Green Room

Maybe a lack of Hollywood villains is to blame for our politics?

posted at 12:56 pm on December 7, 2012 by

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.

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When can’t have Middle Eastern terrorists as bad guys everything else just falls apart.

Oil Can on December 7, 2012 at 12:59 PM

I’m sorry, but this is dumb. I work in the field and can tell you that the creation of a villain is the hardest thing. Producers are constantly challenging the notion of a villain because they hate being cliche. If you explore the supposed moral relativism of the villain, whatever the backstory is, the villain still chose to retaliate or go down a reckless path. Recall that the original garden story of Adam & Eve is about free will. Now, go backwards through film history and give me a good villain that didn’t have complexity. How about the shark in Jaws? Poor little guy was just hungry, why call him evil?

John the Libertarian on December 7, 2012 at 1:27 PM

I’ve always wondered if Michael Caine had a say in Alfred’s declaration about evil. I think his line “some men just want to watch the world burn” makes the movie.

Hollywood, a place where Stephen Baldwin gets mocked and arrested but Alec Baldwin is worshipped.

Capitalist Hog on December 7, 2012 at 1:28 PM

So why do they decide that CIA officials are merciless killers, operating out of a high rise, not that far from where the WTC stood, why are corporations, like Weyland/Yutani always the villain,

narciso on December 7, 2012 at 1:34 PM

Silva, btw, was just Sean Bean’s Trevelyan update for the modern day,
with a backstory out of the Tolstoy libel stories, he was betrayed by M, who represents MI-6, so he is just tearing down, everything that is important to her,

narciso on December 7, 2012 at 1:39 PM

There’s a difference between giving villains humanizing qualities and making excuses for them. Most famous Hollywood bad guys/gals (portrayed by Cagney, Robinson, Bogart, Turner, Stanwyck, etc.) were still somewhat complicated characters. Shakespeare’s villains (Shylock, Othello, even Richard III) had some sympathetic traits. If they’d been cardboard cutouts, adult audiences wouldn’t have found them so frightening.

As I said, adult audiences.

Seth Halpern on December 7, 2012 at 1:39 PM

Lecter was a lot more interesting when he was merely evil rather than the product of an agonizing childhood.

Maybe I’m a heartless SOB, but having a rotten childhood doesn’t justify eating someone’s face.

CurtZHP on December 7, 2012 at 1:47 PM

The rich Horace Mann kid who liked to pour sand on me from his upper bunk in camp, and then accused me of “begging” when I asked him to stop, would have made a pretty good movie villain. Years later in law school I met someone who’d been with him at Yale. “Ah, yes, so-and-so,” he remembered. “He was impotent.” And then he let out a sly giggle.

Seth Halpern on December 7, 2012 at 2:04 PM

Producers are constantly challenging the notion of a villain because they hate being cliche.

John the Libertarian on December 7, 2012 at 1:27 PM

Er… since when? I can think of few endeavors that embrace the cliched more heartily than the movie industry. So many movie plots, characters, situations — in fact, the whole movies themselves — are just cookie cutter repetitions, that I think the fear of NOT being cliched is what drives most producers.

Shump on December 7, 2012 at 2:05 PM

Voldemort had an awful backstory, but one of the themes of the entire Harry Potter series is that Harry’s background was just as awful—but Harry made the better choices Voldemort did not make, which made Harry the only man who could defeat Voldemort.

Sekhmet on December 7, 2012 at 2:47 PM

It’s ok with me if villains have a back story. However, I quit watching 24 Hours when they went from Islamist terrorists to corporate villains. Other shows do that too, but at least they change up the villains from episode to episode.

juliesa on December 7, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Now, go backwards through film history and give me a good villain that didn’t have complexity.

John the Libertarian on December 7, 2012 at 1:27 PM

Emperor Palpatine?

malclave on December 7, 2012 at 10:12 PM

Not even the Green Room shrubs could muster the requisite COURAGE!

December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy…

A date which will live in — Infamy?

Not if you’re HotAir.com — or Google — or Yahoo.

HotAir.com posts NOTHING on Pearl Harbor Day to commemorate the horrific Japanese surprise attack on the American Naval Fleet in port at Pearl Harbor leaving 2,402 Americans killed and 1,282 Americans wounded — many of them civilians.

Pathetic.

This website has gone to crap ever since Michelle Malkin sold out to the highest bidder.

HotAir.com — Guaranteed Soft & SquishyOr Your Money Back

FlatFoot on December 7, 2012 at 11:41 PM

“The Dark Knight” was the best post 9-11 movie, and still is chiefly because it painted evil as it should be painted. The character Alfred’s description of “men who just want to watch the world burn” was a spot on description of some of the evil we as a country have faced in the past decade. That film was a brilliant painting of America post 9-11, and it was deliberate in the extreme. The Joker was a terrorist. Batman was a leading figure who had to take charge and do the things no one wanted to do (but had to) as a “Dark Knight” (such as spying). It was all too perfect. Any conservative should watch the film through that lens. Even the movies cover art was deliberate. It shows Batman standing in front of a a building with the bat symbol burning in the side of it – eerily looking like a gaping hole we’ve seen in the side of buildings before.

“Dark Knight Rises” was also decent but I think it came up short because it chose to cover different topics. It adequately showed a federal government failing to aid a city in need. It also did a great job of showing the evils of the bash the rich occupy mentality. Unfortunately, as great as the films political message was, its story telling kind of fell flat in the absence of a Ledger/Joker like character.

eski502 on December 8, 2012 at 12:19 AM

Hollywood has villians. Christians and Conservatives.

hawkdriver on December 8, 2012 at 9:59 AM

FlatFoot on December 7, 2012 at 11:41 PM

Dude, I was disappointed too. But we got it the first 5-6 times you spammed it.

hawkdriver on December 8, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Emperor Palpatine?

malclave on December 7, 2012 at 10:12 PM

Interesting bit, there. Darth Vader was always something of an anti-hero, someone who has a somewhat different set of values, while Tarken and the Emperor played the real villains — people who enjoy doing wrong.

Count to 10 on December 8, 2012 at 11:33 AM

Terrorists tend to be depicted as anti-heroes (people who are doing what they think is right) while corporations are depicted as villains (people who are doing what they know is wrong).

Count to 10 on December 8, 2012 at 11:35 AM

Darth Vader was always something of an anti-hero

What? No he wasn’t.

lorien1973 on December 8, 2012 at 12:46 PM