And the thing is, I like my evil like I like my men. Evil. You know, ‘straight up, black hat, tied to the train tracks, soon my electro-ray will destroy Metropolis’ bad. Not all mixed up with guilt and the destruction of an indigenous culture. – Buffy Anne Summers
Why is it that the bad guy is often more memorable than the good guy? Why is it that Maleficent and her kin pull us inexorably towards them? Am I the only one who was rooting for Dr Lecter in his bid to escape – and were we complicit in his actions when he went to “look up an old friend for dinner” but we silently punched the air? What is it about these characters and what is really going on as we experience them in stories – and what do we do about it once we awake from that shared dream and return to daily life?
Even when we know they’re lying (and most of the time we don’t know) their promises are attractively luring. As I said last time, one of the things they offer us that is almost irresistable is knowledge of ourselves. Not only hidden secrets of our past, but understanding of our present, insight into our deepest selves. They offer us more than knowledge, they sometimes offer power, they offer fun (well whatever it is they’re doing, they are certainly having a lot of fun doing it) and they offer “sticking it to the man”. And they present as often the most interesting characters on the screen or page. They’re intelligent, witty and focused. They have characteristics we’re often encouraged to develop in order to get on in life – they’re confident, hard working, often get what they want, goal oriented, self-aware, not tied down, definitely don’t have a problem with co-dependance – wow these guys are models of what modern day self-help gurus, motivational speakers and counsellors say we need to be. Our society revers many of the characteristics that these villains show – and yet they’re dyed in the wool, through and through evil and loving it. Perhaps we should be looking to revere some different qualities…? Just a thought.
Perhaps we love them as through and through bad guys because we need them to be utterly evil, with no chance of Redemption? Do some of us need them to be utterly evil, because then it is simple. It’s black and white with their black hearts over there and the white untainted hearts of the “innocent” at the other end of the scale. Because if there’s a chance of a little bit of good in them there might be a chance there’s a little bit of bad in us. Is it a classic example of scapegoating? We need to pour into them the punishments, fears and consequences that we can’t deal with. (For a brilliant look at the idea of scapegoating see The Talking Llama’s excellent post here).
And so we have Buffy’s discomfort about finding an opponent that has a genuine beef, who has reasons for being the way he is, who has suffered loss and pain. And in reality, all the villains, even the big bad ones like Hannibal or Maleficent, are “people” like you and I. They have suffered, they are genuine, they have lost what is treasured by them, they fear, they’re angry. And it’s when we turn from simply putting someone in the “bad guy” box, from assigning them a label that puts them on the opposing side and instead attempt to understand, to see them as more than a stereotype, to truly empathise (and lack of empathy is often something that characterises the truly psychotic) that we move past our expectations over something beautiful about both them and ourselves – and a completely different and beatiful story emerges. And that my friends is how Disney’s Frozen was born