Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Villain Worship

Heroes Season One has just finished its run on terrestrial TV here in the UK and Season Two has simultaneously stuttered to a halt in the USA after episode 11 due to the writers' strike. Sigh. I will miss them. Heroes is well-scripted, inventive, cleverly plotted and, surprisingly, the hit show of 2007. Why so surprised? Because here in the UK we don't really do hero worship. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Where else in the world do they mock clever people and those who stick to the letter of the law? We do it here. I regularly hear smart kids being called 'boffins' and 'brainiacs' as if intelligence and a desire to learn are things to be ridiculed. I also hear people berating others for being law-abiding citizens. Overheard just a few days ago in a DIY store ...

'When the girl put them both through the till, I only got charged for one.'
'Did you tell her?'
'Sod off! What do you think I am ... an idiot?'

Our folk heroes are all villains. Did you ever realise that? Think about it ... Dick Turpin - Armed robber. Robin Hood - Mugger. Guy Fawkes - Suicide bomber. We idolise people like the Krays and the Great Train Robbers. We adore films about heists and robberies (Tell me you haven't watched The Italian Job or Oceans 11 without rooting for the bad guys ...). Even James Bond - the very bastion of all things British and stiff upper lippy - is a hard-drinking, gun-toting misogynist with dubious morals.

Our so-called 'family sitcoms' are built around thoroughly rotten sorts. Alan Partridge, David Brent, Pa Larkin. Bullies, egomaniacs and petty criminals. Porridge was all about prisoners and how they managed to get one over on the 'screws'. Blackadder, in all of his incarnations, is a weasly blackguard. Bottom and The Young Ones both featured dangerously antisocial people as did Rising Damp, The League of Gentlemen and the now unwatchable Love thy Neighbour. In Fawlty Towers, Basil is a pompous, arrogant, rude and occasionally violent hotelier who makes his guests' lives a misery. Men behaving badly? The clue is in the title. And Only Fools and Horses - arguably one of the most successful sitcoms of all time - is about two brothers who spend their days ripping off the public, buying and selling stolen property and finding ever more complex ways to avoid paying tax and to defraud the welfare system!

I used to be able to say that it was a wholly British phenomenon; this 'Cult of Villainy'. I used to ask people to compare our sitcoms with hilarious and wholesome foreign imports like Frasier, Scrubs and Friends. But things are changing on the other side of the pond now. Family Guy is outrageously funny while being really quite nasty. Becker is an acid-tongued doctor who would put Victor Meldrew to shame. Charlie Sheen's character in Two and Half Men is a complete bastard. The Americans don't yet seem to have gone down the path of idolising a complete villain ... but it's coming. The Sopranos - a series far more popular than any cop show I can think of in recent years - was hugely successful. And now there is Dexter, a psychopath serial killer who works for the police as a blood-spatter expert ...

Which is why the success of Heroes caught me completely on the wrong foot. At a time when comic book sales are piss-poor and the movie industry seems intent on making as many bad superhero movies as it can (with few exceptions), isn't it bizarre that a series about essentially good people with extraordinary powers is so popular? Especially here in Britain where, I still maintain, if Peter Parker had been bitten by a radioactive spider his first thoughts would not have been 'How can I make my country a better place?' but 'How can I turn this to my advantage ... and for money?'

1 comment:

Me said...

Another entertaining rant - no longer from Stig but from Stevyn!