Sunday, December 11, 2011

The American Anti-Hero

Between 1945 and 1980 emerged the golden age of the American anti-hero. This is more of a human hero popularized by the male movie star. There are four reasons why heroes changed in American film after WWII. Americans wanted: 1. new kinds of heroes since it was a new country after the war; 2. their heroes to rebel against the status quo; 3. human heroes who were like real American heroes who were true representations of life; 4. its heroes to reflect the true american spirit. The american cinema is a reflection of the culture. America had lost its innocence and needed new kinds of heroes to lead the way.

New Kinds of Heroes:
"The anti-hero gained popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, probably due to the cynicism during and following World War II. People were relating to the hip non-hero who was not involved in world problems but devoting his time to overcoming his own personal problems" (Epstein and Morella 5). People were relating to the non-hero who was not involved in world problems but devoting his time to overcoming his own personal problems. John Garfield made a name for himself in the 1940s. His characters were visceral and palpable individuals who were only concerned about what they could gain or lose. This was also true to human nature and much more realistic than the traditional hero who always did the right thing. The anti-hero was daring the audience to relate to doing wrong or being wrong even for the wrong reasons. The anti-hero would come to represent America's growing uneasiness and skepticism about true courage and heroism. The 1950s would see the paranoia of the Cold War take hold of the country and create a sense of fear and hate in the people. Characters started to embrace the duality in the nature of man.


"The anti-hero is rarely happy in situations that please other men. He prefers conflict and struggle rather than comfort and certainty. His sense of self-actualization or righteousness is achieved through war or strife. In Homer's story of Odysseus, as in so many contemporary films, the goal of the warrior/hero is not long life, but glorious life followed by glorious death" (Fitch ingredient of the anti-hero is the need to rebel and in the early 1950s America was concerned with fighting and conquering Communism. This gave rise to a revolution of father figures who represented  America's citizens whose lives were being shattered by overbearing authority figures. Rebels are anti-heroes who fight authority figures no matter what the cost. America would fight battles from Korea to Vietnam; while nothing much was gained almost everything was lost. The rebel anti-hero was just as stubborn and just as tragic. The 1960s would be the most profound period in the golden age of the anti-hero. As much as the rebel anti-hero was rebelling against the American standard, America itself was born through rebellion and revolution. Rebelling was and still is an American characteristic. What would separate the 60s anti-heroes from all others was their uncanny ability to inspire and move their audience even through failure. Their humanity would be their most powerful weapon.

Human Heroes:
"In America, 1968 was merely the most apocalyptic year of a momentous decade. During that period the myths underlying the foreign policy of containment, the belief that domestic affluence ensured social peace, and the basic optimism that dominated American life and spirit since the Second World War were buried forever. For many Americans their image of themselves, their society, and their place in the world underwent a painful transformation. Despite the fact that it ultimately ushered in a period of intense social and political conservatism (whose force and grip on power has still clearly not abated) it left hope that this was no permanent state of things-that some form of social and cultural rebellion could rise again" (Auster and Quart 67-8). Heroes seemed to be all too human during the 60s.They all had rebel hearts, but few  ever reached their goal or were successful. They would continue to fight worthwhile battles, but in the end nothing would be gained. Anti-heroes became these characters that were supposed to be representations of real people or real Americans.These human heroes bore little resemblance to their successful forefathers, who seemed to all live happily ever after. Anti-heroes still convinced the audience they could be the heroes of old and win out or at least survive.

The True American Spirit:
Towards the end of the 60s and into the 70s filmmakers began to tweak the anti-hero, giving the role a darker or even non-heroic quality. America during this period was just as morally ambiguous. Whether it was sexual liberation or drug use or politics, audiences yearned to see the true American spirit. The anti-hero became a darker, edgier character, who was just as confused as the average American. People began to wonder if heroes, in general, were real or even needed. Anti-heroes of the late 60s and 70s embodied the idea of the American spirit. They explored what life in America was and what it meant to be an American.

The American anti-hero contradicts the classic hollywood ideology because of how it represents a sense of reality in everyday life. The classic hollywood ideology involves characters who are more heroic and accomplish good things that seem unselfish and more superman like. However the anti-hero tends to focus on individuality and accomplishing the problems that seem more realistic to the people of America and is something that the audience can relate too. 

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