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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #117: J.R. Ewing

Texas sucks

There are a lot of heroes on this list, plenty of paragons of virtue and honor. There are also plenty of scoundrels, rogues, and villains. I'm partial to scoundrels, both as a consumer and amateur creator of fiction. Whether protagonists or antagonists, pro-social or sociopathic, their flaws are so much more human and so much more interesting than bloodless saints. As Billy Joel sang, the sinners are much more fun. One of my favorites, hence his place on this list, is J.R. Ewing from Dallas.

I spent the summer of 1997 in central Texas, in Waco along the muddy Brazos river, about ninety minutes south of Dallas. Sold shoes at the Nike factory store in Hillsboro, about halfway in between the two cities. The heat, the crime, the regressive social attitudes, the Texas-ness of it all, instilled in me a lifelong antipathy toward the Lone Star state. There were some silver linings - margaritas at Ninfas comes to mind - but one of the most durable was my exposure to the iconic American drama set at Southfork. Jen was a big fan, and so we'd watch episodes with dinner, and despite my efforts to resist it, I was sucked in. Everything was big - the houses, the cars, the hair, it was 1980s excess come to disgusting, riveting life. And the pinnacle of this slimy festival of backstabbing greed was J.R. Ewing.

Who shot J.R.? Well, everyone had their reasons. If you're going to be the baddest dude in Texas, you're going to make enemies. Played brilliantly by the late Larry Hagman, Ewing was the scion of a family made filthy rich by oil and ranching. He was a ruthless, cutthroat businessman, a Gordon Gecko with a ten-gallon, a Donald Trump with manners. He manipulated and plotted, cunning and ambitious and disdainful of weakness. Money and power, power and money, the northern star and mother's milk to J.R. Ewing. Like Frank Underwood or Darth Vader or Dr. Doom, he was a villain of such singular charisma, such grand magnetic nastiness, that despite his despicable character, despite how awful he treated just about everyone, we couldn't stop enjoying him and looking forward to his next evil machination.

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