Are there any archetypical epic stories in western culture where the hero is trying to DO something positive?
I find myself watching movies lately empathizing more with the villians.
The villians have a PLAN. They are focused, talented, skilled. They have something they’re actually trying to ACCOMPLISH.
The hero? The hero’s job is usually the same: to STOP them. To keep things the same.
Are there ANY adventure stories where the hero is actually trying to DO something?
Seriously. Star Wars— stop the Death Star. Every James Bond movie— STOP the billionaire villain’s plot. Superman— stop Lex Luthor. Harry Potter— stop Voldemort. etc.
Why is our archetypical hero someone who just preserves the status quo, quelling threats? Why isn’t our hero someone who CHANGES the status quo for the better?
The evolution of story is darwinian— those plot memes which resonate with people survive and replicate into other retellings and stories, until they become archetypes, thereby drawing a portrait of our cultural subconscious.
Presumably, stories originally were most valuable as ‘warnings’, hence the passive “bad guy wants to do X, hero stops them” or “protagonist does X, and learns not to”. (“And the moral of the story is, don’t talk to strangers.”) <——-(terrible moral)
Another contributing factor: Since we now know that most humans value loss-aversionover equivalent gain, it makes sense that ‘saving from loss’ resonates emotionally with the masses more than ‘significant gain’, even if this outlook — one based on avoiding amygdalic fear — is not in their best interest.
These two factors alone are enough to explain why ‘heroes’ are so passive.
The only exception I can think of is very genre-specific: Heist movies. This is why they’re so popular, even though they hold the assumption that ambition is bad, and therefore the protagonists are ‘bad guys’. Therefore the first act of any decent heist movie serves to villainize the heist victim (see: Terry Benedict in Ocean’s 11) in order to morally justify the heist (and give us permission to empathize with and shamelessly enjoy it). But still, the genre presumes ambition to be, on some level, fundamentally ‘evil’.
1. What kind of story can we create that would successfully insert a meme into our archetype whereby the hero actually ACHEIVES something, rather than merely STOPPING someone else’s (implicitly evil) ambition?
2. Are there any heroes in current successful popular stories who are active— heroes who are heroes not because they stopped a bad guy and kept things the same, but because they actively did something changed things for the better?
This one’ll get you thinking.