Rooting for the “Good” Bad Guys

I watch a lot of TV.  Well, not necessarily TV shows, although I do watch plenty of them, but other things on TV, like mini-series and movies (and things from England, for some reason).  Let’s just say, I thank God for Netflix on a daily basis.  This isn’t generally a problem, but at times, a show that sounds good from the description turns out so terribly that I turn it off before the opening credits role.

Recently, while watching a mini-series from England that focused around the lives and loves of a group of young women in the British Women’s Land Army, I was struck by something.  They wanted me to root for the bad guys.  I don’t mean the Nazis or anyone like that.  No, it was much more subtle, and therefore more morally dangerous, than that.  No.  These were what I like to call the “good” bad guys.  For instance, in a love triangle composed of the Lord and Lady of the manor house and one of the “Land Girls,” it became clear early on that the narrative being pushed by the author was meant to garner sympathy for the poor Land Girl, and contempt for the evil, mean, emasculating wife.  True, the wife was a terrible wife, and true, the hussy Land Girl was a much pleasanter companion for the husband.   The former belittled her husband; the latter befriended him.  Everything was done to elicit cheers for the two lovebirds when they finally connected.  The problem is this: They had no right to be together.  Like it or not, he was married.  And yet, somehow, the aim of the author was most definitely to get the viewer to be happy for their illicit union, and to hate the wife who stood in their way.  It’s madness, and it’s not uncommon.

Sadly, most TV shows and movies are written from a modern, liberal worldview, where extramarital sex is commonplace and where no on really sees marriage as a necessity for cohabitation or sexual relationships.  We get swept along most of the time, or at least I do.  Take New Girl on Fox.  I watch it and I found myself quite happy when the two leads finally “got together” after over a season and a half of waiting for it to happen.  I brushed aside the fact that this happened by them having sex rather then by, I don’t know, going out for dinner.  Crazy, right?

The same thing has been happening for years, on so many shows and in so many movies, it’s hard to count.  We have all begun rooting for the “good” bad guys, and it has to stop.  If it doesn’t, there will soon enough not be any actual good guys to root for at all.  When we accept as a society that, while we wouldn’t live a certain way ourselves, it’s still OK to watch others live that way and revel in their lives, their romance, their lack of good morals, we accept that there are no absolutes.  The simple fact is that some things are bad, no matter how “romantic” they may seem on a screen, and bad things should not elicit good reactions.  Remembering this basic premise makes it a lot easier to switch shows as soon as I become tempted to start rooting for the “good” bad guys and turn on something far more suitable (like, say, North and South starring Richard Armitage for the 85th time. What?).

1 Comment

  1. Colleen /

    Seems like more often, the term “bad good-guys” would be better… generally, the characters aren’t malicious, but they ARE sinful. And to be honest, who wants to only read/watch/hear stories about perfect good guys? The problem isn’t rooting for the characters. It’s rooting for the poor behavior of the characters. Even the stories we are given in the Bible aren’t free of sinful heroes. Abraham had a child with a concubine. David married Bathsheba. And on, and on. The difference is that these are recognized as poor decisions and we’re told about the consequences.

    To some extent, what you describe is also just lazy storytelling. A good writer uses a character’s moral struggles to tell a better story. But if the story is just happy-go-lucky, oh look they can just do what they want because this character is always right even if some crazy other character doesn’t think so… ugh. Lazy.

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