House of Cards & Anti-heroes

If you’re anything like me and most of the planet, you binge-watched House of Cards on Netflix when they debuted the entire season (like they do) in February.

Confession: I’ve watched Seasons 1 and 2 three times. Once for each new season because this is a show you have to pay attention to. The smallest detail, especially on the part of Frank or his wife, can mean huge repercussions later.

Why are we so obsessed with Francis Underwood and his dirty doings? How is someone so amoral the protagonist of the story? To answer that, we have to talk about anti-heroes.

According to dictionary.com an anti-hero is:

a protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or attitude marked by action or purpose, and the like.

That’s a place to start, but it doesn’t really explain how so many people can be fascinated by a character that is, essentially, a bad, unredeemed and never-to-be-redeemed person. For something a little closer to our purposes, I’ll add Writers Digest to the mix:

Antiheroes can be obnoxious, pitiful or charming, but they are always failed heroes or deeply flawed. Often riddled with paradoxical traits and qualities, they resemble real people more than any other type of fictional characters do, and they are increasingly popular these days in fiction, film and television.

Now that makes my brain get clicky. Obviously, they’re not heroes, but failed heroes. A failed hero does not arc, but chooses to continue handling whatever life throws at him in the same way, or worse ways. What I find most interesting is the notion that anti-heroes are the most realistic of fictional characters.

I hate to think that’s true. As someone who has worked in mental health for many years, I’ve seen my share of people who get it, where they’re making flawed choices, and completely turn it around. On the other hand, people who make the same mistakes are more common than not.

Does that mean anti-heroes lack self-awareness? Not the best of them. Definitely not Frank Underwood. I think one of the qualities that make him so much fun to watch is the deliberateness of his every move.

I’d love if you’d share your fave anti-heroes. I’m currently reading the House of Cards trilogy and the main character (who is British, not Southern) as well as the story are different enough to be enjoyable unto itself.

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2 Comments

  1. I can’t say this is my fave anti-hero but I just finished watching season 1 of Empire. I think Cookie Lyon could be described as one. She takes two steps forward then one back and some days three back. But she keeps chugging along, scheming and manipulating, trying to get what’s owed to her – Empire Records. Of course, I had to read both definitions twice because I’m trying to think of this type of character and I keep coming back to Frank Underwood :)

  2. Author

    I think another favorite of mine would be Gemma from Sons of Anarchy. I hated so much some of the things she did but I always got her motivation– she’s a mom who would do anything for her son.

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