• S. E. Burr

Heroes vs. Antiheroes and Why It Matters

Are the characters you consistently choose in media are the type of people you aspire to become? And does it matter?

On a recent episode of Scishow called "How Harry Potter Turns You Into A Wizard" Hank discusses a study showing that after playing a virtual reality game where they flew around as a super hero, people picked up more accidentally knocked over pens than people who played the same game but as helicopter pilots.

People get up in arms (pun intended) if you suggest that consuming violent media might contribute to real-life violence. I think it's preposterous to suggest that a violent video game is going to send an average teenager on a shooting spree. But if playing a super hero game could make you more likely to help someone pick up pens, isn't it conceivable that playing Grand Theft Auto could make you more likely to flip someone off while driving?

Everything we do and everything we experience subtly impacts the way we see and interact with the world and with each other. And since the accumulation of very small decisions can have very large implications on the course of our lives, doesn't it make sense to be deliberate in our choices about the types of characters we read about, watch, or pretend to be? If you want to become a particular type of person, you might consider whether the characters you consistently choose in media are the type of people you aspire to become.

So if I'm encouraging people to read/watch/play characters they want to emulate, am I encouraging writers to only write protagonists they want everyone to emulate?

No, and I'm not encouraging consumers to only choose those characters either. In the book I'm currently working on, One Singular Second, both of my protagonists have significant moral failings. One is narcissistic, dramatic, and irresponsible. The other, after a trauma, feels a strong pull toward violent retaliation. Sometimes, as an author I try to inspire through a positive example--writing a character I see as heroic. Sometimes, I try to warn through a negative example--writing the opposite. Sometimes, I'm trying to help people understand, and to understand better myself, how good people end up doing terrible things.

Usually, I'm not a big supporter of words like "always" and "never." At my book club this week, while talking about the movie adaptation of a book, a woman said something I thought was really reasonable about how to make choices about the media we consume:

"Full disclosure, it's rated R, but that's for thematic elements...come on! I used to never watch R-rated movies, and I don't want to see gratuitous sex or violence, but then I was missing deep, worthwhile movies. There are so many PG-13 movies that are just shallow and empty [many R-rated movies are also shallow and empty.] I want to watch movies that I get something from, that don't waste my time. And let's face it, if you're an adult your life is R-rated."

I'm not suggesting that you watch R-rated movies, or that you don't. I'm not suggesting that you play violent games, or that you don't. All I'm suggesting is that you think about the media you consume. At the very least you're giving it your time and that's a non-renewable resource.

If it's also subtly influencing your behavior, are you OK with that? Is that particular TV show or video game something you want to influence you? If it is, don't change a thing. If it's not...well, that's up to you.

Book of the Week: Room by Emma Donoghue. We discussed this in my local book club this week. It's a powerful story about a little boy who's spent his entire life in a small room with his mother, a kidnapping victim. We had a lot to talk about. I found the story inspiring. The mother overcame a lot, and I was kind of amazed that she could have done such a good job of raising her son and keeping him happy in that situation. I particularly liked our discussion of judgement and of victim blaming. Someone made the point that our society is very judgmental. Someone else said that it's human nature to assign blame to victims because it makes us feel safe. "This could never happen to me because..." Anyway, it was a great discussion. The book's narration bugged some of us. The entire book is written from the boy's perspective and he can be hard to understand. If it's an issue for you, you might prefer the movie, which had bits of the narration but was easier to follow.

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