Certain villains are all too human. They are flawed and empathetic. They are beings we can recognize ourselves in and grow from. Other villains are just monsters — vampires, aliens, werewolves and countless strange creatures that spring from the creative mind. There’s little to empathize with; little for the audience to connect to. So why are these monstrous villains still so popular? Perhaps because we’ve been conditioned to enjoy them — not unlike Pavlov’s Dog.
From Marvel’s supervillains and Darth Vader to the (slightly) more realistic Walter White in Breaking Bad, villains are fascinating; you can’t take your eyes off them. But why? What is it about those so clearly, classically wicked that makes them so compelling to an audience? One possibility is that, in experiencing these villains on-screen, we can face our own inner dark side.
Psychiatrist Carl Jung believed everyone has a darker side, a shadow-self, within their personality. This shadow consists of everything the person considers unacceptable to express: envy, rage, selfishness, the desire for power and baser animal instincts. It’s not something that the person is consciously aware of but something they must acknowledge and face in order to grow as a person.
This is where villains come in as archetypes, representing the clearest forms of those negative aspects of one’s personality. With their bad traits on the forefront, villainous characters allow for easy access to the audience’s shadow self.
From more recent shows like Stranger Things and the Logan film to cartoons like The Powerpuff Girls there is something hugely appealing about little girls having the power to destroy everyone and everything in their paths. The question is, why? What is it about these petite powerhouses that draws audiences across gender lines and generations?
Those are some pretty amazing powers…so why doesn’t Magento use them? Why not control others, move at insane speeds, build a magnetic-goo army, or destroy modern society with a giant solar flare? Using any of these additional powers would certainly make it easier for Max Eisenhardt (a.k.a. Erik Lehnsherr) to achieve his goals, but thus far he’s stuck mainly to moving metallic objects and levitation. Is it out of the writers’ concern for the story (whether in a single storyline or the overall X-Men universe) or the character? Do they hold Magneto back for reasons such as tension and excitement or to keep the beloved Magneto as complex a character as he ever was?
In the previous post I described some various ways in which tough women inevitably have traumatic pasts, but so what? I mean, sure, that’s strange and all, but there are lots of tropes out there in the pop culture world. True…but not all of them indicate a key issue that still plagues the world of entertainment and beyond. Inequality.