A friend recently pointed out that the fictional character Francis Underwood would have to be a sociopath to do the things he did in House of Cards.
I replied, yes, he would have to be a sociopath to do those things, but keep in mind he's a Hollywood sociopath, not a real one. Hollywood always tries to imbue their anti-hero semi-sociopaths with redeeming characteristics in order to make them more sympathetic. A screenwriter's job is to create a dramatic arc, with lots of tension and conflict -- including inner conflict. This always makes for a more entertaining story.
The problem is, sociopaths generally don't feel inner conflict. There is never any sort of battle between good and evil going on in within them, simply because there isn't any good.
Francis Underwood is actually one of the better fictional portrayals of a sociopath. He's all about gaining power, no matter what it takes. And he's a glib, accomplished manipulator and liar. But we're still supposed to believe that he cares about the issues, and that he wants to do good for the masses.
Think of The Sting, with those two lovable con men played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The problem there is that almost all con men, by definition, are sociopaths. People who make a living by pretending to be something they're not and by preying on others' gullibility and vulnerability are the very definition of sociopathy. But The Sting, of course, portrayed the Newman and Redford characters as loyal, loving paragons of decency.
I pointed out in June 2011 that Catch Me If You Can, which was based on Frank Abagnale's life, was a completely one-sided portrayal of sociopathy. We're supposed to exult along with Leo DiCaprio at his ability to fool people into thinking he was actually an airline pilot or a doctor: how cool that he could get away with that! What a charming rascal! But anybody who would actually do this -- and risk the damage incurred by these impersonations -- would have to be a sociopath, with all of the disloyalty and narcissism associated with such. But at the end of the movie we're supposed to be happy for the Abagnale/DiCaprio character that he has since become a respected security consultant.
One of the worst misrepresentations of a sociopath was The Iceman, based on serial killer (and hit man) Richard Kuklinski. If you know anything about Kuklinski, you know that he was a stone cold sociopath. He beat his wife mercilessly, breaking her bones on several occasions. And he said in one jailhouse interview that his one regret was that he didn't kill his own father. Yet while the movie doesn't shy away from his many murders, it also portrays him as a loving family man, and we are supposed to be left wondering, which is the real Kuklinski? In real life, there was no such doubt.
The list of Hollywood movies with unrealistic portrayals of characters who would pretty much have to be sociopaths goes on and on. In fact, most action heroes, who remain impossibly calm in the face of death and always have a witty line at hand, are portraying characters who would almost have to be sociopaths in order to be that recklessly cavalier about safety as well as glib. Yet the protagonists are always portrayed in a heroic light.
These action heroes are what we would like to be, if only we had the nerve. But in fact, you really don't want to be a sociopath, though you might admire his courage and coolness.
So it's best you don't learn about sociopaths from fictional characters. Read the headlines, examine the crime reports, and think about the worst person you ever knew personally, instead. There should be plenty of material there.