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Monday, September 10, 2012

Of Villains and Enemies

I was going to post something else but it’s taking longer then I originally realized it would, so something else.

For reference for this article some definitions;
Villain: n. 1. A wicked or evil person : Scoundrel. 2. A fictional or dramatic character typically at odds with the hero 3. Obs. A vile brutish peasant 4. Something said to be the reason for a particular trouble or evil.

Villainous: adj. 1. Viciously wicked or criminal. 2. Highly objectionable : Obnoxious.

Villainy: n. 1. Viciousness of action or conduct. 2. Baseness of character or mind. 3. A vicious or treacherous act.

Lately I’ve noticed more people are trying to create villains who are not Villainous. While this is in part an attempt to be original in some way and not to create the feared “cardboard cutout” villain it also creates a sympathy for the villain and while in the right story such as Star Wars’s Vader it can work, but at the same time he was actually only an underling to the real villain the Emperor.

A villain is not a sympathetic person, they are about themselfs or their ideas, at their core they believe they are right and anyone who expresses otherwise is an enemy. If anything a villain should rarely if ever care what has happened to his victim, empathy will imped a villains actions, and while one can argue that it would add conflict, in the real world (and more importantly the reader’s mind) it would get harder and harder for a person with a conscience to do despicable things. If they did they would need justifications, to understand why dehumanizing would be the simplest and at the same time not asking the reader to use suspension of disbelief.

Think of the lead villains of other popular media, Cobra Commandeer, Megatron, the Joker, Lex Luther, Sauron, the White Witch, the Shredder, Magneto, the Borg Queen, and the Devil (note the Devil isn’t fictional, but I’m placing him here since he and his allies have been used in fiction.) With the exception of the Joker who is considered insane most of the time, all the others are not only quite sane but are exceptionally intelligent, charismatic, charming, and completely power hungry & treacherous. They are also complicated individuals (yes even the Borg Queen) with long histories.

Consider the character Magneto with his tragic past, to protect his kind he chooses to act like his former oppressors the Nazis, mutants are superior and non-mutants should get out of the way, treating them as the proverbial second class citizen. And while Magneto’s creator Stan Lee may not consider his creation a bad guy, as the old saying goes judge some one by their actions, and by his actions he is a villain, plain and simple.

Then consider the Devil, the consummate example of evil. He rebelled against God believing himself equal. Cast out from Heaven he rages against God and his creations (namely us) seeking to corrupt all. And in the pursuit of this has inspired many horrible acts both real and in fiction.

And while some would point out that if the villain does not think of themself as a villain they are not a villain, that is in truth a moot point. If Hitler thought what he was doing was right, does that mean he was not a villain? The answer is No. Evil would try to place themselves in the place of the right with arguments that reasonable people would clearly see through, and as history has shown those with wicked intent can be quite creative in their arguments for why to do something. But often their arguments hinge on people thinking in gray areas if one thinks on a more right and wrong perspective the argument of exterminating and euthnizing people on the augment that they are a burden or “lower then the beasts of nature” (you should look that one up, it’ll give you chills) becomes harder to do.

The Twentieth Century has provided us with more then a few examples of villainy, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Che Guevara, and on & on I can go but these are some good ones to examine. Consider one of the worst Adolf Hitler, a charismatic antichrist type who took Germany to the height of power and evil, his very book Mein Kampf could be considered a scriptures of evil and when things started to fall apart he wanted Germany to be wiped off the face of the Earth for “their” failure, to him. Hitler of course is an extreme example and as my definition of him as an antichrist reflects the fact he was possibly evil to the core.

Stalin himself once said “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” Justification in his mind to do what he wanted to do. He also said “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” This goes to prove a villain’s mind set is what is just as important as his actions.

Lastly before I get to what they are creating enemies, I wish to kill a very stupid idea and quote, “One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.” The mistake often made by this quote is to assume that the world is only of greys not of good and evil. Killing civilians is NOT what a true freedom fighter would do. Guerilla tactics against an invading or occupying army is one thing, but blowing up a nightclub full of civilians is terrorism, attacking an invading armies supply depot is legitimate, attacking a crowded mall is terrorism, attacking an occupying army’s camp at night is legitimate, and on & on I can go. The problem in the end of this “magical thinking” is you start justifying horrible actions with a false mask. And with that mask you could end up justifying something as horrible like the Holocaust.

Now to the last bit what people are really creating are enemies, or to a lesser degree rivals. They are not outwardly evil, this does not mean they can’t be ruthless if necessary, but world domination isn’t their interest just their own little corner. They also probably enjoy braking the rules but unlike a villain who sees them as impediments the rival/enemy is more of a rebel. This doesn’t mean a enemy or rival could become a true villain or vice versa it means there needs to be a good story of why. How Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader and how the Grinch has a change (or growth of) heart.

Of course each writer has to go his own course on things and it does not mean you can’t make something work. Just don’t do something to be different, be you.


P.S. I should note that this is all about individuals and groups (even nations) as villains not things like the weather, environment, or inanimate objects with out intelligence. Just in case someone wanted to bring that up.

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