Why moral ambiguity is popular on TV and the big screen

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  • Mister J Salt Lake City, UT
    June 10, 2014 4:50 p.m.

    re: netsrik

    Agreed. Some of the best characters are flawed/conflicted.

    Batman & Wolverine from the Comics as well Lucas Davenport (J Sandford novels) are 3 that come to mind.

  • netsrik Draper, UT
    June 10, 2014 3:37 p.m.

    In my entertainment, whether it's a book, TV show, or movie, I want a protaganist I can relate to in some way. And that means somebody human. Someone who does struggle with whether doing something is the right thing to do for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing to do for the right reasons. Nobody's perfect, and a character who is, is a huge turn off. I love fiction, but I want the main character to be someone I could walk past on the street in real life.

  • Danny Chipman Lehi, UT
    June 10, 2014 11:28 a.m.

    One of the reasons we have so much more moral ambiguity in entertainment is simply because the writing is getting better, and that because it's so much easier now to produce a TV show or put out a book, so producers and authors have more competition. It's not enough now to have a villain who is evil "just because". Every villain has had experience that caused him or her to choose darkness and the reader/viewer can sympathize with that, or at least take pity. As the saying goes, "Every villain is the hero of his own story".

  • Frozen Fractals Salt Lake City, UT
    June 10, 2014 10:43 a.m.

    "That doesn't seem to leave any room for moral ambiguity."

    Is eating pork a sin? What about beef? Consuming alcohol in moderation? Is smoking a sin, immoral, or just a dumb thing to do? There's a variety of answers one could give depending on what faith they belong to.

    One of the ten commandments is to not have any other gods before God but we certainly allow people to worship as part of other faiths and we sure consider many of them to be moral people too. One could say there's no room for ambiguity or relativism but that doesn't appear to be what we put into practice. There seems to be at least some ambiguity/relativism for most people. It's just a matter of degree.

  • PLM Kaysville, UT
    June 10, 2014 9:01 a.m.

    Not having seen any of the tv shows referenced or the movie, my only comment is that the scriptures say "For I the Lord cannot look upon a sin with the least degree of allowance..." That doesn't seem to leave any room for moral ambiguity.

  • intervention slc, UT
    June 9, 2014 11:03 p.m.


    Having lived in NYC and spending significant time in San Francisco and having read many of your post, I can say with great confidence the reason you find these cities "scary" is not everyone looks, acts and thinks exactly like you. These are not scary but rather wonderfully diverse cities.

  • 10CC Bountiful, UT
    June 9, 2014 7:42 p.m.

    Walter White was a very complex character, and people related to him and loved Breaking Bad because the acting was uncompromisingly superior. The show has been over for 9 months and they're still winning awards.

    White (Bryan Cranston) took us through a vast range of emotions, from the desperation of finding he had (likely) terminal cancer and wanting to provide for his family and new baby daughter, through incredible stress and fear, greed, ambition, pride, ruthlessness, anger, and finally horrendous regret, as his actions led to the killing of his brother in law.

    Ultimately he sought and got revenge (another common human emotion) on those who had killed his brother in law, and then he died, after setting up his family with his money.

    Walter White was not "emotionally ambiguous", not to anyone who actually watched the series. He certainly displayed extraordinary emotional diversity, as did his partner, Jesse Pinkman.

    The moral of Breaking Bad, according to its creator, is that actions have consequences.

    This message is anything except moral ambiguity.

  • patriot Cedar Hills, UT
    June 9, 2014 3:32 p.m.

    In today's PC America good is evil and evil is good. I really don't see much difference between the festered society that exists in most of our big cities and that of the biblial Sodom and Gomorrah. Honestly if you ever want to invision what Sodom and Gomorrah was like just take a trip to NY city or LA or San Francisco. America is no longer the shining city on a hill that it once was. Having just returned from San Francisco on a business trip I can say without hesitation that evil is alive and well in America. My daughter and her family took a trip to NY last fall and she said she couldn't wait to get back to the airport and leave - what a scary place!!

  • Johnny Triumph American Fork, UT
    June 9, 2014 1:23 p.m.

    This statement is very amusing to me, more justification of the state of things rather than an accurate telling of societal issues. It's just one more symptom of the decline of modern society. There are correct answers, they should be based on correct values and then they'll become apparent to us.

    "We're living in a morally ambiguous world where most of the solutions to life and death problems — like crime, terrorism, national security — don't have clear-cut answers. It's really difficult to decide what is the right thing to do," said Donovan.

  • SlopJ30 St Louis, MO
    June 9, 2014 12:21 p.m.

    Moral ambiguity is all the rage because people today outside of third-world countries realize that, hey, morality is ambiguous. There's a lot more grey area than black and white when it comes to morals. Moral ambiguity doesn't scare me; the opposite does. The worst atrocities in human history were committed by groups or individuals very, very certain of their moral high ground.

    Who can't benefit from occasionally taking a step back, looking in the mirror, and asking "Wait; am I really doing the right thing here? Despite what I say my motivations are, despite what my parents believe, and despite what I hear at church, do I really believe I have a firm grasp on what's 'right'?"

    I know many people rue the slide towards "moral relativism," but with most topics any honest discussion has to start with the acknowledgement that parties with may disagree with probably have good intentions, the same as we do. Differences of opinion don't make one side moral or immoral, and neither do mistakes made.

  • Brio Alpine, UT
    June 9, 2014 11:58 a.m.

    People like to watch moral ambiguous shows and movies because they allow a means of self justification for their own personal weaknesses. It's not rocket science.

  • slcdenizen Murray, UT
    June 9, 2014 10:40 a.m.

    In terms of analyzing culture and media, the DN editorial board is quite daft. Humans have always created stories in order to convey important lessons. Even Jesus employed allegories in order to ellicit a lasting effect on his audiences. Were the events from the good Samaritan actual events? Probably not. The point is, we respond better to stories that teach lessons rather than simple directives. Hollywood is simply supplying products for the vast demand throughout our culture that lacks alternatives to approaching life's more complicated areas like manhood and identity in the case of Mad Men or pitfalls that accompany seeking confirmation of one's genius in the case of Breaking Bad. If the popularity of these shows terrifies DN readers and editors because they misconstrue it as an advocation of moral subjectiveness, then I'm curious as to how one attains contemporary moral progress if not by examples of conflicting fictional characters?

  • Tekakaromatagi Dammam, Saudi Arabia
    June 9, 2014 9:06 a.m.

    I watched a special about the fall of Enron in 2001. The people running Enron were not as rotten and evil. They were dishonest and they got caught up in their lie until they believed it themselves.

    Their traders clobbered California with a fake electricity crisis to drive up the price of electricity. Their traders weren't rotten, they were just following the goals from the company management to be creative in making money without breaking the law. The management unintentionally created a dishonest organization.

    The evil people in society is sometimes us. What is needed however are more heroes. The people who will be honest even when they get into trouble, or who don't follow the herd because they have their own moral compass based on right and wrong rather than situational ethics.

    Having said that, I think that it is likely that people who make movies in Hollywood want to shy away from moral heroes because, morality is bad for their business and it makes them feel guilty. They aren't truly rotten, just sort of rotten, . . . like the people who ran Enron.

  • ordinaryfolks seattle, WA
    June 9, 2014 8:02 a.m.

    It is always fun to blame Hollywood and TV for the lack of morality society. A time honored tradition at best, and hackneyed at worst.

    These media only show what is common in the culture, they don't create it. Anyone paying attention would know that corporate America is corrupt, hence Don Draper. The war on drugs is a failure for obvious reasons, hence Mr. White.

    Rather than criticize the media messenger, should not the author go after the cause?

  • DrGroovey Salt Lake City, UT
    June 9, 2014 7:15 a.m.

    I don't think the character Walter White in Breaking Bad is morally ambiguous at all. He starts out as a good man who begins making bad choices and justifying them in his own mind. Each season he slips farther and farther into evil. There is nothing ambiguous about it. Some people have said they could have named the show "The Decline and Fall of Walter White". It is a good study in how someone chooses evil and gets the consequences for it. It is totally different than the trend to have evil characters never receive consequences for their choices or actions.