The Trouble with Villains

Each week, a YouTube channel that I subscribe to called Digital Trends puts out a couple of different podcasts.  They are a tech-based show, covering Home Entertainment, Home Theater, Laptops, HDTVs, Smart Home/Smart Speakers, etc., so their content, including podcasts are mostly tech-focused.  However, one of their podcasts, Between the Streams is a fun, “end-of-the-week” look at the happenings in movies, entertainment, etc.  As someone whose 2nd Academic speciality is probably going to be Popular Culture, I find myself tuning in more often than not.  In the latest episode, BTS 093, they mentioned villains and how they “love” a good villain.

Generation Shift

Okay, so this is probably where the generations have diverged in culture.  Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers (like myself), tend to prefer heroes (John McClain, Han Solo/Luke Skywalker, MacGyver, Hercule Poirot, etc).  We like villains, but only in so much as we want things to be challenging to the hero.  For instance, Alan Rickman‘s performance as the villain in Die Hard was so tense because he was the smart enough to go toe-to-toe with Bruce Willis’ tough, no-nonsense cop John McClain, who had grit and determination.  However, in the past ten years or so, I’ve heard a shift where a cool villain seems to be the only requirement now for good entertainment.  They were discussing various incarnations of the The Joker, but they make no mention of various actors or incarnations of The Batman.  Batman is a non-entity in his own movies.  For them, it is all about the villains and the Rogue’s Gallery and that makes me sad.

“A More Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy”–Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope

Let’s take Star Wars as a quick example.  There are people giddy with joy over Kylo Ren and the fact that the Last Jedi has a scene (no spoilers) where he and Rey meet.  They’ve even fashioned a name for the pair, “Reylo” in hopes that they will become a couple.  Really?  You want your hero character to become an item with someone who has murdered other people in cold blood?  And let’s say that happens, then what does that say about your main character/hero?  Are they then complicit in the act?  Rey knew about it and knew that the character escaped justice/consequences, so would she now be tainted with the same “blood” as her murderous “boyfriend” (again, assuming the producers follow up on the “Reylo” idea).  Luke is a “whiny kid” up until a turning point in his later into Star Wars and that’s all anyone ever cares to remember about him (esp. in relation to the cooler Han Solo character), but Luke’s arc is critical the successful revelation to the story because he has to deny evil in order for the story to work.  If he were anything like Kylo (whom the new SW) movies seem to dote on, the whole universe would be under the power of the malevolent Emperor now, with Luke standing by the Emperor’s side dealing out murder and injustice and bathed in blood like his father before him.

“There are Always Men Like You”–Marvel’s Avengers

Not to get all us vs them generational divide, but it is that denial that is at the center of it all.  Too many people today seem to want to be in power/have power even if that power comes at the expense of doing what is right.  In the mind of a villain, might makes right where as in the mind of a hero doing right is a struggle to be overcome.  Like Yoda said when Luke asked him about the Dark Side of the Force–“No. No. No.  Quicker, easier, more seductive.”  That is what villainy entails–a quicker, easier route to what you want and if that means crushing the life (sometimes literally) out of whoever is in your way, then so be it.  But that doesn’t mesh with our belief that all life is unique and should be allowed to prosper in their own way.  A villain says there is only one way: my way!   And shouldn’t we (especially as a species–older generations and new alike) stand up and say, we reject this and we reject you!

And that’s the role of a true hero.

Sidney



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