Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Bad Boys, Bad Boys

What is it about fictional "bad boys" that is hard to resist? (i'm not going to get into bad boys in reality . . . finding them irresistible still makes no sense to me.) I feel like these days many people, while not necessarily supporting the bad boys' goals, are still liking villains over heroes.

The argument could be made that heroes are just too boring in comparison to the villains. This was even a problem for poor Anne Shirley when she wrote her story Averil's Atonement during the events of Anne of the Island. After lovingly crafting the tale, she was bewildered by the reactions of Diana Barry and Mr. Harrison when they questioned her decision to kill off the bad guy.

"Anyhow," resumed the merciless Mr. Harrison, "I don't see why Maurice Lennox didn't get her. He was twice the man the other is. He did bad things, but he did them. Perceval hadn't time for anything but mooning." . . .
"Maurice Lennox was the villain," said Anne indignantly. "I don't see why every one likes him better than Perceval."
"Perceval is too good. He's aggravating. Next time you write about a hero put a little spice of human nature in him."
"Averil couldn't have married Maurice. He was bad."
"She'd have reformed him. You can reform a man; you can't reform a jellyfish, of course."

I myself am not immune to this habit of liking villains. I am far more entertained by the evil Angelus than the moody, brooding, redemption-seeking Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Heck, staying in the Buffy universe, my favorite character is Spike, who makes no bones about being an evil vampire, but is droll and humorous to boot. Even high-minded Anne Shirley in her own life is kind of a sucker for bad boys, no matter her principled horror that the villain she created is the character her audience likes the best. When lamenting that Diana's fiance is "hopelessly good", Marilla asks her if she'd want to marry a wicked man. "Oh, no. I wouldn't want to marry anybody who was wicked, but I think I'd like it if he could be wicked and wouldn't."

This is probably why we've moved to such dark heroes in entertainment these days, in an effort to make them more appealing and flawed. In some ways, okay, sure, they're being made human and they could use the multi-layering. But if you look at Christopher Reeve as Superman, he was not dark and he represented that All-American hero that we find so boring these days, and you know what? He's still plenty fun to watch. I would say he has that "little spice of human nature", as Mr. Harrison puts it, which means that you can have a completely good hero who doesn't have to be dark to be interesting. And if we can have an entertaining, non-dark hero, why would we still root for the villain?

 Yes, he's Superman and technically an alien. But he's got some good human qualities. And a killer grin.

Ladies? Be honest. It's because we do things like cast Tom Hiddleston as Loki. I personally still find Chris Hemsworth's Thor more attractive, but Tom Hiddleston is not someone you'd kick out of the bed for eating crackers. Similar examples: Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan . . .

Not bad. Not bad. But still the bad guy.

No wonder there are so many fanfictions out there that have the villain triumphing or getting the girl. Who doesn't want to see those good-looking men come out on top? We're totally willing to overlook any heinous things they've done simply because they are hunky. We like to get these guys reformed because we love the personality and the looks they've given to the villains they portray. Granted, there are instances where a villain's physical appeal is actually relevant to the plot (such as the woeful W's of Austendom, Wickham and Willoughby), but very often the outcome of the story being told doesn't hinge on whether or not the villain is cute.

Thank goodness Anne wises up and realizes that in reality her brooding, could-be-wicked-but-wouldn't, melancholy ideal is actually a total bore. She ends up with Gilbert, who is arguably also "hopelessly" good, but has a personality (and is pretty darn cute, but you rarely see an ugly hero, anyway).

What a cutiepie

Maybe we could all take a lesson from this, that we need to still regard villains as villains, no matter their outward appearance, and that heroes really can be pretty interesting, despite not being tortured souls.

But really, if you want your audience to actually root for Robin Hood to end up with Maid Marian (a legendary couple you would never think to break up), you shouldn't have his rival played by my man Richard.



"In Hollywood they usually cast me as villains or priests." -Max von Sydow