Timeless North American Heroes.

“He’s basically a very timeless North American hero in that he is partially an anti-hero. He doesn’t show his feelings a lot although we know how he feels much of the time in the picture.

-Frank Nissen, Animator and Principal Character Designer, “The Making of Rock and Rule”.

While researching the animated cult film, I watched this behind the scenes special.  The above quote rocked me (pun intended) because it’s so true.

The big difference between a hero and an anti hero is why they refuse the call to become a hero. To take this all the way back to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, part of the heroic journey is a refusal to action. The hero’s fate is forced due to other circumstances and he or she understands that this is the path that is meant to be.

Omar has all of the endearing qualities of an anti-hero.  Self centered, ego, materialistic, something shady in his past. There is an understanding of the anti-hero: you can be an asshole but still save the day.

Luke Skywalker is the boy scout. Wholesome, blonde hair and clad in white. He can’t take Ben Kenobi on a journey, but is willing to take him just far enough.  That is until the demise of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Now Luke will accompany Obi-Wan and the saga begins. Han Solo meanwhile is only tied up in this noble mission for money. Every decision he makes throughout A New Hope hinges on saving himself or future rewards. Even at the very end, he’s too busy loading up his payment to be a part of the attack on the Death Star. Only in the last moments does he appear to save the day.  It took that long for the anti-hero to land on the side of good for the sake of being good.

Superman has been panned in recent decades for being too boring.  The big blue boy scout.  Whereas Batman, with a bit of darkness, with some gray in his heroics, became the leading character of DC Comics. More hit TV shows, better movies, more merchandise. Even Spider-Man needed to throw on a black suit to have a bit of an edge. A suit that became so popular it left Peter Parker to become one of the best examples of an anti-hero, Venom.

Is it truly a North American phenomenon though? I think while there have been anti-heroes around the world the love and idolization of them is an American trait. Even the stars of the most respected American literature in The Great Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye can easily be called anti-heroes.

What else should we expect from a country founded on removing the establishment. In a relatively short amount of time the new nation fights multiple wars to establish itself, one to keep it together, rolls right into the Industrial Revolution then expands from company owned towns to living in the suburbs and now struggles to survive in this digital revolution. All that time there is a status quo to live by.  Even if its begrudgingly, it becomes accepted to work hard at the same place until retirement affords you to finally spend time living in the house you bought along the way for the kids who have since moved out. It is heroic to work hard, stay true to a moral code, and be regarded highly by friends and family.  But that’s not sexy, it’s not cool. Bucking the system, making your own rules, throwing some chaos into the day.  That’s what’s seen as desirable. Stone Cold Steve Austin and Michael Corleone stepped on toes while forging their own paths but are seen as icons of strength.

The anti hero speaks more to the American Dream. Anyone can be a star, a millionaire, wealthy, powerful, whatever you like in America. Really though most of us are going to be timid and stay in our place. The anti hero is the only one willing to kick open doors and upset the right people in order to get things done. The anti hero is what we fantasize we could be if not for wanting a guarantee paychecks are coming and bills are paid. The anti hero is the American day dream.



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