• Avani Sood

When Evil Triumphs

The 2012 DC film “The Dark Knight”, was the first superhero film to bag à major award at the Academy Awards, not for the hero, but for the villain- Joker, portrayed by Heath Ledger. Ledger’s Joker continues to be one of superhero cinema’s most beloved characters, but it’s also an indication of the preferences of contemporary cinema audiences- we like villains over heroes.


We appreciate the complexity, depth and moral grayness that is central to villains and that which is absent in do-good be-good heroes. Why? It’s simple - villains are reminiscent of human characteristics.


People are plain and simple people, with flaws and highlights, and we see a grain of ourselves in villains, find ourselves able to imagine ourselves in the villain’s shoes, navigating the moral crossroads they encounter.


But that’s not all; villains exist extrajudicially, outside the realm of law, boundaries and obligations, and we, as humans, long for the same unhindered freedom that villains enjoy. Kingsman: The Secret Service featured Samuel. L. Jackson as a hip billionaire supervillain, and with billions of dollars, super hi-tech and unbelievable power in his hands, amounting to all the freedom one could ask for.


Needless to say, he is definitely à memorable villain. Not to mention, every diabolical chap has the sickest aura which we all want. I mean, who doesn’t want to roll around in Loki’s dramatic emerald drape or Le Chiffre’s fine tailored suits?


Carl Jung noted that humans need to be aware of their negative side (the one that all people have) and confront it healthily, and villains are manifestations of what it would be like if we dealt with our darker emotions unhealthily. Ivan Pavlov, famous for his concept of conditioning, would probably argue that we are attached to villains because we see in them values we want for ourselves- freedom from inhibitions, and the like.


According to new research published in the journal Psychological Science, people may find fictional villains surprisingly likable when they share similarities with the viewer or reader. This attraction to potentially more negative versions of ourselves in the media occurs even though we would be disgusted by real-world individuals who have similarly immoral or unstable behaviors.


One reason for this hypocrisy, the research indicates, is that fiction acts like a cognitive safety net, allowing us to identify with villainous characters without tainting our self-image. People generally feel uncomfortable when they find similar characteristics between themselves and negative people nearby. However, in fiction, the comparison is more alluring, as the subject is not real.


Researchers analyzed data from the website CharacTour, an online, character-focused entertainment platform that had approximately 232,500 registered users at the time of analysis. One of the site’s features allows users to take a personality quiz and see their similarity to different characters who had been coded as either villainous or not. Villains included characters such as Maleficent, The Joker, and Darth Vader. Nonvillains included Sherlock Holmes, Joey Tribbiani, and Yoda.


In the end, research concludes that maybe it is the fact that we can engage with alternate facets of our own personality, reflected in villains, without having to end up in the moral hamster wheel of “am I a good person?”


Whatever it may be, something we can all agree on, is that villains are iconic and are necessary for film to reflect human society.


Sources:

From Voldemort to Vader, Science Says We Prefer Fictional Villains Who Remind Us of Ourselves – Association for Psychological Science – APS

https://medium.com/invisible-illness/the-psychology-behind-why-we-love-villains-820bc5867bf2

https://www.wired.com/2012/07/why-do-supervillains-fascinate-us/




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