It seems a strange thing that the underdog in any situation should be so readily supported.
This weekend saw the FA Cup on the telly box and all of the promo pieces seemed to focus on the examples of the little guy standing up and giving the big guy a bloody nose. And these aren’t the only examples of the phenomenon.
Think of every book or film which deals with a valiant protagonist taking on, and ultimately overcoming, an oppressive regime and the underdog is front and centre. Luke Skywalker, Winston Smith, Offred, Tron. These are all people who are mere cogs in the great machine that is the society they exist within yet they strike out against that society, against the clear injustice they see all around them, and in their different stories, are able to at the very least slap out at the oppressors, through to the complete overthrow of a regime.
This isn’t a new idea either.
The rebel uprising of Spartacus and his band of freed slaves has been told over and over again including being immortalised as both film and TV show and that, not only took place, but happened over two thousand years ago and most have heard about the story of David versus Goliath.
So why do we all seem to want to cheer on the little guy?
Are we all just a contrary lot who want to see the favourite get tripped up? Is it that we can’t accept the truth, like Jim Carrey? Or is it something else?
Now in sporting terms, fans will back their team when all the analysis shows they have no chance because it’s their team. It’s a tribal identity which goes far beyond big ‘un v little ‘un, but for the neutrals, our heads understand that on side is the heavy favourites but we just cling to the ‘what if’. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, the result will end up going the way you’d expect but on the very rare occasion, that one time, the system is turned on it’s head and the giant killing action is completed.
In storytelling, we love the idea that just a single voice, from the bottom of the power pyramid, can wield enough power to topple the mightiest dictator because, maybe, just maybe, should we have to, we could do the same. We want to see ourselves as the principled hero who’s going to stand up for what they believe in despite the overwhelming odds stacked against us. This doesn’t have to mean that we all want to be lightsaber twirling Jedi or that we all harbour desires to grow up to be an almost messianic saviour character in a broken world of the future, rather it can signify that deep down, we all recognise the need for that level of principle in a world which often punishes those ideals.
Who’s seen actions at school or work which have seen the relative bad guy win?
We all face choices to speak out or stay quiet every day and we all know what we should be saying on every occasion. But looking around the world and through history, it’s far too easy to pinpoint examples where speaking out would result in a swift and brutal response. There have been regimes which have stamped on even the slightest hint of dissent and ‘wrongthink’ could be punishable by death yet in these environments there are still the few who are willing to stand up for what they believe.
It’s our collective desires to be the good guy, the one doing the right thing that is so important. We see characters standing up for what’s right and that’s what we all want to see in ourselves, despite the risks. The bravery to stand up against a much stronger foe despite the imbalance of power.
Long live the underdog.