Certain characters achieve a level of venom from audiences that can be surprising.  Even when they aren’t the main antagonist, trying to take over the world, or even all that villainous, people loathe them…but why?  Why is it that certain characters garner more hatred than others?  Is it that they aren’t as clever, physically attractive, or entertaining as their more tolerated counterparts?  …Sometimes, but not always.  Usually there is a deeper reason behind the audience’s intense dislike.  It would seem that those characters on TV, film, and in comics who really get our blood boiling are those we’ve met – in one way or another – in real life before.

Dolores Umbridge

Just thinking of her makes me want to curse and throw things at the wall.  She’s the only person (real or fictional) to ever get my curse-averse friend to use the “C-word”.  Ms Umbridge isn’t the Big Bad of the Harry Potter series, she isn’t even a Death Eater henchman, yet more people seem to loathe her than Tom Riddle.  This woman with a love of pink, cutesy, things and a cruel streak towards those she deems “less than” is enough to make one consider using the Killing Curse.  Why?  Because we’ve met her before.  All different versions of her throughout our lives and whether we “beat her” or not, there’s always the possibility of another version cropping up in the future.

Remember that teacher who treated all her students like drooling idiot toddlers and enforced ridiculously harsh punishments for having your own opinion?  That’s Umbridge.  She was also the one calling you a liar or cheat when you weren’t and refused to listen to your side…or let anyone else listen to your side for that matter.  On the outside she was sweet and meek, she probably had others fooled, but you knew better.  You knew she was the worst teacher ever, but could never find a way to prove it.  She left you either playing her game by her rules or with a D average in the class.  You hate her still.

Just because you’ve moved into the corporate world doesn’t mean you’re rid of her type either.  Now she’s the middle-management boss that tows the company line to the detriment of those under her.  Think there’s a problem with the way the company runs things?  Now you’re doing double-overtime whether you spoke up or not because the Umbridge in your office has been spying on you (or had others doing it for her) the whole time.

She’s not the knife at your throat or even in your back, she’s the splinter just under the skin…unlikely to kill, but a constant irritant you just can’t get rid of.  Add to that Umbridge was a condescending bigot and hypocrite who pretended she wasn’t as terrible as she was so…yeah…it’s little wonder people hated her so much.

Kilgrave

What an asshole, am I right?  He’s the pinnacle of callous as he uses his powers of mind control to make those around him cater to his every whim.  It’s clear he doesn’t care at all about those he forces his will on as he either ignores or minimizes their pain greatly; he even goes so far as to play the victim himself.  He’s symbolic of the worst aspects of white male privilege: snobby, misogynistic, abusive, and self-righteous.  He expects others to feel bad for him as he gets his way consistently.  He enforces his will on protagonist, Jessica Jones, to develop a sexual relationship with her and gets offended when she declares (rightly) that he’s raped her.  As if to make him all the worse he frequently imposes his will for the most selfish and banal reasons: to get cushy digs to hideout in, as petty revenge for being pestered (“pick up that coffee…throw it in your face”), and to get the girl, as it were.  He’s basically a bully with superpowers and no one likes a bully, but everyone’s run into them throughout their lives.

In the schoolyard he was the one taking your money, saying nasty things about you, or getting you to do terrible things (smoking, drinking, cutting class) with/for him…or all three.  Kilgrave’s the man who feels you owe him that smile he wants.  When he buys you a drink, you owe him the act of drinking and then thanking him for it.  You should be flattered by his interest, don’t you know?  He’s the abusive, controlling, boyfriend who doesn’t see date rape as rape because he just took you to a high-end restaurant and bought you a very expensive necklace…you owe him.  If you’re lucky enough to get away, get free of his controlling and abusive behaviors, he fast becomes the stalker.

People are incensed by Kilgrave because they’ve all met someone like him.  They’ve dated him, been abused and manipulated by him, or at least know someone who has.  He gives other men, good men, a bad name.  He’s rightfully terrifying because women come across various versions of him everyday from the random guy who tells you to “smile” to the abusive ex who raped them to the stalker slowly dismantling their sanity.

Skyler White

Disclaimer on this one: I didn’t hate her, I didn’t really have a problem with her at all given her circumstances.  That said I know the vast majority of Breaking Bad fans hated her with a passion.  They complained about her nagging, attempts to prevent Walt from doing as he wished, and butting into his business.  She went from calling Walt on his lies to refusing to allow him near their children, to becoming his sort of partner in running the carwash he laundered money through.  The only running theme for Skyler was asking Walt when he’d stop being so dishonest.  So the main question is: Why do people hate her so much?  For the same basic reason they hate the other two…familiarity in the real world.

I know a lot of people summarize that Skyler was hated mainly because she was in opposition to Walt being the badass everyone (if only reluctantly towards the end) admired.  I disagree.  There were plenty of others on the series who tried to stop Walt from his foray and rise in the drug business and none seemed to be hated with the same venom as Skyler.  Case in point: Gus Fring.  Not only did he attempt to stop Walt, but actively tried to kill him and Jesse and threatened to do the same to Walt’s entire family.  Still, people liked Gus.  They thought he was cool with his eerily calm demeanor, grandiose schemes, and frequent success despite the odds.  So…yeah, just being an antagonist to Walt is not why Skyler got so much hate.

It’s that every other guy out there has met or dated someone like Skyler…someone who won’t just sit back dumbly, take the bullshit they’re told at face value, and let their significant other do whatever they like without complaint.  Skyler really isn’t that different from other wives and girlfriends out there; she wants an honest, decent, man who doesn’t lie and (of course) isn’t a danger to her and her children.  That being said, when circumstances call for it, she’s willing to break the law to protect those she cares about.  It’s not a “ride or die” thing, it’s a “protect my family from the madness my husband’s created” thing…if Walt falls, they all do, and she won’t allow that for her children.

Of course, men weren’t the only ones to hate Skyler White.  Women did too.  They gave the same complaints (nagging, whiney, etc), but it still wasn’t the real problem.  While I feel the reasoning is slightly different from the men, it was still related to the realism of Skyler, just…different.  It was that, rather than make a clear choice, Skyler found herself a terrible, trapped, middle.  She didn’t sit back and do nothing or happily go along, but she didn’t outright turn Walt in either.  Most would like to think they’d choose one or the either.  They would go along as Walt’s willing partner-in-crime or they’d do the legally right thing and turn him in outright.  They don’t want to think they’d end up just as trapped as Skyler did – working alongside a man she once loved hoping only to keep herself and children safe until he dies.

These three characters are all quite different on the surface.  Umbridge is a viciously saccharine woman who bullies anyone she feels she can, Kilgrave is a misogynistic abuser, and Skyler’s the wife of a drug dealer she hates more every day she finds herself with him…but they still all have a key characteristic to them.  Realism.  It’s this realism, this ability to find real life versions of these characters in everyday life (even within one’s self), that brings up the heated, aggressive, feelings.  Many audiences use films and TV series as a form of escapism, but those characters all remind them that reality still exists.  They represent the more negative, irritating, and tedious aspects of life as well; the ones we’re trying to escape.  It’s hardly a surprise these characters tend to be the most hated and frequent subjects of our wrath, whether they deserve it or not.

Advertisements