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Why we need antiheroes

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From Walter White to Don Draper, Marty Byrd to Elizabeth Jennings, most of our favourite films and TV shows involve antiheroes. We are compelled by these figures and their morally iniquitous actions. Yet strangely, we also can’t help but like these characters and root for them. Is this a problem? Murray Smith posits that these figures serve as a much needed antidote to moral perfectionism and argues that we should embrace, rather than resist, our love for antiheroes. ‘People just ain’t no good,’ laments Nick Cave; ‘I think that’s well understood.’ Certainly that’s the impression you might easily form from the wave of antiheroic fiction that has become so central to television output over the past quarter-century. From The Sopranos to Mad Men to Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, from Dexter to The Americans to Ray Donovan, Narcos and Ozark, the figure of the morally dubious or depraved protagonist has become ubiquitous in Anglophone small-screen drama. What makes these shows special? W…

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