” Do you know why people like violence? It is because it feels good. Humans find violence deeply satisfying. But remove the satisfaction, and the act becomes… hollow. ”
I think the above quote might appear a little familiar. These are the words of Benedict Cumberbatch who played Alan Turing in The Imitation Game; arguably one of the best roles of his career till date. These lines are in plain simple english, yet they have a positively haunting effect on our conscience as to why we, humans, homo sapiens like violence so much. And that leads us to our interesting dilemma – Why do we like villains so much ?
Darth Varder – the epitome of evil
Let’s face it. We have all had these thoughts in the most deepest, darkest parts of our brains. While watching a movie, a good ‘ol fight scene between the hero and the anti-hero we have always cheered for the hero to win along with all the audience, but sub-consciously why do we have a certain sympathy for the villain ? We know for sure, given a healthy diet of stereotypical good-triumphs-over-evil since our childhood, that the villain is going to lose; yet why do we still ascertain a certain humane element with him. Why is it that in spite of all the evil that the anti-hero has committed, we still laud him for his fight, his valiant defeat ?
Just like you, I also had had such thoughts in my mind, which I used to be ashamed to admit in front of others for fear of ridicule and simple disbelief over how could I even think of rooting for the villain. Now grown up, I looked at the examples in front of me and tried to find a solution to this dilemma.
Right through history we have seen varied types of villains, bad guys, arch-nemesis; whatever we may name them. There was the legendary Darth Varder, supposedly the epitome of evil of our parents’ generation ( and sadly forgotten now by Generation Y ). We saw Spiderman fight Victor Van Doom, his once mentor. We know of the forever scheming Loki Laufeyson ( Did you know his full name ?! ), the indomitable Lex Luthor. We have seen the two greatest villains in Ra’s Al Ghul and the Joker, an immortal and a homicidal maniac who haunt Batman out of his living daylights. We know of the recent villains like Magneto andLord Voldemort, with dynamic pasts and mysterious personalities. And as of today we have seen the ultimate anti-hero, watched him turn from an acquiescent chemistry teacher to a power-hungry drug dealer and still never faltered in our allegiance and devotion to him. It’s a strange thing when you step away from the man you’ve been idolizing and look at him as who he really is: a criminal, a madman and villain. I am talking of Walter White – the protagonist of Breaking Bad.
The new anti-hero : Walter White
But is our fascination with fantastic fiends healthy? It’s a question that’s bubbled beneath the surface of the public consciousness ever since. But why do we love them? Why do we find ourselves rooting for the ones who steal, lie and cheat? Why do we support the ones who sell meth and murder innocents? The ones who betray their lovers, alienate their friends and get even at any cost. What does this say about us?
From a psychological perspective, views vary on what drives our enduring interest in superhuman bad guys.
Shadow confrontation : Psychiatrist Carl Jung believed we need to confront and understand our own hidden nature to grow as human beings. Healthy confrontation with our shadow selves can unearth new strengths, whereas unhealthy attempts at a confrontation may involve dwelling on or unleashing the worst parts of ourselves.
Wish fulfillment : Sigmund Freud viewed human nature as inherently antisocial, biologically driven by the undisciplined id’s pleasure principle to get what we want when we want it — born to be bad but held back by society. Even if the psyche fully develops its ego (source of self-control) and superego (conscience), Freudians say the id still dwells underneath, and it wishes for many selfish things — so it would love to be supervillainous.
Conditioning : Ivan Pavlov would say we can learn to associate supervillains with other things we value — like entertainment, strength, freedom or the heroes themselves. Behaviorist B.F. Skinner would likely argue that we can find it reinforcing to watch or read about supervillains, but without knowing what’s reinforcing about them, that’s a bit like saying it’s rewarding because it’s rewarding.
Coming down to a level which most of us CAN understand … Why do we adore anti-heroes so much?
Freedom – Captain America can’t do any crazy thing that crosses his mind without seeming to mock and insult him- the hero, whereas those dressed as villains get to go wild. Supervillainy feels liberating.
We love them because it’s cathartic to love them – They make us feel better about those lies we told and those acts of betrayal. We don’t feel so bad about our own mistakes and flaws when we see others doing the same. I am sorry but folks, that’s human nature !
The Joker : possibly the most maniacal yet the most quoted villain
They are flawed, Like we are – Since there is no such thing as a perfect person, why would we want to watch one on screen? Empathy is one of the strongest emotions we have and being able to understand a character, even when he is murdering innocents and betraying loved ones, has a very profound effect.
They are complex, Like we are – Life isn’t simple and neither are we. We are all racked with insecurities, demons and regrets. We like to watch people with emotions and hardships like ours. We expect the characters that we’ve invested so much time in to have the same complex emotions as ourselves.
Domination – Maybe you envy the power these evil characters wield. While that’s also a reason to adore superheroes, good guys don’t ache to dominate, they are happy with what they have.
Revenge – Batman not only protects the innocent, he inflicts pain upon the wicked and instills in them the fear they’d create in others. A child who feels bullied wants protection and might want the bullies to suffer in kind. Batman only goes so far. But the part of a person that wants payback might appreciate villains’ frequent schemes for revenge.
Better villain equals better hero – A hero only appears as heroic as the challenge he or she must overcome. Great heroes require great villains: Without criminals, Batman has nobody to hit and Superman’s a flying rescue worker searching for people to save from wrecks and natural disasters. Without supercriminals, the world’s finest heroes seem like overpowered brutes nabbing thugs unworthy of them.
We follow these characters throughout their journeys: their quests for redemption, fame, fortune and love — the same common goals we find ourselves longing after. And like ourselves, we see the selfishness that comes with attaining goals and dreams. We watch other people commit betrayal and wrongdoing that comes with human nature.
It says we’re realistic; we understand the true fabric of what makes this world great, the flaws of the people and their selfish motives. We live in an age of divorce, corruption and celebrity meltdowns, realizing at a young age that no one is perfect and watching someone perfect isn’t what we want to see. We want to see the people like us, the people with flaws and mixed morals. We want to watch the people who don’t know how to behave correctly all the time and don’t always make the morally correct decision.
Reading this might leave you a little confused, irritated, you might question my sanity, but definitely this would have caused you to think. Maybe we are not as good-at-heart as we actually perceive to be, or even worse, pretend to be. But more on a final note, good will always triumph over evil. This is not me speaking out of those years of stereotypical education, but my reason speaking out. We should always remember that evil might appear to be attractive, alluring, mysterious; yet it still remains evil. And it is always wise to know the difference. Just like the Joker says –
” Madness as you know is a lot like gravity, all it needs is a little push… “