Monday, April 30, 2007

The Crook as Protagonist

Perhaps the title came to me because I have spent the past several days reading graduate theses and final projects. An equal perhaps is the way current events, like mosquitoes looking for supper on a summer evening, are buzzing about with thematic elan.

At any rate, the concept of the protagonist is undergoing a shift in story as well as real life. Used to be, the naif, the picaro, the innocent were the real heroes of story. 

Whether they were Dorothy Gale, wanting to get herself and Toto back to Kansas; Scout Finch, reflecting the remarkable man who was her father, Atticus; Tom Sawyer, spoiling for adventure; Tom Jones out to seek his fortune--what a lovely term that is--or Pirrip aka Pip, coming to terms with his great expectations, the protagonists of story were inherently likable.

The tail end of the Great Depression in the U.S. saw the protagonist as still likable but with more of an edge and indeed, Tom Joad's edge had bought him some jail time and as The Grapes of Wrath ended, Tom was once more on the run. 

 Even before the Depression got underway, the train robber and bank robber began to build up steam to the point where not only Jessie James but, later on, John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd and yes, even Bonnie and Clyde began to pick up a following. As the years cranked on, the Mafioso became added to the cadre of protagonists, and now we even include the CEO with the multi-million dollar buy-out, the lobbyist, the corrupt politician.

Used to be the definition of a protagonist implied that the individual did things that caused the story to take place or had a goal that caused behavior the reader could empathize with. You didn't have to like Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler, but you couldn't help admiring his determination to be the best.

Used to be.

Now we admire men and women who have the power to forget about The Social Contract, to trade it in for a lease on self-interest, arrogance, and an ever widening sense of entitlement.

We used to call these persons protagonists, now we call them Republicans.

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