We all need idols, and considering how central books, film, and TV can be to our lives, it makes sense that so many of us count fictional characters among our role models. But not every charismatic protagonist is an Atticus Finch — or even a Leslie Knope. After the jump, we take a lighthearted look at some of the outsize personalities that never should have become cult heroes or objects of popular worship. These aren’t villains we relish for their cartoonish evil, but irreparably flawed (and sometimes downright sociopathic) characters people think are cool and/or strive to emulate, from a teenage rapist to pop culture’s ultimate kept woman.
Taxi Driver’s protagonist is an angry young man with a hero complex — which means that other angry young men with hero complexes can’t seem to help idolizing him, with his mohawk and paramilitary garb and homemade, spring-loaded gun holsters and faintly pathetic tough-guy banter. But here’s the thing about Travis Bickle: he isn’t just pissed off and alienated, and while he does end up saving a child from prostitution, it’s clearly out of the same obsessive need to feel important and purify the supposedly rotten world that drove him to plot the assassination of a presidential candidate. Dangerously unstable people may occasionally perform acts of heroism, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous or unstable.