Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Scum and Villainy

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? I like villains.

That's not to say that I tolerate villainy, mind you, but I like villains.

I mean, every reader in the world has some idea of a person they'd love to hate (personally or otherwise), and it is these qualities that are inevitably expressed in the villains that they read. One might even say that readers transfer these hateable qualities onto their villains - so in a way, creating new villains is a little like guessing what people love to hate in other people.

I like villains, yes.

Of course, the tricky part lies in creating a long-term villain. Our beliefs and opinions are likely to change with time, which means that all the hateable characters we had at one point in life probably turned out to be not-so-hateable when we grew up and moved on. (I mean, come on - all that Gargamel really wanted was to see if he could turn six Smurfs into gold. And maybe to eat, of course. He was probably just misunderstood.)

Comics, paperback novels and movie franchises are our usual sources for long-term villains nowadays. Some of the characters that these forms of media originally introduced have pervaded public consciousness to the point that they are recognized as representations of villainy: Lex Luthor. Voldemort. Darth Vader. To us, these characters are so hateable that even if they turned goody-goody all of a sudden, we'd be immediately suspicious of their intentions.

The trouble is that comics, paperback novels and movie franchises can just as easily introduce anti-hero characters in their search for more creative personalities. At times, the anti-heroics are taken to such an extreme that it's difficult to tell the protagonist from the antagonist. Anyone seen Sin City, for instance?

So what makes a good long-term villain? The obvious conclusion would be that they would have to be hateable for a sustainable period of time. But what would make them hateable for such an extended period? How could they capture our attention for that long? And what would make them distinct from all the anti-hero archetypes running around?

Let's take a theoretical villain and analyze how he or she would fare in the aspects of long-term villainy. Along the way, I might as well toss in the aspects that I feel best embody a villain in this respect:

That's Eddie sitting on the plate. He's a piece of suman latik, a known Filipino food item made from glutinous rice, enjoyed as a midday snack or as a dessert for the most part.

Earlier on, Eddie realized that his lot in life was small and insignificant, and that he and his fellows were destined only for a fate that involved getting ground into base nutrients by the very humans who created them. Eddie, however, felt helpless to go against this destiny... until the human who took the first slice out of him proceeded to choke to death on glutionous rice blockage.

Eddie's path became clear: if he and his suman brethren could do the same to each and every human who dared to consume them, then they would not only gain the modicum of respect that they so sorely deserved, but they could also depopulate an entire country - perhaps even the entire world - of their human oppressors.

So now Eddie and his suman proletariat (a group that grows larger with every stockpile they liberate) sneak onto peoples' plates, waiting for the right moments when their unsuspecting targets begin a meal, before leaping down their throats until they choke to death. Eddie has been responsible for the death of hundreds at the 2002 World Suman Jamboree, has personally taken out investigators who have come too close to discovering his existence, and still leads his group with an interminable drive towards his next victims.


So what might make Eddie a possible long-term villain? I would guess the following:

1. Plausible Motivation
Eddie's narrow lot in life is good reason for him to be pissed off. It gives him a clear drive and motivation to carry out his plans for the length of a story. Not only that, mind you, but it gives him a "before" and an "after": His current moves have logical bases, and they have intended consequences.

I must note that any motivation used for villainous purposes may not necessarily be logical, as long as the villain himself sincerely believes in it. We may find it difficult to conceive of suman latik running the world, but if Eddie can dream of such a thing, then that's his game. It might even be possible to put together a villain with no clear motivation whatsoever, as long as he turns out to be homicidally insane as a result.

2. Large-Scale Planning
Eddie doesn't stop at just one human. He rests when all the offensive humans have literally choked on his foul wrath. Good villains think big, and initiate their plans with the appropriate amount of resources, ideals and charisma. Because large-scale plans take longer than usual to execute, villains who undertake them are usually able to last for the long term.

3. Subtlety
If you're a piece of suman latik, how much more subtle could you possibly get?

On the other hand, subtlety isn't just about sitting around and looking unassuming; Subtlety is about carrying out one's plans under everyones' noses. Any villain with a grand engine of a scheme that probably won't be taken very well by the general public will need to move in the shadows (or in plain sight) in order to bring such a plan to fruition. Eddie depends on the relative innocence of his suman army to make things work - and that's about as subtle as you can get.

4. Callous Disregard
When you're a large-scale villain, there have to be some things that you just don't care about. Your plans, after all, would have to take immediate precedence.

It is only the true villain that takes this type of prioritization to such a level that he would give away all those moral or ethical standards we hold dear. Eddie would be willing to sacrifice the members of his army in order to potentially kill every man, woman and child on the face of the earth. Other villains could just as easily be fine with wanton destruction, or bloody revolution, or what have you. What matters most to a long-term villain is their ultimate goal; Everything else should eventually finish a far second.

5. Intimidation
...And this is why Eddie ultimately doesn't make much of a long-term villain.

Villains are supposed to be intimidating. While this kind of stature may be sourced from their drive, their organization, their subtlety or their immorality, it borrows a good deal from their stance and intensity as well. Good long-term villains are supposed to be able to look the part, after all. Besides, what good is it being a villain if you can't scare the crap out of anybody?

Eddie, unfortunately, doesn't have that luxury. You'd sooner laugh at him than you would lie in paralyzed fear of him. (Actually, you'd sooner baste him in latik sauce and eat him, but that's besides the point.)

I figure that this list of qualities is by no means complete, but it should serve our purposes for this point in time. If anything, it should hopefully explain - to a certain extent - why we can stand in awe and admiration of certain examples of villainy, yet fail to understand exactly why some others are as evil as other people make them out to be.

Don't you just love the characters that we are all made to hate? :)

El Capitan

1 comment:

eClair said...

I love this post! bring it on, Sean! More! More!

Every week, just keep 'em coming! :D