Oliver Queen: Hero or Villain?

by Medea Walker 2 years ago in tv

The Criminology of Oliver Queen

Oliver Queen: Hero or Villain?

Oliver Queen is a vigilante character on the television show Arrow. He became the crime fighter known as the Arrow after returning home from being trapped on a terrible island for five years and watching his father die. He is given a list from his father just before he dies, which tells Oliver about all the people in his home city that are secretly committing felonies and getting away with it. Oliver promises to hunt down every name on his father’s list and bring them to justice, which usually involves murdering the person. He does a lot of good for his city and helps protect it from many dangers throughout the show, however, he is still technically a criminal. Although Oliver Queen is not the typical criminal, many theories of criminology can still be applied to him.

One of the longest standing debates is the nature versus nurture debate, and both can be used to help explain why Oliver Queen became a criminal. In “Pilot” from Arrow, it is shown that Oliver’s father kills a man and then himself in an attempt to save his son’s life (00:39:00-00:39:30). Although the crime was committed in order to save his son from starvation, Queen’s father did murder a man. This makes him a murderer, which means that Queen was born and raised by a criminal. It could be argued that these were extenuating circumstances because they were all starving on a lifeboat with not enough food for all of them, but it is also revealed later in the show that Queen’s father was a criminal long before this incident. This adds to both the nature and nurture side of the debate. Not only was Queen’s father a criminal, but so was his mother. In “Sacrifice,” Queen’s mother admits that she is helping with the undertaking that will kill thousands of people in order to protect her children (00:12:45-00:14:45). Although she was cleared of all charges later after a trial that could have put her on death row, she still was partly responsible for the deaths of over five hundred people. Oliver was therefore born and raised by two criminal parents, which adds even more to the nature and nurture that led to him becoming a criminal. It also is stated in the textbook Introduction to Criminology, “Specifically, the family studies showed that criminality in the mother (or head female caretaker) had a much stronger influence on future criminality of the children than did the father’s criminality” (Schram and Tibbetts 141). This means that Oliver Queen’s mother was most likely one of the biggest factors in turning him into a criminal.

The theory that can best be applied to Oliver to explain his criminality is neutralization theory. Neutralization theory, as defined by Schram and Tibbetts, is when “...youths can drift into criminal activity and avoid feelings of guilt for these actions by justifying or rationalizing their behavior” (267). The neutralization tactics Queen uses most are denial of the victim and appeal to higher loyalties. Queen uses denial of the victim most strongly in the first season of Arrow, when he does actually kill people because in his mind they are criminals that are getting away with their crimes and he is the only one who can punish them. In the following seasons, Oliver has a no-kill policy, but he continues to injure and sometimes torture people for information, believing that the ends justify the means. Queen’s appeal to higher loyalties is mostly to his father in the first season. He is willing to do anything, even betray his friends, in order to fulfill his father’s dying wish for Oliver Queen to “right my wrongs” (“Pilot” 00:38:30-00:39:00). After the first season, however, his allegiance switches over to his friends, namely John Diggle, Felicity Smoak, and Laurel Lance. Queen begins to do anything to protect and help his friends. When his friends say he has done something wrong, he tends to listen to them rather than the police or his family. Queen is able to not feel guilty through all of his killing and torturing through the use neutralization.

Oliver Queen was also affected by labeling theory, both in childhood and as an adult. Quoted on the National Institute of Justice website, “Labeling theory emphasizes the stigma and negative consequences that youths may experience if they are labeled delinquent at a young age (Becker 1963)” (“Juvenile Diversion Programs”). As far as can be told from the show, Queen began his delinquent lifestyle in his late teens/early twenties. This often caught the attention of Detective Lance who usually made his arrests and took him home. Although Queen’s family was able to buy their way out of jail everytime Queen got in trouble, Oliver Queen was still labeled a criminal. This continued when Oliver Queen was stranded on the island and labeled a murderer by his friend Slade Wilson (“The Promise” 00:27:50-00:29:30). Once Queen was back from the island and his friend Tommy Merlyn found out that he was the Arrow, he accused Oliver of “being a serial killer” (“Darkness on the Edge of Town” 00:27:20-00:27:30). Both of these accusations from close friends led Queen to start to question his own criminality. They did, however, have different effects on him. Wilson accusing him of being a killer pushed Queen even deeper into criminality and made him care less of what others thought of his behavior. This is because Slade would not listen to Oliver try to explain why their friend’s death was not his fault so he gave up on trying to be the good guy. Tommy Merlyn’s accusation did not at first lead Queen out of killing, but when Merlyn died, Queen swore a no-kill policy in order to honor his friend’s wish. This shows how labeling theory can push people more towards a criminal lifestyle or it can help people realize that they have gone too far and bring them back from the edge.

Deterrence theory is described as, “...criminal actions are events that occur when offenders decide that law-violating behavior provides greater net benefits than law-abiding behaviors” (Valerie L. Wright 19). There are also, “Four components of punishment [that] have been the focus of deterrence theory: (1) certainty of punishment refers to the probability that a particular behavior will be detected and punished; (2) severity of punishment is the intensity of the punishment imposed for a specific behavior; (3) publicity of the punishment is necessary so that the public is aware of the consequences for committing particular acts; and (4) celerity of punishment refers to how immediate the punishment occurs following the criminal act” (Wright 19). Oliver Queen never had to worry about being caught and punished for his crimes. In the first season of Arrow, Detective Lance puts together an anti-vigilante task force, but never catches or has any real proof that it is Queen. Before the end of the season, Detective Lance disbands the task force and begins to support Queen without knowing that it is him. Without the fear of being punished, Queen is free to continue committing crimes. Oliver Queen has no certainty of punishment and his punishment would not be very severe as can be seen from the episode “Broken Arrow” where the police suspect Roy Harper is the Arrow and have him arrested, giving him “twenty-five to life” (00:02:25-00:02:40). Twenty-five to life is not a very strict punishment for someone who murdered and tortured several people. Without the proper deterrence, Queen has nothing to stop him from becoming and continuing his criminal acts.

Chicago school of criminology is a theory of criminology that, “...emphasizes the environmental impact of living in a high-crime neighborhood, applies ecological principles to explain how cities grow, and highlights levels of neighborhood organization to explain crime rates” (Schram and Tibbetts 231). Oliver Queen lives next to a high-crime area called the Glades. Although he does not live in the Glades, he does spend most of his time there, either in his secret base or hunting down criminals. Before becoming the Arrow, Queen spent a lot of time in the Glades partying and getting into trouble. Perhaps some of his time in this area and meeting people who live in the area led Queen to a life of crime. The Glades are not very well organized and does not have good leadership. The police have abandoned the Glades (“Midnight City” 00:24:40-00:25:20) in order to protect one man, showing how little the people of the Glades mean to city officials. Without proper leadership or police protection, the Glades is a center for crime and many of the criminals Queen fights throughout the show come from the Glades. One of Oliver’s friends and the Arrow’s sidekick is Roy Harper, a boy from the Glades. Roy often committed crimes before meeting Queen and then began helping put a stop to other criminals. With so many associations with the Glades, Oliver Queen became a part of the Glades and its safety became a major concern of his. In a way, the Glades became Queen and his gang’s turf. Queen and his friends fought off any invaders or anyone that tried to take over the Glades. The Glades is home to many gangs, and Oliver and his friends became another one fighting for dominance.

The brutalization effect is certainly something that has affected Queen and helped turn him into the Arrow. The brutalization effect is “the predicted tendency of homicides to increase after an execution, particularly after high-profile executions” (Schram and Tibbetts 69). Although the brutalization effect mainly refers to executions of people done by the government through the death penalty, it could also be applied to high-profile murders. Queen saw his father kill himself (“Pilot” 00:39:10- 00:39:25), the execution of Yao Fei Gulong (“Darkness on the Edge of Town” 00:39:00-00:39:20), the murder of Shado (“Three Ghosts” 00:16:30-00:17:00), and his mother (“Seeing Red” 00:38:40-00:39:15), along with many others. Many of the people Queen watched being killed begged for their lives before they were killed, and so Queen does not give mercy to anyone who begs for their life. Queen only agrees to not kill people when they do what he wants them to do, which he most likely picked up from watching it be done to others. Seeing so many people close to him die has made Queen accustomed to death and seeing dead bodies. It has hardened him to the point where he no longer feels remorse for killing people because to him, it is just a natural event. The psychological effect is very damaging and makes it easier for Queen to kill others as the Arrow. Oliver experienced the brutalization effect, although not in the normal way, it did help turn him into a criminal and specifically a murderer.

Oliver Queen is both a hero and a villain. His criminal actions show how thin the line between a hero and a criminal can become when trying to do what is right for everyone. While it can be argued that force is sometimes necessary to bring down criminals who are dangerous and violent, Queen does not just use force on violent people. All throughout the first season of Arrow, Queen assaults and murders people who are defenseless and simply refuse to do what Oliver has demanded. In any other context, he would be seen as a criminal, but in the context of the show he is seen as a protector. He has changed since the first season of the show so that he no longer kills people unless absolutely necessary, but he still tortures people for information and in order to get them to do what he wants. Overall, Oliver Queen, also known as the Arrow, is a complicated character that can neither be labeled as a true hero or a true villain. He is some combination of good and evil, light and dark. Oliver Queen is the Arrow.

Works Cited

Berlanti, Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg. Arrow. Berlanti Productions, DC Comics, and

Warner Bros. Television, 2012.

Schram, Pamela J. and Stephen G. Tibbetts. Introduction To Criminology. 2nd ed., SAGE, 2018.

Wright, Valerie L. Could Quicker Executions Deter Homicides?: The Relationship between

Celerity, Capital Punishment, and Murder. LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC, 2011,


“Juvenile Diversion Programs.” National Institute of Justice. www.crimesolutions.gov/Practice

Details.aspx?ID=37. Accessed 4 May 2018.

Medea Walker
Medea Walker
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Medea Walker
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