Friday, April 13, 2012

My Villainous Fantasies, Part 2: Truly Evil

Who do I fantasize about being when I fantasize about being truly evil?

Answer: two serial killers and a demon of the psyche.  Plus, real vs. penny dreadful images of serial killers and what qualifies as "truly evil" to someone who included Don Corleone and Tyler Durdan on their "antihero" list...

Patrick Bateman, serial killer from American Psycho.  Did not make the cut, but close. 

I think it was apparent from the "addendum" post that even I am a little creeped out by the idea of admitting these fantasies.

I'm not a serial killer worshiper even remotely.  In fact, I loath the people who collect murderabilia and compare kill lists like baseball stats.

Real serial killers are awful.  They're often very ill and live in disgusting conditions.

Yet, when I went over the list of imaginary characters who were truly evil, serial killers kept popping up.

I wanted to include things like thieves or characters from ancient stories on my truly evil list.  But if I'm 100% honest, while real serial killers are terrible, serial killers in stories are, for lack of a better term, godlike.

Real serial killers lack all the qualities I admire: strength, confidence, self control, etc.

In the Western collective unconscious, however, serial killers take on mythical powers and embody Übermensch ideals, and I think it's that quality that leads me to fantasize about being a penny dreadful serial killer.

What I mean by "truly evil"

First I had to define "truly evil."  In my antiheros post, I included characters like Don Corleone (honorable mention) and Tyler Durdan (bronze medal winner.)

But Don Corleone, like all the mafia bosses in The Godfather is, in fact, a killer, if not by his hands then by his orders.  He's also a pimp and a drug dealer in the same sense.

"If Don Corleone isn't evil," I asked myself, "what do I mean by 'evil'?"

Corleone's motives are not virtuous.  Dirty Harry kills with his own hands.  But neither one of these characters are what I think of as "evil."  They're not "good," but they're certainly not what I mean when I think of an "evil villain."

However, I would say that Patrick Bateman, the serial killer in American Psycho [book and film], is definitely an evil villain.

So, based on comparing these characters I developed a list of three features which help define what I think of as an "evil villain":

  1. Does evil acts (e.g. theft or murder) outside a social norm:   Don Corleone may kill, but it's part of his culture, and in a sense, he's looking after his "tribe."  I wouldn't consider a cannibal from New Guinea to be an evil villain, either, if murder and cannibalism were normal for his tribe as well.  In fact, one of the best characters in story is Queequeg [Moby Dick, 1851 book], who is a cannibal and not only not evil, but a good guy.
  2. Is irredeemable:   The eponymous character from Megamind is not really an "evil villain."  The queen from Sleeping Beauty [1959 film] would be an evil villain.
  3. Performs the evil acts for self-benefit, rather than the benefit of others:  In Batman [1990's animated TV series], Harley Quinn would not be an "evil villain" to me, but the Joker would be.  In the same sense, unless they were operating for personal gain as well, most of the underlings in the James Bond films would not evil villains.  This helps distinguish between an "evil villain" and a mere "lackey." 

Honorable Mentions
(Warning: Spoilers littered throughout)

The Joker from The Dark Knight [2005 film], was attractive to me because of the opening scene where he uses human psychology to make a machine to rob a bank.  However, the Joker is by and large a nasty character, not in the evil sense, but mentally disorganized and unclean.  So, despite the epic coolness of the opening I really wouldn't want to be him.

Similarly, Patrick Bateman [American Psycho, film and book] wins points for being manipulative, suave and great at compartmentalizing.  I love his ability to lead a complete, successful double life.

However, the movie is only slightly better than a slasher flick, and while in the book he's a far deeper and more vibrant character, he's also a sexual predator and exhibits more... realistic... secondary behaviors associated with being a serial killer.  So, once again, the problem of illness and uncleanliness knock him out of the winners circle.

I would strongly recommend American Psycho to anyone with a strong stomach who is also interested in a deconstruction of the politics of consumerism.  Ellis brilliantly correlates Bateman's murderous predatory compulsions to his predatory socioeconomic compulsions.  The book is introspective, philosophical and I'll never hear Phil Collin's songs in quite the same way ever again.

The Winners

Hannibal Lecter, Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, books and films

Dr. Lecter taking a moment to enjoy Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata
Hannibal Lecter was the character I was thinking of when I originally asked Roger Owen what villain he would like to be.

For most people who only know me socially, Lecter is a very odd choice.  "A vegetarian fantasizing about being a cannibal?" they might say.

But Lecter is the definition of Übermensch and a classic Factor 1 psychopath under the Hare classification system*.

I think it's fairly obvious why I would want his Übermensch qualities.  He's a psychological genius who can apply what he knows about human psychology to get what he wants.  Who wouldn't want that ability?

However, I also often wish I was a psychopath.  Sometimes I wish I genuinely didn't care what other people felt or thought and only viewed them as animals.  Maybe it's a lame reason to want to be Lecter, but it's a genuine one.

He's also not nasty in any sense.  He's remarkably refined, elegant and clean.  He's not a sexual predator and he doesn't prey on those weaker than him, not because he pities them but because of a sense of personal pride.

Lecter is an awesome evil villain, and one that I've fantasized about being a lot.

*Yes, I know that the DSMIV-R doesn't use Hare's definitions, but I think they're quite useful for understanding the difference between a socially adept psychopath and a non-socially adept psychopath.

Erik, aka "The Phantom of the Opera," Phantom of the Opera, 1909 book

While the musical "The Phantom of the Opera" is very good, it's not the character that interests me.

In Gaston Leroux's novel, Erik, The Phantom or, as he often signs his letters, Opera Ghost, is a complex character who is truly villainous.

In the musical, his genius with mechanical things is only hinted at with the tambourine monkey in the opening and closing scenes.  In the novel, his mechanical genius plays a central role, particularly in the capture and torture of Raoul, Christine's love interest.  In his basement layer, among the fabulous toys is a palace of mirrors and illusions that nearly destroys Raoul.

Erik is a touch of a rule breaker, as he ultimately shows potential for redemption at the end of the novel.  However, he is also a serial killer, which I feel gives him points enough to be classified as "truly evil."

He is a perfectionist with a love for beauty and the ability to create beautiful things.  He's definitely an evil villain I've fantasized about.

The Conscience, The Messenger, 1999 film

When I really, really thought about it, I realized that most of the time when I fantasize about being "evil," I'm not fantasizing about hurting or stealing but instead forcing realization.  Therefore, The Conscience, from the 1999 film The Messenger, is probably my #1 evil villain fantasy.

I don't particularly fantasize about doing what he does to Joan of Arc.  In fact, I would never say those things to her unless she were my close personal friend.  Honestly, if I were living in France at the time and heard about her, I'd probably swipe some chain mail and try to follow her rather than try to discourage her.

But I wish I could hold up a mirror to mankind and force them to hear.  I wouldn't want to be Joan of Arc's Conscience, but more mankind's Conscience.

Now, there are those who might say "Well, that's not terribly evil..."

Well... I don't know about that.  Imagine what would happen if your worldview was attacked and systematically deconstructed and you could not avoid it or defend yourself.  I'm fairly certain the results would not be particularly positive.

Imagine if the world lost faith in fiat currency or the dollar.

Imagine if people really realized the extent that they had been lied to.

Imagine if they realized... well, reality.  If they suddenly all thought simultaneously "My life sucks and I really don't have that much to lose..."  Or: "We really do outnumber them..."

But, I suppose that there I go again.  Even when I fantasize about being a villain, I fantasize the most about a great argument.

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