February 1, 2016, by Words on Words
Why Root For the Underdog?
This blog post was written by English and Hispanic student, Sally Hirst.
We, as an audience, always seem to root for the underdog. We cheer on those who are more likely to fail. We want the dorky teenage boy (like Brian in The Breakfast Club) to get the girl of his dreams, the hapless klutz to save the day.
We tend to see something of ourselves in the underdog of any film or book. They usually embody some of our anxieties and insecurities. We feel pangs of sympathy during their embarrassing moments and clumsy blunders. But when they are triumphant in the face of difficulty – when they stand up to the bully, overcome their shyness, or turn their sadness into happiness – we feel elated and somewhat proud. Many films described as ‘uplifting’ focus on the success of a character that appears likely to fail, but in the end overcomes the obstacles the plot has set in their path.
Protagonists who are at a disadvantage in some way arouse our moral judgement and sense of fairness. They put in an awful lot of effort to achieve their goals and so we want their endeavours to be successful. The less power they possess in the plot, the more we want to support them.
The underdog is generally the centre of the storyline and the most relatable character in the tale. We’re given such an insight into their lives that we feel a connection with them and understand their predicaments. It’s rare that the underdog’s tormentor is explored on a more personal level. So in identifying with the underdog, we have little choice but to root for them.
Underdogs appear across all types of entertainment; from classic literature (like Jane Eyre in Brontë’s novel of the same name) to popular television shows (such as Betty Suarez in Ugly Betty). They’re usually spotlighted in the plot and their struggles are very central. Perhaps rooting for the imaginary underdog could help us to feel more empathy in the real world, towards more than just fictional characters.
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