I could be wrong, but I feel like previous generations created their media in a more idealized way. Characters were a lot less morally ambiguous, for the most part. You always knew who the good guy was. There was a kind of optimism and hope that I feel is missing from a lot of modern media. You still see this every now and then, usually within children’s media. Nowadays, our protagonists are more rough around the edges. They’re cynical and selfish–we’re made to believe that deep down they have a strong moral compass, in practice their actions are chaotic and flawed yet somehow always end up leading to the desired resolution.
To some extent, I can see why this shift happened. In real life, most people aren’t unambiguously “good.” We all have flaws and weaknesses, and none of us are immune to giving in to foolish temptations. So we react positively to characters that are more realistic and reflect how people can actually be, even if it’s sometimes exaggerated. A good example of a turning point in media is the show All in the Family, a sitcom that defied the Leave it to Beaver era of sitcoms that preceded it. Instead of an innocuous and whole family show, All in the Family boldly tackled controversial issues like racism and abortion, and featured a flawed main character who, by any reasonable standard, was a bigot. Archie Bunker, however, was shown to be deep down a good guy, just misguided.
These kinds of characters are great, don’t get me wrong. Especially when they’re created in an era where that type of thing isn’t common. And fiction that is completely innocuous and family friendly can be boring and corny. But sometimes I can’t help be yearn for more unambiguously good characters. Not flawless characters, but well written characters with strong moral foundations. Characters like Jean-Luc Picard from the Star Trek franchise. He’s by no means perfect but there’s never any doubt that he will do the right thing.
I’ll fully admit that these types of characters are kind of unrealistic when compared to the majority of humans, but that’s the cool thing about fiction. We can use our stories to create idealized characters to serve as an example of what people can strive towards.