women and the weak and humbles the arrogant. Crooks are his chosen prey. He is the Robin Hood who robs the wicked rich to give to the poor, less ten percent fee for his trouble. He is everybody’s big brother. The fact that he cocks a snoot at polite society and the pompous, hypocritical establishment makes him all the more appealing. He has high morale standards despite his rebel nature and he is never mean or petty.
Read a Saint novel and you buy a ticket to a dream where you are all those things and beautiful women compete for your company or, if a lady, you are the heroine who wins his heart, at least for a while.
In one story, a fat, ugly rich woman is tormented on the Riviera by the beautiful people who make fun of her. The Saint befriends her with a view to stealing her fabulous necklace but he hears her singing to herself in her bedroom, remembering when she was young and beautiful and a man loved her so much that he bought her the necklace. The Saint moves on the next day without the necklace.
I was very impressed by a scene from Conan that demonstrates the same qualities. A girlfriend has betrayed Conan so that he is imprisoned, awaiting execution. He escapes and goes looking for the girl. Her new boyfriend draws a blade so Conan kills him without compunction. His revenge on the girl is to drop her in a cess pit. As Conan leaves, she is dirty and humiliated but clearly and very vocally unhurt. Conan has his revenge but rejects any idea of hurting a girl, even though she tried to get him killed. To do so would be beneath him.
To me The Saint is the ultimate bad-guy hero to me, but then, one is an Englishman and he is a very English hero.
So, what are your criteria for a bad-guy hero? Do different cultures have different perspectives?
Let’s have your thoughts.