Remember Han Solo? That smarmy, proud, devil-may-care mercenary from the "Stars Wars" movies? As best I can remember, I think he's the first "anti-hero" I loved. After Han, I think the next one for me was the narrator of Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground. Since then, I've been collecting them like some sort of neurotic hobbyist.
According to Wikipedia (god bless it), an anti-hero is a "protagonist who is lacking the traditional heroic attitudes and qualities, and instead possesses character traits that are antithetical to heroism." That's right... character traits that are antithetical to heroism. In the case of Han Solo, this mostly meant that he was self-interested, capitalistic, and--in a clever combination of both--only interested in the girl (who just so happened to be a princess). In the case of Notes From Underground, the narrator is generally despicable, even to himself, dyspeptic, bitterly resentful, though somehow thoughtful and reflective enough to seem, well, heroic... in that "anti-" kind of way.
I've noticed over the last several years that we are being saturated with antiheroes. My new favorite is Dexter (pictured left), from the Showtime series Dexter. He's a serial killer, working "undercover" as a blood-spatter expert for the Miami-Dade police department. Dexter only kills criminals who slipped through the system and escaped their rightful punishment by the state. Dexter follows a "code." He has a conscience. He also, incidentally, cuts his victims up into to pieces and dumps them in the ocean. Nobody's perfect.
My second favorite antihero, if you pinched off the I.V. supply that was feeding me my desperately needed pain medication and made me choose, would be Dr. Gregory House from the FOX television series House. Dr. House abuses his subordinates, disrespects his superiors, and has a bedside manner rivaled only by Nurse Ratchet. He's also a misogynist, a cripple, a drug addict and an atheist. But he's a brilliiant surgeon and medical problem-solver, and he is has an uncanny ability to intuit the vicissitudes of human health in a way that would make Plato proud.
There's also Tony Soprano, of course, who may not be with us anymore, but we'll never know that for sure, I suspect. Tony's got problems. But he likes to talk about them with his therapist and, hence, is in touch with his own "vulnerability." Tony runs a strip joint called the "Bada Bing"... oh yeah, and also a New Jersey crime family. He has some serious mommy issues.
People have told me that Jack Bauer of the series 24 is also an antihero, but I don't watch that program. I think I might be the only person in America who doesn't.
The point here is, we love our antiheroes. But why? Is this some reaction against all that is sacred and holy in our moral code? Are we embracing a side of ourselves that is fundamentally anti-Greek, anti-Christian? Do we even know what a "hero" looks like anynmore?
Oh yeah, and I forgot Batman. And Sam Malone (from Cheers).