Friday, December 10, 2010

Is 'Evil' the Newest Trend?

I've been reading books about knights and how they were romanticized and fictionalized by society. Sir Galahad, the Pure, was the favorite hero of the Victorian medievalists. Today, Lancelot and Guinevere steal the show, and often times our hearts, on the most recent versions of the story.

If we listen to today's kids, or even the writers on Twitter, we hear a common theme. Most people say they have more fun reading, watching or writing an evil character. When people talk about Heroes, they think of Sylar. When people talk about Lost, it's often Ben or Smokey. Kids on the corner talk about their favorite bad guys the way we used to talk about superheroes.

They think they are 'cooler' - 'more fun.'

So why the change? Are we becoming more tolerant of evil? Are we, ourselves, identifying more with the wicked side of mankind?

Maybe we just like to push the limits. Is it possible that we demand failure in our literary characters because failure is the only thing we can see in ourselves? Or do we need them as excuses, so we can justify the things we think or do?

With so much drama in the LBC... It's kinda hard being Snoop, D. O. double-G... If you just read that with your professor voice, then you have brought a smile to my face.

What are your opinions? Weigh in and leave your blog link.

22 comments: said...

I don't know if it's an issue of becoming more tolerant of evil or if it's that people are more intrigued by characters who get to do things we can't do. There's something kind of... I dunno... Cool about living vicariously through someone who gets to do evil things for the sake of a story. It's the stuff we can't do, but sometimes secretly want to... :)

I tend to prefer characters laced with moral ambiguity, honestly. The antiheroes and villains with good motives are a lot more interesting than white hats vs. black hats.

There were some interesting thoughts about heroes and villains on my blog last week.

I love these discussions!


Michele Shaw said...

What an intriguing question! I'm hoping people are loving evil characters for the fun in it...watching things happen they would never do themselves, or maybe letting go of life's frustrations that way. I enjoy writing good and bad characters. Both sides force me to stretch my mind!

Draven Ames said...

But if you live vicariously, is it as bad? To rephrase, would you want your husband to vicariously think about another woman? Perhaps you consider to be a consequence of being human? If vicariously cheating is wrong, then all vicarious activities can be deemed the same.

By watching vicariously, are in denial about our own nature? Are we going against instincts with civilization? I love the discussion.

Matthew said...

Interesting point, on the thought of living vicariously however, I'm not sure if that is bad.

It is much better to live vicariously and keep those notions inside and read or watch "evil" rather than letting it out.

Think Psychopath for a minute. They have an internal struggle where they know how they should act in any given situation, but yet many turn to serial killing or other violent acts. It is better for them to live vicariously than anything else, but couldn't we put that view on anyone "normal" as well?

Draven Ames said...

Most psychologists would disagree with you. If someone is already a 'psychopath,' fantasies will eventually become reality. The more we fantasize, the less it fulfills us. Wants become needs.

Hobbies become obsessions.

Unchecked, vicariousness can be more destructive to the mind than nearly all other courses of action - barring criminal activity. People justify it with 'well, he didn't kill somebody,' as if that were to be the natural course of events had there never been a vicarious outlet. However, crime does not decrease with television.

I need to defend vicariousness to write horror, but it's fun to play the devils advocate. Maybe I'm satisfying a secret, evil need. Who knows.

Matthew said...

Touche, touche. Perhaps I was just talking from the minds of one of my characters...who, of course, fails at keeping his dreams inside. I tend to start to think like my characters sometimes...must be time to get out of the house, lest I become them.

However, let's back up and just look at "normal" people then. A "normal" person has a concrete sense of right/wrong as well as a conscience. They can watch these things on television, or read about them, and thoroughly enjoy them while still maintaining a sense that they can never do those things. So, is it still destructive if they KNOW they cannot perform those actions?

Lynda Young said...

You've raised an interesting point. I think the bad guys are liked because they are often depicted as strong characters. We are all drawn to strength. There are many qualities in a bad guy that we secretly admire eg the bad guy won't conform.

Anonymous said...

People think bad guys are cooler for one girls always go for the bad bay. Two, The bad guys always have the better lines. Three you already know the good guys are going to win but being bad theyre unpredictable and you just never know what theyre going to do next.


Greg said...

I think with 'evil' characters, as a writer it opens up what can be done. You can experiment and play around when there are no rules or boundaries or limits.

With that in mind, I also like when a hero/heroine explores a darker side and vice-versa with typically 'evil' characters. When characters veer in directions completely opposite of their norm, I think it lends an air of relatability to them.

Draven Ames said...

Good point Linda. I would counter that it is easy to be Evil. It takes guts, for sure. But how hard is it to be evil? Has evil become the new poster boy for strength of character? How messed up would that be?

And thanks RJ They do get better lines, but we are the writers. Or is the truth that they have ideals we more closely believe? When the Joker put people on both boats, if it wasn't a movie, do you really think that the Joker would be proven wrong in Dark Knight?

I think people identify with evil characters because what we consider evil is now the new cool. Getting away with something is marginalized in movies and shows, as long as your a nice guy or have a family. Kids watch TV and try the things they see, getting away with murder if you don't pay attention.

Our kids have great guidance. We have been very lucky, knock on wood. We spend time with them to show what the real world is. They work hard in school because they know where it will lead. But they love bad guys on TV. No matter how hard I try, they are too cool for the boys. They understand that it's just a show, and we discuss the moral implications of their actions until they are blue in the face. But most children don't get this.

What do you say to your children when they think the bad guy 'Sylar' is cool, right after he rips off a ladies forehead? Do we identify with the bad guy because we know they will lose? Is this a root for the underdog who never gives up syndrome?

Draven Ames said...

I want the evil good guy. The character who is evil inside and in his past, but desperately wants to be good and fights his nature. Eventually winning out, he'd have to deal with the guilt. Is there redemption to be had, or must he/she pay for her sins for the audience to still love him/her?

Even if they were really evil? If the price was life, and they chose not to pay it, but lived then on as good, would the audience love them just for the struggle of self paved goodness?

Many say we can reform bad people. Can we really? Can you hang out with a murderer, after he's paid his debts? Would you leave him in your house?

Draven Ames said...

And Mathew: The Native Americans once said, "The concience is like a square block of wood in your brain. You go against it and the block turns. It hurts, so you stop. But the more it turns, the sooner the edges wear away. Soon you have a ball, and when it turns it no longer hurts.

Does vicarious living turn the square?

Kimberly Kinrade said...

LOVE this post. And yeah, TOTALLY read that with my professor voice. Took me a sec to figure out too LOL I'm so lame.

Anyways this is a really interesting discussion.

Two thoughts:

That of Aristotle's idea of catharsis. Most often applied to tragedy, but perhaps relates here. The need to engage in darker mental and literary pursuits in order to purge our souls of these emotions. (Unless you're a sociopath, then it feeds this.)

My second thought is that often hero's are just boring. One dimensional, flawless creatures of perfection and beauty. I know that's a sweeping generalization, but especially in full on good vs. evil epics, the good guys are just so darn squeaky clean good that who can relate? No one is THAT perfect? No one is physically flawless with super hero strength and a steel trap mind, and also a killer martial artist. Or whatever. So we look to the villain for REAL.

Now I don't like villains that are absolutely evil either. But it seems lately the bad guys are getting some depth. You can kinda get why they went bad, and you almost feel for them. Maybe to the point of wanting them to win and wanting that good guy to fall on his face and learn a lesson or two about real life.

Ok I know I'm being awfully hard on the good guys. But perhaps we'd like them more if they had a little of the bad boy mixed in.

Great work Draven ;)

Draven Ames said...

Now, if we argue that heroes have no depth, then we must be reading the wrong books - watching the wrong shows. In shows like Lost and Heroes the characters had depth (all plot holes aside) sure. But the kids loved the bad guys. The good guys were cool. Who will forget Jack's journey? But far more people will emulate Ben's lies than Jack's goodness. That was of no fault of the writers. Kids fight over who gets to be Sylar, not Superman.

The question is why do we look at the villain for real. It isn't because they aren't physically flawless or have a steel trap mind, many of them do, but because they are evil and humane. Ben had very real and touching moments in Lost, as did every bad guy in the show - if you could call any other than smokey evil at all. Sylar has more powers than anyone in Heroes, yet they are 'cool.'

So is it just bad writing in heroes? Or are the real, honest to God good heroes dead?

Are truly good people figments of our imagination?

I find that many passive aggressive people are only mad at the world for not trying as hard. They do things not because they have to, or want to, but because they feel it is the right thing to do. Most of the time, they are even right. However, many passive aggressive people watch others do as they please. They steam and continue on trying to be good. Eventually, many of those people blow up.

So, is goodness a myth that is dying? Are we all not just capitalistic, but completely self serving? For those of us who strive to do the right thing at all costs, should we give up on our fellows and join in?

If we think no one is free of fault, how then do we look at our mate? If there is always dirt when we dig, how can we faith in anything?

Evil is the new cool on TV. I think I'll write a TV script next, based on villains. Like Heroes, I'd put it in the world and draw parables about current society. There is so much you could do, writing that. I wonder what people would think, watching a show about philosophically evil men with the power to do as they please.

Man, I get long winded. I love these talks.

Sheri said...

Cheering on the bad guy has been around a long time. The Wicked Witch of the West was my favorite character in The Wizard of Oz!

Jeffrey Beesler said...

The need for survival is a base human instinct. We hunger, we thirst, we lust, we do lots of things driven on a biological level.

Conversely, we are beings who have developed a sense of intellect. We are driven to see the flaws in ourselves and society. These things, among us, can drive us toward evil.

Does this mean we empathize more with the villain than with the hero? To an extent, sure. Sometimes we just thrive on the suffering of others. (Misery loves company.)

And yet, even as humanity seems to gravitate toward the dark side, there still remains an inkling of hope, a light which may not fully be extinguished. We humans are creatures of complexity, primal in our biology, sophisticated in our ideals. I believe in the scheme of things most people would fall shy of both perfect hero and unredeemable villain. I also believe that we are as a species flawed in many, many ways.

Maybe the villain just represents the easy way of doing things, while the hero represents the harder way. With patience at all time low levels, with instant gratification running rampant in many aspects of society, is it any wonder we are so ready to give up the fight, to just lose ourselves in the darkness?

Could it be that the thing which drives us to celebrate the villain is that we're simply tired?

Draven Ames said...

I like your point on the villain and the good guy being the easy and hard way. The closer people get to desperation, the closer we are to reform or worse...

I thought Inception was actually trying to pull an inception on the crowd. The subliminal message: Break my father's company. The whole thing is a dream, the movie says. The end begs us to wake up, but many got different meanings. Interesting takes.

Yes, we could be tired. The cost of living is increasing, we're making nothing of substance, everything we sell is virtual or service based, MMORPG's and drugs have more users than America seems to have jobs and you need more than a two income household to function well. Children are forced to the babysitters, or to the TV - also many people's babysitter.

But there is a light. We all see it. Just as we see the darkness so easily and relate, we see the light and fear. Is it because we can't live up to the expectation for goodness? I know I try, but no one is perfect. Does that mean we should give up when tired?

I think Evil is a trend, but trends do die. I only hope that more families don't let the TV babysit. The bad guys are no longer losing.

Writing bad guys and good guys in a realistic manner can both be fun. But as everyone says, most real people are not just evil or good. We love the bad guys just as much as the good guys, because we see just as much of ourselves in both.

Sometimes bad guys do win. But should a writer choose sides, or be neutral?

I think you should always be true to the world. What you see, what you perceive as the truth, should be put in your book. Period.

Paul Joseph said...

When I read books that have a strong "evil" character, I find myself looking for that moment where they reveal something positive - something I wasn't expecting. Sometimes it isn't there, but other times, I detect a hint from the author that, just maybe, there is more to the story then what has been presented. For me, those are some of the more interesting literary discussions to have, especially when it's based solely on interpretation. So, I guess I am drawn to evil characters because I'm determined to seek out the reason behind their behavior - what was it that made them this way? For my own peace of mind, I have to have an answer; the contrary leaves me uncomfortable (though that isn't always a bad reaction to have as a reader, just not the one I was hoping for).

Interstingly enough, the majority of my current W.I.P. evolved from the concept of one particular villain. When you look at the entire novel, her number of appearances are minimal. However, her role in the grand scheme of thigs is significant. When writing the story, I do everything humanly possible to defer readers from liking her, because in my opinion, she is not to be liked. This was an interesting post to read. Being so close to the characters, it is hard for me to understand how anyone could be intrigued by her actions. This discussion has given me some things to consider when I revise those sections of the story. Great topic!

L.M. Stull said...

What a GREAT post! Personally, I think evil has been popular and always will be. While heroes are great, they are, well, perfect. As regular ole humans, we are not. No matter how wonderful all of us are, we all have inner demons and evil, whether we chose to admit it or not. So, I do agree that we can relate easier with the bad guys. See, we have a commonality with them: we have both suffered struggles and failures in our lives. Obviously, we probably haven't acted upon those failures/struggles the same way - or at least I hope we all aren't out there secretly killing people - but it is an identifiable experience; being perfect isn't.

Amie Kaufman said...

What fun to think about this! I write middle grade fiction, so when I think about evil, it's not about the kind of monstrous evil that you can explore in books for older readers--or at least, it's not quite so graphic. I write for kids who are at an age where they're really exploring right and wrong, though. Perhaps one of the reasons I'm drawn to this age group is that they tend to cheer for the good guy, and so do I!

The Kid In The Front Row said...

I think we're more dynamic these days.

I love old Jimmy Stewart movies, where he's all good and full of wonderful ideology. But it's not real.

I am a nice guy, I'm a good guy. But sometimes I am condescending, sometimes I'm ruthless, sometimes I'm unsympathetic -- we are all many, many things. And I think we're more open and aware of how dynamic we are, and we expect it from our characters.

I'm not interested in something being GOOD, or BAD. I'm interested in someone being who they are, and struggling with it.

We are all good and bad on individual levels. We all come from nations who have 'good' ideals and have done inmoral, awful things -- we are all in it together.

We don't celebrate evil. We're just learning about the evil within it and growing personally and culturally.

Kate said...

Villains have ALWAYS fascinated us, as have antiheroes. Go back to any era of literature, and you'll see charming, captivating, enthralling villains and antiheroes, right alongside those dashing paladins. Look, for instance, at Odysseus and Akhilles - they're not exactly straight-and-narrow heroes. They're closer to Dexter types, to use a modern reference.

There's something about stories that allows us to escape our normal lives, and what's more captivating and outside of our lives than wish fulfillment? The villain can do everything we've dreamed of, but wouldn't dare to actually execute. That's why we're so fascinated...