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Does the end justify the means?



By Manal Almahanna

“Does the end justify the means?” This is a question I found myself asking a lot lately while I watch my favorite characters on TV. Previously movies and shows followed the hero who was a symbol of morality and goodness. But lately I’ve noticed a switch from the traditional hero to a more ambiguous character. Someone who blurs the line between right and wrong, good and evil, who saves the day in their own often questionable way. This new character is the Anti-Hero. The anti-hero in the simplest of terms is someone who lacks the traditional heroic attributes such as optimism, honesty, virtue and morality; instead they can be described as deceitful, violent, impulsive, narcissistic and manipulative. From the description I just gave some might see the anti-hero as a synonym for the villain. It is important to note that they’re not the same. So, what differentiates the anti-hero from the villain? What makes us justify the first and judge the second? Well the answer to these two questions is the intention. While both the anti-hero and the villain might use the same evil tools to achieve their goals, their intentions are different. For example, lets look at Frank Castle (The Punisher) an iconic vigilante who was obsessed with vengeance after the murder of his family. He later expanded his cause to fighting crime while continuing to use his previous tactics of violence, murder, kidnaping and torture. Another example of a villain-turned-friend is Venom. Venom entered the Spider-verse as a villain who, like Frank Castle, later took to fighting crime and protecting the streets often with over the top violence. But why do we love and admire the anti-heroes and hate the villains? Why do we root for them? What does this say about us? It says we’re realistic; that we no longer want to see the perfect unattainable characters on TV. We want to see people like us who are flawed, damaged and morally and emotionally complex. The anti-hero mirrors reality. Like the hero, the anti-hero is strong even without a moral grounding. Their motives are always pure despite their questionable actions. Take for example Wolverine a short-tempered, unstable mutant who will lay down his life in the name of justice. We followed him and other characters like him throughout their journey for revenge, justice, fame, fortune and love. They’re constantly learning and growing despite their mistakes, which reminds us that there’s always the possibility of redemption. But does their redemption justify the roads that lead them there? Throughout history, lies have been told to save lives; wars have been fought for noble ends and betrayal has been committed in the pursuit of a higher good. The justification for these actions was always as long as the end outweighs the bad committed along the way, then it is acceptable. In movies, when there’s a need for someone to suffer for the greater good, the heroes always take the pain upon themselves like Captain America who takes on any and all problems without fail. Where as the anti-hero might decide that someone else must suffer for the greater good. Take Rorschach from The Watchmen, after the six-year-old girl he rescued had been murdered, he decided he will be a proactive force in the fight against evil even if he breaks the law and hurts innocent people. Rorschach’s justification for his acts of violence is, by allowing the criminals to live there’s a chance that they may recommit their crimes. However, by killing the criminals, there is no longer a chance that the criminal will re-offend. In short, sometimes you need to do something bad to make something good happen. Anti-heroes are constantly struggling to be heroic. They not only worry about the ethical dilemmas (what society decides is right and wrong), but also about their own moral dilemmas (what the person doing the action decides is right and wrong). And because of this struggle, the anti-hero is exactly the new type of hero we need. We need someone who has to account for their own personal responsibilities while also weighing in their responsibilities towards the society. We need someone who can inspire us to be heroic in all aspects of our lives. Most of us want to do the best thing and also the right thing, but sometimes we can’t do both, and in those cases, we have to use our moral judgment to decide much like our favorite anti-heroes.

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