We like the baddies - on TV

There's a reason why dramas are enjoyed by millions

RACHEL STEWART
Last updated 07:48 14/05/2012
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OPINION: There is a very fine line between good and evil.

What's right and what's wrong is increasingly blurred these days.
There's a reason why dramas such as Dexter, The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy are enjoyed by millions - and by me too. Despite the characters being either firmly ensconced in the art of serial killing, the mafia or a motorcycle gang they all possess interesting back stories and recognisable lives.

Their existence resembles all of ours in most respects - love, loss, health and financial problems. The only real difference is that they spend a wee bit more time cleaning up blood and brain matter than your average citizen, and they always seem to have lots of spare plastic sheeting lying around.

Take Dexter - a hugely likeable guy who also happens to be a murderous psychopath in his downtime. He appears outwardly normal, is a loving father and brother and a great work colleague. He lives by a code. That code means that to his mind it's okay to exterminate bad-ass rapists and murderers as long as their guilt has been proven to his satisfaction as a forensic specialist. Dexter has no truck with waiting for a flawed, glacially-paced system to catch and prosecute them. Somehow we can all relate to that.
Tony Soprano is a mafia boss, a thug and kills purely for profit. Yet, he has a humanity about him that is compelling. For me, I was hooked on Tony from the moment he fell in love with the ducks that briefly inhabited his swimming pool. His devastation when they flew away never to return, and his subsequent panic attacks triggered by their leaving, permanently endeared him to me. So he whacks a few guys every now and then. Worst things have happened at sea.
The SAMCRO boys are mean looking, tattooed, greasy-haired bikers who deal in guns and, latterly, drug couriering. The club follows a strong code that involves all manner of weird male rituals - illicit sex while emotionally loyal to the 'old lady', boozing bourbon to drop down excess, and hugging fellow gang members every five minutes. It is hard, though, to make a real moral distinction between the so-called bad boys and the law enforcement bods constantly trying to bring them in.  

These TV shows turn things on their head by manipulating us to feel something for the bad guys by showing us their human side. It's a complete departure from the Hollywood (and American) fixation of good vs. evil plots. In truth, the line between good and evil is much harder to define these days.
Here in New Zealand I watch our politicians and believe many of them simply don't know right from wrong. What else explains their addiction to economy with the truth while no such frugality is shown with their addiction to money?
If they're not busy rolling out the red carpet for the arrival of environmental destroyers to our shores, they're ensuring that their perks of office are secure for years to come. They enjoy doing deals with casinos for more pokie machines despite the negative social costs, and they show no sign of anything remotely resembling a conscience when planning to sell off the country's assets. 
John Banks gets amnesia about who donated what to his mayoral campaign and John Key gets behind Banksy's version of the truth because it suits him to. Yet a fat, rich German, who had the book - indeed, the whole library - thrown at him for alleged internet piracy has more lucidity in his little pinky than either of these politicians. 
There's the rub, of course. In a world of the 1%, and their many mainstream apologists, this sort of behaviour from our leaders is almost expected and often cheered on. It stems from a deep belief that wealth for the few is good and the poor are to be blamed for their own poverty.  Society is constantly rewarding the wrong skills. 
As if an overpaid chief executive or a Wall Street banker, paid huge bonuses for rorting the system, possess some superhuman prowess and deep work ethic the rest of us don't, is the first myth that needs busting. As The Guardian's George Monbiot recently wrote, "If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire". 
So if Tony Soprano is a dreadful murdering criminal, the only difference between him and the two parliamentary Johns for example is that they don't have people knocked off - that we know of.  They proudly do what they do for their deep and abiding love of the bucks.
Tony is at least capable of loving the ducks. 

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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