Maybe a lack of Hollywood villains is to blame for our politics?
posted at 12:56 pm on December 7, 2012 by Ed Morrissey
I’m linking this piece from Stephen Carter at Bloomberg not because I agree with his linkage of Hollywood political correctness and viciousness in politics, but because he really does hit the nail on the head about Hollywood villains these days. Everyone gets the moral-relativism treatment … except for corporate bosses, of course:
It’s as though the folks who make films don’t think we’ll appreciate an old-fashioned bad guy, the implacable face of evil. They seem to be forgetting what makes a cinematic bad guy so deliciously wicked to watch. The scary movie should be cathartic. The catharsis, as John Kenneth Muir notes in his study of the director Wes Craven, comes from staring absolute evil in the face — and surviving the experience.
Nowadays, even when filmmakers do come up with a brilliant bad guy, they ruin him by giving him a humanizing back story. Lecter was a lot more interesting when he was merely evil rather than the product of an agonizing childhood. Darth Vader was more fun before his wickedness turned out to be the result of adolescent anger and love lost.
Yes, there are still implacable monsters out there, but they tend to be evil corporate honchos — almost always from the banking or petrochemical industries — who lack back stories entirely but know how to hire legions of hit men to protect their profits. People who work for U.S. intelligence can also be evil and remorseless — look at the “Bourne” franchise, where a series of novels about a hero trained to hunt down terrorists becomes a series of films about wicked Central Intelligence Agency officials. (And, as the most casual follower of the “Law and Order” franchise knows, the most dangerous psychopaths are often found in the hallways of exclusive private high schools.)
As to the rest, they’re mostly misunderstood. Even the machines in the “Terminator” films turn out to have a point of view. …
There are still vicious, unreasoning creatures out there. But they tend to be invaders from other planets, or our own former friends and families transformed into hordes of zombies, who exist for the sole purpose of shuffling after us in search of a meal. They are not bad people.
In fairness, Hollywood managed a bit of the old magic with Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” although one had the sense that, but for Ledger’s untimely death, a sequel was in the offing that would have explained what happened to the poor fellow when he was younger.
The Dark Knight deliberately treated evil as evil, and not just a cultural misunderstanding. Too much of that approach is bad, too, when it’s done in a simple-minded and knee-jerk manner. Still, it would be nice to see more acknowledgment of the actuality of evil as opposed to politically-correct moral relativism in cinema.
So, I don’t think that Carter gets his diagnosis entirely correct. I think the problems he laments in politics comes from a need to treat politics as entertainment on one hand, and a lack of trust in voters to give them cogent and specific arguments on policy. It’s easier and more fun (for some) to call names and demonize. This, however, has always been true of politics. If you don’t think that’s the case, try reading some history on the presidential election of 1800. That doesn’t make it any less unpleasant, but it’s a different issue than whatever ails Hollywood.