English poet John Milton once wrote, “…good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil.” With this interwoven information, modern audiences are usually able to differentiate the “good guys” from the “bad guys” in a movie or television show. A murderous meth kingpin, a rebellious teenage rapist, and a Los Angeles hit man who quotes Holy Scripture before killing his targets — not your typical group of likeable personalities. However, these individuals (Walter White, Alex DeLarge, and Jules Winnfield) are among film and television’s most beloved characters. Often, society shuns people who fall under these deviant categories. Why then do audiences support, sympathize with, and even root for these “bad” characters? Many factors come into play when audiences decide whom they like and why they like them. Through easily identifiable characters, viewers relate to and support the “bad guys” and find ways to justify their deviant behavior; this pattern can be seen in the sociology of Breaking Bad, the Christian morality of A Clockwork Orange, and the philosophy of Pulp Fiction.
Audiences possess a tendency to relate to the main character of a film or program despite whether they like them or not. In his book Getting Reel: A Social Science Perspective on Film, Dr. Michael Gose notes:
A large part of the pleasure in seeing most films is identifying with the main characters. This all seems healthy enough, but the idea here is that in reflecting back on the effect of a film hero, we might indeed take a reality check that we are headed to a place where ‘the mature adult is likely to identify himself less with persons than with principles, roles, jobs, organizations, and causes.’ (32)
Identifying with the main character is an essential piece of storytelling. Without a likeable protagonist, audiences commonly lose interest in the story. Gose goes on to suggest, “Given...