Rooting for the Villians

Written by Shiva Rodriguez (2016) 

While there are certainly exceptions, I tend to favor the black hat characters over all others in books and film. They just seem to be easier to relate to, but usually in a manner that polite society doesn't like to acknowledge. The villains do things that I think many people would love to do but also know better than to make the attempt.

Villains are generally out for themselves. They are selfish... like most people. I know that it isn't considered to be a good thing, but it is far easier to identify with a character who puts himself and his loved ones first rather than a character who would go through hardships or sacrifice everything he has
for the benefit of strangers.

What usually drives the villain in a story? The desire for power, wealth, or revenge are some of the most common goals for the bad guy. I can't think of anyone off the top of my head who hasn't wanted at least one of those things at one time or another. They just wouldn't dare go as far as Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter or Clyde Sheldon in Law Abiding Citizen did.

Even when the villain is the strong, silent type in a run-of-the-mill slasher film, I still find myself cheering him on more often than not. I'll admit that I do find some bit of satisfaction in watching Jason Vorhees chop annoying people up into little gobs. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this, given that so many of these type of films do have the token everyone-wants-to-see-dead characters in the victim
pool. (I kid you not, when I went to see House of Wax in the cinema house, half the audience gave the killer a standing ovation when Paris Hilton got impaled through the head.)

Of course, I have to thank Rob Zombie for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the boy who would become The Shape in his remake of Halloween. I'm particularly fond of Zombie's films because he often lets us spend some time to get to know his bad guys.

My favorite black hats are the ones who know that what they do is not exactly approved by society but they keep with their vision and even have some fun with it. A shining example of this is Sasha from Hostel Part II (although we can assume he was behind-the-scenes in Part I, we just hadn't had the pleasure of meeting him yet.) How could I not love a character who literally capitalizes on the fact that some humans have some rather dark fantasies?

John Kramer/Jigsaw in the Saw series is a particular favorite of mine because he is very unique and his development over several films kept me intrigued. The popular idea I've seen on fan sites that Jigsaw only uses “bad” or morally-questionable people in his games is dead wrong... he used plenty of “innocents” as cannon fodder over the years. That doesn't bother me at all. I don't have to justify someone's victims (ala Dexter) in order to really like a villainous character. Jigsaw's habit of using human nature against itself in his traps is a nice touch, and as far as I can tell he never lied to anyone during his games... and they are just so damned creative!

My favorite Saw films are ones when the “test subjects” were more personal to the character... particularly in Saw VI. I mean, I almost stood up and applauded when I realised that Jigsaw was going after the health insurance company that screwed him over.

Generally speaking, heroes are far too predictable. (I say generally because in recent years I have seen a little change to this pattern, which is refreshing but not terribly common.) We can be fairly certain that they will do the “right” thing and everyone will feel good about it, even after they have the almost-mandatory moment of doubt or screw-up. Heroes aren't usually prone to changing course or exploringother moral options when it comes to how they go about doing things (and they generally feel terrible about it if they are allowed to do so in a story.) And yes, this goes for most anti-heroes too... although they seem to be much more reluctant to admit it.

The anti-villain can go either way. The misunderstood monster can either win the hearts of the villagers or just start eating them as part of a nutritious breakfast.

However, I do despise it when writers or film-makers seem to start thinking that they've made a bad guy too likable and throw something in to remind the audience that he's not the one they should be cheering for. In The Prophecy, the Lucifer character was actually quite helpful despite his disliking of humans. I almost threw my shoe at the screen near the end when he suddenly switched into the stereotypical devil-wants-your-soul mode. After all, he had already told the hero exactly why he was helping him and it had nothing to do with being a good little devil who wanted to save mankind. There was no reason for him to turn into a big meanie before the end credit roll.

Mind you, there are some bad guys in film and literature that I just can't stand. They are the ones that seem to have been ripped straight out of a children's comic book with a twirled mustache and a literal black hat looming over a damsel in distress tied to railroad tracks. You can almost imagine these blokes
waking up in the morning and looking over a checklist of Evil Things To Do to plan his day just for the sake of being the bad guy.

I've seen this most often in books and films where the villain is based on a person or idea that the world generally considers despicable to begin with and the whole point of the show is to illustrate how bad he or she is.

For example, while watching House of Saddam there was so much “bad” piled on in the first 20 minutes that I had to wonder how much longer it would be before he ate a puppy. I know that the guy did some pretty awful things in his life, but I find it wholly unbelievable that he spent every single moment of his life doing terrible things. (I mean, even Amon Goeth got a break from being a complete bastard in Schindler's List.)

An interesting side note...

I've been noticing over the past couple decades that heroes have been taking a few aesthetic tips from the villains. This became glaringly obvious to me when I saw the make-over on the costumes for the X-Men movies and also with The Matrix. You can't tell me that it doesn't look like the white hats haven't been raiding the black hat wardrobe lately.

With the exception of characters who were disfigured as part of their back-story, like Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street or The Joker in Batman, it seems that many villains are quite good-looking and some are even downright charming. (Dracula. Need I say more?)

Given that the whole terminology for white hat / black hat came from describing the usual attire of the type of characters and that the bad guys were once almost always dis-likable brutes with scars or other unattractive physical qualities while the knights wore shining armor... well, I do have to wonder about modern society and its evolving character ideals. It does seem to go against the little girl's dream of being whisked away by a handsome stranger.

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