Summary and Response Practice #2
In “Why We Love TV’s Anti-Heroes,” Stephen Garrett argues that the actual nature of the hero has changed over the past few decades, and as a result the protagonists that we embrace are largely different as well. Arguing that “the heroes of today are radically different from those of two or three decades ago [and that t]hey have evolved to represent a radically changed world,” (Garrett, p. 319) Garrett claims that empathy is more important than respect when it comes to choosing a hero to emulate. Consider the highly popular program House, M.D. Thirty years ago, the hero of the show might well have been Dr. James Wilson, the oncologist who tries to do right whenever he can and whose commitment to the addict House is one of his most rewarding features. It also might have been Lisa Cuddy, the director of the hospital who has to juggle administrative matters left and right. However, the hero is the one addicted to Vicodin, the offbeat Gregory House who has such a hard time following orders, who can’t save himself from his own habit, but ends up saving a patient each week.
It is certainly true that the nature of television’s heroes has changed over time. One of the most popular television programs from the black-and-white era was Perry Mason. This defense attorney had to work his way through a puzzle each week to save his client from imprisonment or even execution, outwitting a prosecution usually led by Hamilton Berger and a police effort usually led by Lt. Tragg. While Mason famously lost one case, all the rest of the episodes ended up with him carrying the day. The focus was not on getting criminals off the hook but instead on finding out the truth, and Mason was doggedly committed to the highest levels of ethics in his profession. With that said, there were other shows that were popular featuring anti-heroes. Many of the episodes of The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Outer Limits featured heroes that were anything but upright, getting close to the role of the anti-hero. One episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” is based on the Roald Dahl short story “Lamb to the Slaughter.” The plot features a woman whose husband comes home to tell her that he is leaving her. She has the news that she is pregnant with their child, but that does not stop him; he plans to leave anyway. When he dares her to stop him from going, she grabs a frozen leg of lamb and bashes him on the back of the head, killing him instantly. The rest of the episode details the police coming in and out of the house, trying to piece together the attack. The fact that the dead man was also a policeman (and one of their friends) and that they know the victim’s wife keeps them from suspecting her. She had put the leg of lamb in the oven to “cook” as part of her cover story, and the policemen discover it hours later. Had it been thawed, it would be burnt beyond the point of edibility, but the fact that it went in the oven frozen seems to have protected it. They gather and eat it, not thinking that its structure is the right shape to have been the blunt object. The show ends with the woman laughing. The narrator (Hitchcock himself) relates that she got caught when she tried the same thing with Husband #2 (the freezer wasn’t plugged in), bringing moral order back to things.
All of this is to say that the importance of having a clear sense of moral order at the end of the show was more important then than it is now. To argue that the nature of our culture has changed, and that we no longer respect the old heroes, doesn’t make sense when you look at the popularity of such stories with traditional heroes as The Natural, The Karate Kid, and the cable channels such as MeTV that have sprung up to keep that sort of content on television. The reason for the popularity of this new hero is not as easy to dissect, but at any rate, we have more willingness to look at our inner darkness than we did then.
Garrett, Stephen. “Why We Love TV’s Anti-Heroes.” Title of Book. City of Publication: Publishing
Company, Year of Publication, pp. 318-321.
House, M.D. Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412142/
“Lamb to the Slaughter.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents.