This week’s lessons on Geek Anthropology is all about loving Villains. Why do we love villains so much? Last week I talked about one of my favorite characters and the reasons why he might be loved by such a wide fanbase. And writing the piece made me realize that Loki is not the only multilayered villain I love. I tend to fall for multilayered, well-constructed villains who happen to have motives to be as wicked as they are. Their flaws, mistakes and motives make them lovable. So much so, that they become exaggerated mirrors of the human condition. While heroes might be ideals to achieve, villains are opportunities for us to reflect on ourselves.
Even if heroes might have flaws too, it is villains who might show us what happens when we let darkness into our hearts. On one hand, villains represent freedom from the tight rules of society, the wild wish of doing whatever you want without fearing the consequences. This appeal, however, pales when we’re confronted with the evil they’re capable of. When their story is complete, when the characters are multidimensional there is room for empathy. Fans may then explore their personalities through the villain’s journey.
One-dimensional villains are not appealing because they’re presented as pure evil. Even when their powers are as great as the heroes’, reality is that they leave us with little room for empathy. They do not help us in taking a look at ourselves. However, when villains are presented with a whole story, with all their complexities, we’re capable of loving those who we should hate. Examples of lovable villains are Darth Vader, Loki, Rumplestiltskin, Regina the Evil Queen, and Dark Hook among others.
Heroes tend to be passive and reactive while villains are active and creative. Heroes keep things as they are, villains challenge everything. Heroes won’t start working as such unless there is something that challenges the status quo. So, Thor will not make a move unless Loki messes things up. Snow will do nothing unless the Evil Queen makes people suffer. Thus, we can say that villains are crafters. Granted, crafters of evil, but they’re the ones with the crazy ideas. They challenge society into moving. True that their motives might be biased, but it’s also true that they’re pretty creative. In challenging social rules and roles, they also open a door for our imagination.
So, villains will be believable if their motivations are also believable. How they got to be villains is what makes audiences be able to love them and empathize with them. They are also capable of making us think if their situation reminds us of something. What would have we done in their situation? What did we do when we were in that situation?
Complex villains who leave some room for any change are those who happen to have more fans. Darth Vader turned to good at the end; Rumpelstiltskin ended up a hero, and Regina became quite good after a lot of effort. Because they are as complicated as human beings, they let us explore our personalities through their evil actions, their motives, and their failures.
While heroes might show us the ideals of what we would like to become, villains explain our human nature in ways heroes can’t. Maybe that’s why we’re so fascinated with multilayered villains. Maybe that’s why the Dark side has cookies.