Wanted all henchmen, scoundrels, and villains: Why We Love Our Villains.
Ask yourself this question: who is the last character you had strong feelings for? Don’t distinguish between heroes and villains, make it the first character that comes to mind. Hard? Chances are it’s a villain. Maybe not a scary clown, but a strong character that is the anti-hero. Why is this?
I’m sure there’s a quote that goes along these lines that helps:
you can only hate with the same intensity that you love.
If not, I’m claiming it because I think there’s a lot of truth there; a two sides of the same coin thing. It partly explains why we love our villains, and love to hate them. You can modify the quote…and by how deeply you’ve been hurt.
Because if you delve into a character’s past—as in real life—the villain has suffered at some point. Whether through some traumatic event, like an abusive childhood or just being born bad, the seeds of “it’s not their fault” leaves the possibility open for future redemption; who doesn’t identify with a lost cause? This doesn’t work for “pure evil” characters. For those we shroud in an impenetrable armour of ambiguity so what scratchings of their humanity is left remains hidden from us. Those truly horrid creatures need to be balanced by an equally heroic character/s.
Villains don’t have a 401K
Villains have an easier time of it. They exist outside society enjoying a freedom unrestrained from moral choices. They don’t have 401k accounts and don’t read about climate change. Through villains we look deep within ourselves and gouge out our own suppressed dark urges. They show us choices we don’t make outside the safety of pages in a book.
There is no support system, no safe place they go to unload after a hard day of despicable deeds. No self-help audio books in the car on the way to work, and no meetings of holding hands and sharing feelings. They don’t see themselves as evil, so there is no internal conflict. They are typically strong-willed and have a rigid resolve to get things done, to be bothered with any of that. Qualities we envy. We want to have the strength to tell off the boss, or worse. In a book you can.
In this regard the villain is similar to the hero. Only with the hero there is questioning and doubt. We see more of their humanity, so we empathise with their struggle.
Every bad deed
Not every bad deed is punished. The villain has to be unattainable for the story to continue. Do they get caught in the end? It depends if the story is part of a larger series of work. A hero is only a hero if they’re actively engaged, so if there is no villain there is no hero.
Like the villain, the hero doesn’t have a 401k, but probably does care about climate change. So the next time you watch Frank Underwood or the Joker, read about Lord Voldemort, the White Witch or Randall Flag, remember if you flip a coin fast enough you can’t distinguish between the two sides. And it’s okay to love the villain.
Also published on Medium.