Baddies vs Goodies

Many a time, when I’ve read an interview with an actor, the opinion has been expressed that playing the antagonist is infinitely more satisfying and interesting than playing the hero. Presumably this is because they are acting against the constraints that society has imposed upon them, but in a safe way (ie, they won’t actually get into trouble for ‘committing a crime’). In other words, acting the part of an amoral or evil character constitutes a kind of freedom not afforded to us in real-life and also, harking back to a previous post, a species of catharsis.

This got me to speculating whether authors see the ‘writing’ of evil characters in the same way – a way of letting their hair down, so to speak. A means of kicking against the limitations, laws and rules that necessarily govern civilised living. Also that they see it as a safety valve, venting their frustrations at the unfairnesses and iniquities of life. Or, on a purely superficial level, that it’s just that much more interesting and fun to write a baddie than a goodie.

‘Goodies’ obviously have to work within the moral bounds of what is considered to be right and proper behaviour (without necessarily being paragons of virtue themselves). ‘Baddies’, on the other hand, see such constraints as needless and incredibly limiting. For them, ‘morals’ and ‘laws’ are concepts that are old-fashioned, only for those who have not the wit to think outside the box. Essentially, that law-abiding citizens are fuddy-duddies (btw, I am oversimplifying things into black and white here deliberately, just to get my point across).

Writers, just like all members of the society they belong to, follow the rules and regulations currently in force; although they may object to some of them on the grounds of their moral consciences, still for the most part they abide by the rules simply because they want to get on with doing what they love best, which is writing. Thus, writing a goodie character can be seen as being just an extension of themselves (again, oversimplifying the case, but just humour me okay). Extrapolating from that, writing the baddie, necessitating as it does breaking all the rules of society, allows the writer’s alter-ego, the one that detests all the impositions of moral constraints, to let rip.

But why do writers/actors/film-makers (as well as readers/audiences) sometimes identify more with the villain than they do with the hero? Is there within us all a kind of unspoken envy of anyone who has the balls to step over that line and act according to their own precepts, effectively dismissing what our ‘moral’ guardians and lawmakers have deemed to be good for us and the correct way to live? Or is it that, sometimes, we get a vicarious thrill from seeing someone demolishing the boundaries and having ‘fun’ whilst going about it?

I imagine that it’s a mixture of all of the above, plus a need for that thing called catharsis. It’s true that heroes can help us achieve catharsis in their own way, when he overcomes all odds and triumphs against adversity, and vaquishes his foes. However, in other, no less significant ways, the villains also aid us in venting the frustrations that inevitably mount up in our daily lives, especially if we see some sleazy low-life or unworthy getting it. Plus I guess it fulfills a need in everyone, the wish that we could act like that and not care about the consequences. Also, that we need baddies in our lives; they can be the ones who cause all the chaos and that we know it isn’t real. I suspect that there are many who have a sneaking regard for the amorality of some of the psychopaths and murderers in their favourite stories/films, even if they wouldn’t necessarily vocalise it in public.

Ultimately, however, and this is where the balance is restored, we get immense satisfaction when the baddies gets his comeuppance. After all, none of us want to carry him with us into real-life. Killing him/her means that we can leave them behind in the world of make-believe, where they belong, meaning they can’t intrude into reality. Which means that we are less troubled by our subversive indentification with the villain/monster in the book/film. He has safely been disposed of and we need no longer worry about him/her.

Fiction, whether it’s in the form of reading or viewing material, is an important medium for us out here to cope with, or even exorcise, those feelings or urges that are normally frowned upon in society (and for very good reason, too, I may add). We may not even be aware on a conscious level that that is exactly what is happening whilst we are watching the latest entry in the Saw or Friday the 13th franchise. Certainly in my case, I feel immensely better after watching a film where the villain is chewing up the scenery (and presumably having fun whilst doing so). Having said that, however, I still feel relieved that the bad guy gets his just desserts in the end, that justice has been served and been seen to be served.

The same could be said of the creators of these rotten apples – it’s the author’s way of negotiating the often difficult, rock-strewn paths of life and morality. Even on just the superficial level, it could be that they get humongous amounts of fun and pleasure out of metaphorically loosening the restraints, and just going with the flow. Maybe they feel better after their pychopathic vigilante has offed some particularly loathsome individual, the head of some environmentally-destructive corporation or a corrupt politician. How many times have we wished, against our upbringings and natures, that we could get rid of some brute or stupid ignoramus in some random act of violence. We may not be able to enact it in real-life, but writing out the scenario often brings with it the same level of satisfaction – merely without the inevitable consequences.

2 Responses to “Baddies vs Goodies”

  1. I like writing goodies best. I like writing them in such a way that they get rewarded for their decisions. It is completely contrary to my real-life experience so it gives me a kick to make life turn out fair. I don’t like writing baddies because too many of them have happened in my life and they are too real to me especially since in the real world they always get away with everything. I don’t watch horror – there is enough of it in real life. And now I sound like a drippy version of Enid Blyton – ho hum.

    • I can totally sympathise with that outlook… there really is no right or wrong about this particular topic, people will naturally identify with whoever they feel most attuned to, but it’s always intrigued me why many people empathise more with the villain when creating/writing, and I can understand the idea that it’s a species of safety valve… it is infinitely better to write a scenario rather than act it out… in my opinion anyway,,,

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