This Wiscon panel was held at 4:00 on Friday, early in the con. I personally felt fresh and rested, and also totally unprepared, both at the same time.
The room, when I got there, wasn’t set up yet for panels. Me being me, I started setting up all the chairs.
The Mod was Victoria Janssen, with panelists Rosemary, Lesley Hall, Chris Hill, and Kelly Sue DeConnick. (I didn’t always attribute remarks in my notes.)
From the outset, I disputed some of the assumptions of the discussion. Heroes were labelled unflawed, antiheroes flawed. Antiheroes were described as easier to identify with, heroes more difficult or distant. Antiheroes were described as the ones who get to be snarky and witty, heroes not so much.
As the panel progressed it became clear that these were a, a gloss, not the actually deeply-held premises of the panel. Whew.
Antiheroes, it was discussed, break the social compact. They are transgressive. Think Anya of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — she doesn’t know the social rules, and largely has no interest whatosever in following them. She’s not breaking them to make some sort of point, she just can’t be bothered.
This led into a line of thought that I like — antiheroes are largely orthogonal to heroes and villains. Antiheroes are the characters who simply have different goals than heroes.
The example used for a great deal of this part of the discussion was Rick from Casablanca. Rick is selfish. That is his motivation — Rick looks out for Rick and Rick’s Stuff. He performs action in the films that might be mistaken for heroism. But they are not in service of justice, or right, or good. They are in service of being left alone to continue on as he wants. Towards the end, when he gets involved with larger issues, it’s for entirely personal reasons. He never supports the cause.
The Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes from TV Tropes was brought up. If one is looking to define individual characters on a Villain-Antihero-Hero scale, TV Tropes really has that entire conversation wrapped up. There’s not much to add to it, unless you want to go join TV Tropes and fall down the rabbit hole. The panel discussion, therefore, didn’t much go in that direction. (I highly recommend the TV Tropes conversation. But give yourself a few hours to explore it all.)
At some point it became clear that the panel was using two very different definitions of antiheroism at the same time. The first was the orthogonal antihero — the self-interested or selfish character who does good as a side effect of what they actually want. The second was the character who has good in mind as the end goal all along, but commits bad acts to get there. I pointed this out, everyone kinda nodded and agreed that, yes, those are two valid definitions.
I think writers and editors should be aware of this in their antiheroes, and know what sort they intend to be using when they are contemplating a work.
I asked what the difference was between an antihero and a hero on a redemption arc. When we meet Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly, he once was a hero. By the end of the extant stories, he’s a hero again. But at the time we meet him? Not so much. This, to me, is very different from a true antihero. Mal is pretending to be an antihero, or even a villain, because he’s so hurt and angry about what happened the first time. No-one had a really strong answer, but the intial thought was that the difference is in how they develop as a character.
A final note, near the end of the time, was that the Heist Genre is populated almost solely by antiheroes. If they are your cup of tea, that’s where to look.