When Did Criminals become Heroes?

Something has been bothering me about the romance business. I first noticed it in 2003, when I went to the movie theatre to see The Italian Job. Remember that one? Mark Whalburg, Charlize Theron, that nail-biting car chase through the underground? Great fun, right? Except I recall feeling odd at the end of the movie that I was literally cheering for the criminals.

Fast-forward to Sons of Anarchy. I binge-watched the whole thing. Not (only) because Charlie Hunnam is downright criminally good-looking but because I could not believe the amount of bad decisions these characters made. I kept thinking they’d make a good decision at some point, what with the law of averages and all. What started out as an explanation of that lifestyle became over the seasons, a glamorization instead.

Now I’m watching Starz’s Power. The hero of the show is a longtime gang-banger and big-time drug dealer who has (now that he’s reached an elite level) decided to go legit. Well, legally legit. Morally is still sketchy. He cheats on his wife and the both of them put pressure on the side piece to do things that will get her fired. And she does them for love. Or something. The teenage son is now getting into “the life” and he’s angling to be colder than his pops.

I’m still watching partly because it’s like watching a train wreck, except they get out alive. Though they do get some of what’s coming to them, it’s never enough to jolt them straight. I’ve noticed the books are shifting to match this demographic, too. I get the Alpha male thing, but am I the only one who gets put off when these heroes are jerks, violent, and/or criminal? Is it supposed to be okay because he’s good looking or rich or has a heart of gold in there, somewhere, so the ends justify the means?

I’m all for imperfect characters with spotty pasts to make them interesting or wounded or redemptive. Exhibit A is my book Tied Together which tells the story of a man released from prison for a crime he did commit and how he finds forgiveness and even love through yet another unexpected trial. So, I suppose I’ve been thinking on this one for a while. What I don’t understand is not redeeming the hero, not allowing him (or her, really, unless #metoo) to make the change to a better life. To have them continue making the bad decisions that keep them where they are.

How long do you hang with a story like that? Asking for a friend.

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