The Thematic Paradigm
Robert B. Ray states in his article “The Thematic Paradigm” that in American cinema there are two main hero types used; the official hero and the outlaw hero. The two have the same general moral set, the idea of right defeating wrong, but otherwise they are each other’s opposite. The first hero is the “outlaw hero. ” The name gives away much of what this hero is about. The outlaw is sort of the “bad-boy” of the film. They are portrayed as adventurers, cowboys, the vigilante types.
Featured mainly in action based films, some examples of the outlaw hero include Huck Finn and Davy Crockett. The other hero portrayed, the “official hero,” is sometimes thought of as less exciting than the bad-boy outlaw hero. This hero is someone who is shown to work with the law and with the system, rather than separately. This hero is often shown as the lawyer, the teacher, the police, or some sort of “everyday hero” in our society. Films that include the official hero usually have a president or someone of similar standing as the hero.
The differences are more than just how they “save the day,” but in every aspect of the hero. Ray states there are three main distinctions between the two; aging, society and women, and politics and the law. These differences are what distinctly separate the two heroes from each other in films. One appeal of the outlaw hero is they appear eternally youthful. ‘The attractiveness of the outlaw hero’s childishness and propensity to whims, tantrums, and emotional decisions derived from America’s cult of childhood (378).
Children often are the catalyst in the outlaw hero stories and are often outlaw hero’s themselves. The outlaw hero is often immature and quick to react without thinking, much as a child would. The official hero on the other hand is portrayed much more maturely. They have “the best attributes of adulthood (379),” including clear judgment and reasoning and wisdom that comes with age. This is one reason they are often less appealing than the outlaw hero. How the hero interacts with women and society is a huge part of the character.
The official hero is shown to have either a happy marriage or romantic relationship. They also are in good standing with major societal figures and are extremely respected characters. The outlaw does not have excellent standings with the women in their life. Even if the woman is an outlaw, the hero usually ends up hurt or betrayed by her in some way. Society is generally not the biggest fan of the outlaw in the story. They are often rebellious and burn bridges with the major societal figures.
The relationship between the law and the outlaw is similar to the relationship they have with society. Being an outlaw and rebel, they are rule and law breakers. The official hero is the exact opposite. They work with the law to get the job done, rather than breaking the law. Ray lays out the differences between the cinematic heroes in a very organized manner, and states very clearly the differences. The two heroes that have been used in the traditional films are still clearly used in today’s films due to their distinct and set characteristics and rules.