The Plugged In Show, Episode 83: When Antiheroes Become Our Heroes

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Loki is just the worst. And people love him for it.

We’ve watched the Marvel supervillain kill Agent Colson, betray his entire family and try to enslave the planet. But just let him crack a joke or offer up a smarmy smile or try to do the tiniest bit of good in the universe, and all is forgiven. Why, this self-proclaimed god of mischief was even rewarded for all his bad behavior with his very own Disney+ television show. Is he the show’s hero? Its villain? Both?

That’s part of the fun (and, perhaps, frustration) of Disney+’s Loki: trying to figure which side of the moral ledger the trickster is playing on this time around. He offers a template for a certain kind of antihero—a fellow who switches white and black hats as often as he switches shapes.

Back in the day, you could reliably count on entertainment’s villains to stay villainous. You’d cheer for the good guy. You’d boo the bad ‘un. Good was good, evil was evil, and never the twain would meet.

But now, of course, they meet all the time. Today’s heroes and villains blur the line between the two—sometimes in the space of an old-fashioned commercial break.

Some would argue that this trend reflects our own human soul. When Loki himself says, “No one bad is ever truly bad, and no one good is ever truly good,” he echoes two critical elements of Christian thought: We are all fallen, but we all have the hope of redemption. Other folks, though, might say that these antiheroes muddy the lines of right and wrong themselves.

The Plugged In team tackles Loki on The Plugged In Show this week, and along the way we unpack this deceptively complex topic. It’d be good if you did, and maybe even educational, too. (And check out the links for everything else we talked about this week in the Episode Notes below.)

  • Interaction question: Do you think the trend toward glorifying antiheroes is a good thing or something to be concerned about?  Let us know on Facebook or Instagram.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

7 Responses

  1. -The lines between good and evil ARE muddy. Morally compelling fiction explores that muddiness.

    Having an edgy antihero doesn’t automatically make for a good show, but black and white good vs. evil almost never does.

      1. -Lord of the Rings did a great job exploring the gray areas between good and evil. Boromir and Gandalf were tempted to use the power of the ring for good, Gollum was an essentially good person who’d been corrupted by evil, and Frodo put his soul at hazard by using the ring’s power to help himself and his friends.

  2. -Thank you!! Movies nowadays are just too convoluted with characters!
    Let’s make movies the way they were!!
    For example does anyone remember the story of a hopeful, young Karate enthusiast whose dreams and moxie take him all the way to the All-Valley Karate championship. Of course sadly he lost in the final round to that nerd kid. But he learns an important lesson about gracefully accepting defeat.
    They just don’t make heroes the same anymore. 🙁

    1. -Except that flies in the face of everything Plugged In stands for, does it not? Holding media accountable? That story tellers should be responsible? There are no heros. Every single person you can think of in history who is lauded as a hero is actually an anti-hero. Mother Theresa let people suffer, Christopher Columbus harmed the native people of the Americas, the Catholic church built schools to teach native children…and if you follow the news you know how that turned out. Making stories about pure good guys and evil villains is irresponsible. It teaches children that if someone acts good then they are good. Which is a lie. People who do good things are just as capable of doing horrible things and the sooner we learn that the less we’ll be conned by our real life “heros”.

      1. -you do realize that they were referencing the joke from How I Met Your Mother where one character thinks the hero of Karate Kid was the mean kid from Cobra Kai?

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