Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

I watched the first episode of Netflix’s new show ‘Frontier’ the other night. I was disappointed. (Me? Disappointed in a show? PERISH the thought.) I’d like to make the disclaimer that I only watched the first episode – I’ve been informed of Declan’s motivation, of his reasons for being ‘the way he is,’ and I don’t find those motivations enough to excuse his behavior.

jason_momoa

The pilot episode gave me a show about characters who are either self-serving, murderous, or otherwise immoral. Declan, while being a gorgeous hunk of a guy, apparently has a reputation for being violent, bloodthirsty, and gruesome. Which, no matter his motivation, poses quite a problem. This is our main character. The guy who I assume we’re eventually supposed to root for. Now I’m not here to talk about Frontier as a show – I only saw one episode – but it got me thinking about so many modern stories, and their love of grey morality.

Now, I LOVE sketchy, questionable, morally grey characters. They’re like a pinch of cayenne pepper in a dish – they add flavor, they add spice, they make the mix more interesting. But when every character is either morally grey or just downright black, it detracts from the quality of the story. If a story doesn’t give me someone to root for, someone who I hope will come out on top, then what’s the point?

Most modern entertainment gives us a morally grey story populated with morally grey characters, and so when we’re done with an episode, or a chapter, we’re simply wondering who’s going to survive next. We aren’t rooting for right versus wrong or good versus evil, we’re just…showing up. And if we aren’t showing up to root for anyone, if we’re just showing up to watch an ambiguous no-holds-barred power struggle between bad and worse, then I ask again, what’s the point?

I’ve often complained about the lack of interesting good guys in fiction, and I hold by that. I think it’s a pitfall into which entertainment often stumbles – the antiheroes or villains are captivating, while the heroes are bland and fail to hold our attention. I understand this, I really do – it’s something I used to struggle with in my own writing. How do you make a straight-up good person interesting? And I think the main issue is the mindset behind that question. When did goodness become boring? When did the desire to do the right thing become dull?

It can be easy to see ‘goodness’ as boring; as predictable, as uninteresting. The ‘good guy’ isn’t usually my favorite, because so often they’re written to pale in comparison to the other characters. I think people struggle with the concept of good being interesting, for whatever reason.

Over the next week, I’ll be breaking down a few of my favorite good-guy heroes, from Michael Scofield to Newt Scamander, and finding out why they manage to keep my attention when others don’t.

Who is YOUR favorite fictional good-guy hero?

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25 thoughts on “Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

  1. Yes. Thank you. For everything you just wrote. *applauds wildly* Personally I am convinced that the decline of morals in our culture has to do with how God has all but been ripped out of our society. Once you take God out of the picture, then the morality won’t take long to go ka-put due to humanism and lack of accountability.

    I feel terrible now because I was so sure I loved a ton of good-guy heroes….then I actually thought about it because the majority of my favorite characters seem to be madmen, psychopaths, misunderstood villains, or hurt abused fluffy cinnamon rolls. I can only think of real-life good-guy heroes….like Desmond Doss.

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    1. I KNOW. Characters who have shady morals are so much more interesting and honestly /likeable/ in general because people seem to be confused when it comes to writing interesting heroes, and it’s SAD.

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  2. YES THANK YOU. I’m tired of all the villains being “more interesting” and so many grey areas and no good guys. YES YES. I personally do not find the good guys uninteresting, but it seems most people do so… meh.
    Also Aragorn and Faramir are some of my top good guys in fiction. <3 (Do not get me started on what they did to Faramir's character in the movie–and Aragorn's for that matter. :P)

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  3. I love this topic! On the one hand, I’m tired of bland heroes as well; but on the other, as a writer, it can be difficult to keep my heroes intriguing. Can’t wait to hear more of your thoughts!

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  4. How do you make a hero interesting?

    Make him so wonderful (deep, nuanced, a little tormented, supportive, virtuous, and honorable), the audience doesn’t care that he’s “good” and not a bad boy. ;)

    I was annoyed with “Frontier.” About midway through the season they introduced a godly Christian character — moral, upright, upstanding, didn’t believe in fornication or depravity and then after ensuring he lost enough dignity to open himself up to blackmail (a girl got him in a “compromising” position, because as we all know, a little cleavage can make even the most devout man forget his beliefs!) — they promptly stabbed him through the head. Nice, show. Real nice. :P

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  5. Aragorn, Faramir, Eowyn, Gandalf, Samwise Gamgee, etc.
    Shasta, the Pevensies, Reepicheep, Eustace and Jill, etc.
    Most of the cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender
    Hazel-rah and Fiver
    Matthias (90% of Redwall, tbh)
    Mulan

    I could go on.

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  6. Kelsier from the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson or any of the main characters from TV shows Leverage and The Librarians (both directed by Dean Devlin!) because they have depth; good qualities BUT ALSO flaws that they have to work through and that they help each other work through. They’re like big families and I love them. :)

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  7. Harry Potter, Zuko & Aang (and all their group really – but sadly not the spinoff characters, grr), Edmund and Eustace… Sadly, it really is becoming more and more difficult to find these good heroes.

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  8. This is so true, Mrriam! I am so excited you’re going to discuss this issue, as I’ve been thinking about it for age!!

    Speaking of that, I’ve been watching the BBC Merlin show, and something that really attracted me to the show, was that despite the flaws of the main characters, folk like Merlin and Arthur and Gaius and Gwen – they want to do what is right and learn true humility, loyalty, faithfulness, sacrifice, honour and courage – and goodness. And it is beautiful to see that, and route for those characters. Fascinating and rich though the bad-characters are, and exciting in some ways, they just make me so sad, while I route wholeheartedly for and cry and cheer for Merlin and his friends! Goodness is wonderful and beautiful and gripping.

    It makes me so sad when in so many stories, especially nowadays, they portray the morally mixed up characters as more interesting and cool than the upright characters. :P

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  9. AMENNNN. People like to justify all of this with the whole “it’s just fiction!” excuse, which — fiction is incredibly influential, and both reflects and shapes the way we look at things. The more we normalize cool, edgy, dark guys, the more that, y’know, bleeds through to how we actually see things. More glorifying heroes, please. <3

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  10. Ah! Yes! Amen! Why do we believe ‘good’= ‘boring’. It’s simply not true!

    I have a lot of favorite fictional good guys, but honestly, I think one of the things that can give a lot of depth to the writing of fiction is to study the lives of real good guys and heroes. They all had struggles, and none of them were perfect, but they overcame their shortcomings to leave their mark on history. Also, being good is never easy, since we’re all living in a sinful world. I think you can have a character be very relate-able by examining his struggle against the temptations and difficulties that are constantly presenting themselves in the path of anyone who’s trying to do the right thing.

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  11. You’ve hit the nail on the head here: The ‘good guy’ isn’t usually my favorite, because so often they’re written to pale in comparison to the other characters.

    So true!

    And as for a really ‘good’ bloke I’ve encountered recently? Maia from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. My gosh. That dude. He was such a good character. Not in a ‘ohhh, that dude’s cool and good at slashing that other dude’s throat for morally ambiguous but explainable reasons’. But beautiful, strong, and courageously good. He chose the high ground and I adored him for it.

    I recommend this almost MORE strongly than I would recommend watching the Bucky Barnes movies. (Wait. They were called something else?! I kid. I kid)

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  12. This is a favorite topic I’ve discussed plenty of times with friends. Why do there seem to more morally “grey” rather than “good” heroes, and why are they often more popular, considered more complex and interesting? Nobody I know has “the answer”, but I do have a theory.

    Part of it might be that goodness often seems to be associated with INNOCENCE, or NAÏVETÉ. These are qualities which the lead is expected to shed as they grow. When you stop and think about it, villains are rarely naive and sheltered, they are often the ones with intelligence and experience on their side, the ones who make the most realistic assessments. “Good” characters are rarely supposed to be cynical, and are often portrayed as “wided-eyed” and unfamiliar with the “seedy” side of life.

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  13. Newt Scamander, Daryl Dixon, Samwise Gamgee, Stiles (Teen Wolf), Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Captain America, Bucky, Superman, and The Doctor are my top favorites!

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