Authors are well aware that readers favor the rebel who follows a different drummer or stands defiant before the crowd. Social psychologists and sociologists have actually done a good deal of research on groups’ reaction to this kind of person. The kind of person whom they describe as exhibiting deviant behavior.
Researchers have even categorized these deviants. The first group are the passive deviants, who differ from the majority group due to forces not in their control. Whether they fail to follow the unwritten rules of society through ignorance, inability or a psychological compulsion. They are excluded socially. Sometimes it is simply the matter of an atypical intelligence, learned behaviors from another social class, or differences in appearance that causes society to exclude these people. In real life, many people tend to avoid passive deviants like the plague, almost as if they could catch whatever unavoidable factor causes these passive deviants to differ from the acceptable norm.
Of course, fiction is different than real life and these passive deviants form the ranks of the underdog heroes found in many stories. In real life the goal is often to help the passive deviant blend into the average population and be accepted by the group. In fiction this simple outcome is almost always unacceptable. Instead the underdog is expected to rise to lead their own group or overthrow and replace the leadership of the original rejecting group – basically avenging themselves on the “in group.” Ironically in fiction the readers expects the passive deviant to exclude the others in the same manner as they were excluded by taking vengeance on members who found their differences objectionable. This actually gives a bit of insight into most people’s heavy dependence on being part of a group.
The second kind of deviants are intentional in their action. There are some that are considered harmless nuisances or eccentric. These defy convention for originalities’ sake or purposely flaunt group rules to promote themselves. Others are considered criminals because of the harmful intent and result of their deviant actions. However the lines between these types of deviations from society is not always clear. The intentional deviant that we cheer on in stories we read is the principled deviant, the person who speaks up against wrong doing, who rebels against the group when it treats others unfairly. However, as we look into this in more detail we find that in real life our relation to this principled kind of rebel is not related to their actual moral stance much as it is to our own behavior.
Monin, B.and and O’Connor, K. (2011) Reactions to Defiant Deviants-Deliverance or Defensiveness? In J. Jetten, and M.J. Hornsey,(eds) Rebels in Groups: Dissent, Deviance, Difference, and Defiance. 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.