Honourable Villainy: Reflections on the Antagonists Salon

Society and Culture Oct 16, 2021

This is a reflection summary of what happened in the event [[The Antagonists: Exploring Villains in Narratives Salon]].

Description

In this salon, Norman Chella will lead a discussion on the role of villains in narrative formats (eg. comic books, movies, novels) and the impact they have on our lives.

Are villains inherently evil? How do you become a villain? What roles do they really play in a story?

“Imagine, I now possess the power to end hunger! To abolish disease! To eliminate crime! To establish a perfectly content, perfectly ordered world, all under the benevolence of my iron will!” - Dr. Doom

The Antagonist is an interesting and complicated role. From those who have the desire to change their circumstances at the cost and compromise of others, to the ones who want to rule the world.

In a story, they introduce change, conflict, and give us an idea of the outcome. Protagonists are then designed to steer the story into a better direction.

I invite you to question the morality, role, and position of a villain, one who has their own story to tell, and one who has the willingness to change/destroy the fabric of their world for your entertainment.

To paint themselves as evil even if they see themselves as good, according to our perspectives.

"And with everyone super, no one will be." - Syndrome, The Incredibles

This salon is split into two fragments:

  • Defining the villain: origin stories, roles, narratives and morals
  • Show and Tell: Share us your favourite villain and let's explore who they really are!

Let's talk about inviting change, questioning the good, and confronting the evil.

"To build a really better world sometimes means having to tear the old one down. And that makes enemies." -Alexander Pierce, 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier', 2014.

Reading List

Optional Exercise: Bring your own villain! It can be one from a movie, a comic, an anime, a podcast, any format! Villains are universal after all. I'd love to hear recent stories of villains you've encountered while watching a movie, reading a book, etc. and tell us why you like them. What makes you resonate with them? What do you find attractive about them? Do you aspire to be like them?

Summary

In the salon, we started off talking about our pasts: our favourite villains growing up, and whether or not we had any real-life villains throughout our lives.

We then explored the role of these real-life examples (some are real individuals, while others are intangible concepts like loneliness, frustration, status, etc.) and how they impacted our understanding of the world. The more that we try to justify our supposedly 'evil' actions, the clearer the role of villainy plays in our lives.

On a meta-level, we explored the grey area of good and evil through binary opposition, and traced back history to the question: where does power come from? Who decides what is villainous? And how is it now in modern times?

A number of villains in popular media were mentioned (eg. Voldemort, Gollum, Zuko from The Last Airbender, Karna from the Mahabharata). By uncovering how we resonate with them, we start to see commonalities between the most memorable villains: they stem around a code of honour, as that honour helps us relate to them as humane individuals.

The best example is Hannibal Lecter: for he is both honourable (extremely polite, intelligent, empathetic) and dishonourable/'pure evil' (with his cannibalistic tendencies). But that backstory and rationale is what makes us attracted to him. It creates this tension that develops questions in our (the audience's) heads that we want answered, and only the villain has answers. We start to become intrigued with them. In the world of film, for pure evil to work and seduce the audience, there has to be a backstory - that is how villainy works in narratives.

Going into real-life situations, we started to question the definition of villainy: is all of villainy inherently evil? We can argue for it being merely 'different'. Examples include personal stories of us desiring something different, even if it's at the compromise/sacrifice of those around us. We can be painted as villains then.

We rounded it off with the potential causes of villainy: an uncontrollable abundance of desire without restraint can compel us to do unspeakable acts. The desire consumes us, and makes us lose our internal context, and transforms us for the worse (Gollum as an example). By not being virtuous enough to restrain ourselves, we may default to violent acts that paint us as (evil) villains. Insecurity is another cause as well: those who do not have a clear vision of their own identity cope by proving themselves at the cost of others (eg. the tough guy trying to start fights for no reason at the bar).

In the end, we explored what would make us turn into villains, and what beliefs would we hold with conviction even if it's inherently 'wrong' in the context of the world.

Tags

Norm

Norman Chella is the Podcast Rainmaker, Polymath in Progress and a very strange writer. His creative pen name is N.T. Cloever. You can find his words right here.

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