Rise of the psychopathic villain
The Nazi officer smirks, as the prisoner begs for his life. Instead of any human feelings, he just revels in the pain he inflicts. He is powerful, merciless, and stupid enough to be foiled by the heroes who, against their better interest, came to liberate the helpless victims of this evil butcher. Change the channel! The heartless businessman pushes for more sales of the opioid drug his company produces, destroying the lives of honest, hard working Americans living in flyover country. Change it again! The evil general commands the destruction of a helpless village, laughing maniacally while the future hero of the story vows revenge in Japanese.
You've heard it before, you've seen it before and you've read it before. The mindless, unreasonably evil character who has two purposes only: to be totally unlikeable, an example of what not to be, and to be defeated by the hero, an example of what you should be. But it's not enough! The hero must be a "normal" person, someone you can relate with: powerless, bound by social contracts, connected with people in their community, wanting nothing more than to live their life in peace. But no! This evil asshole is just determined to stand in the way for absolutely no other reason than gaining ultimate power, more than they, or anyone else, deserve. And the hero needs to overcome impossible odds just to have the opportunity to defeat, in an honorable way, the villain. In the end, they will prevail thanks to a combination of friendly help, evolving to a higher level of power (which was always inside them) and sheer dumb luck.
Now, the Dunning Kruger folk will just lap this story up, imagining themselves the hero, but realistic people will just think "wait a minute! If this guy who is well connected in his community, strong as an ox and looking like The Rock, after focused training that he immediately picks up finding magical and physical powers that are beyond reason, has almost no chance of defeating the villain and only gets there through luck, then what the hell chance does a normal human being have?". And a few broken people would ask themselves if the villain wasn't a bit right, wanting to destroy this pathetic place we called "the world".
Where did these stories come from? Why are we suffocated by them and still consuming them like addicts? What is the result of all that?
The psychopathic villain trope is just a version of the old fashioned fairy tale: the knight and the dragon, the peasant and the lord, the girl and the lecherous wizard, the light and the dark. It is the way we explain to little children, who have no frame of reference, that there are ways we prefer them to be and others than we do not. It's a condescending format, design to teach simple concept to little idiots, because they don't know better. Further on, as the child grows up, they should learn that there are nuances, that no one is truly evil or good, that all of us believe we are the protagonist, but we are just a part of a larger network of people. This we call "real life" and the black and white comic book story we call "fantasy", designed to alleviate our anguish.
Yet we stick to the fantasy, and we avoid reality. And it's easy! In fact, it's much easier than any other strategy: close your mind, split your understanding into just two parts, one where you feel comfortable and the other which must be destroyed in the name of all that is holy. To even consider the point of view of the other side if blasphemy and treason. In fact, there is no other side. There is your side and then there is evil, darkness, void, unknown. Which conveniently makes you the good guy who doesn't need to know anything about the other side.
OK, maybe you can't win every battle. Maybe you will never win any battle. But you are a warrior at heart! You don't actually have to do anything. And as you wait for the inevitable defeat of evil at your righteous hand, you can watch other heroes like yourself defeat evil, stupid, one sided villains. And it feels good. And it has been feeling good for as long as stories existed, then books, then plays, then movies and now video games. Yet never have we been bombarded, from every conceivable angle, with so many versions of the same thing.
If hero escapism was a pill that made life more bearable, now it's most of our lives: films, series, games, news. We were raised on them and we are being tamed by them every single day. They are so ubiquitous that if they are gone, we miss them. It's an addiction as toxic as any other. We can't live without it and we pay as much as necessary to get our hit. And this has been happening for at least two generations.
So when we are complaining that today's dumb entitled teenage fuck generation is incapable of understanding nuance, of moderation, of rational thought, of controlling their emotions, of paying attention for more than five minutes to anything, of dialogue, of empathy... it's not their fault. We raised them like this. We educated them in the belief that they are owed things without any effort, that their feelings are valid and good and that it's OK to consider everybody else evil as long as they are different enough. That we must be inclusive with any culture, as long as it is also inclusive, otherwise exclude the shit out of it.
The trope of the psychopathic villain did not teach these people to be heroes, it taught them to be the foil to the people too different from them. And here we are. Psychopaths on all sides, thinking they are good and righteous and that sooner or later ultimate power will be theirs. The only positive thing in all this: they believe the power is inside them and will reveal itself when most needed, without any effort or training. That's what makes them dumb psychotic evil villains, completely unreasonable and easy to defeat.
If only there were any smart heroes left.
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