<em>“…now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb.“</em>
—Dark Helmet, from the movie, “Spaceballs”
I was very much the proud father when my daughter came to me the last week of her school year and asked me to help her with a project involving William Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Caesar”. Her class was asked to pick one of the main characters from the play and create a presidential campaign for them. Most of the class picked Mark Antony, Brutus or Caesar himself. My daughter was one of a select few to pick Cassius—who is widely considered to be the villain of the play.
I love Shakespeare. When recently asked by a friend what a good “beginning” Shakespeare play would be for a novice, I recommended “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Julius Caesar”. And so, helping my daughter create a fictional presidential campaign for one of The Bard’s most famous (infamous?) characters was tons of fun.
And that is why Shakespeare is enthralling to me. He created so many entertaining villains. Whether it be Richard III or Iago breaking the fourth wall to invite us into their schemes; or the blind, destructive ambition of Polonius and Lady MacBeth, Shakespeare gave us characters we loved to hate.
This says much about my personality. I love rooting for bad guys. My whole life, I have cheered for the bad guys (called “heels”) in professional wrestling. The good guys (faces) were painfully boring and easily duped. On my favorite reality game shows, “Survivor” and “Big Brother”, I love the people who are self-centered and catty.
I think most people enjoy a great villain. Or, at the very least, that brooding roguish character who tiptoes on the line of moral ambiguity. Look at the outrage targeted towards George Lucas when he re-released, and reworked, “Star Wars” in 1997. In a classic scene where Han Solo is confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo, Lucas changed it so that Greedo fires at Han before being killed by the scruffy-looking nerf herder. It made Han less of an anti-hero than he was when the film first came out in 1977. Justifiable homicide is what good guys do. Blah!
Nowhere is the clearly defined roles of heroes and villains more prevalent than in superhero comics. And now that every single comic book hero has a movie, every dork in America waits eagerly to see who the arch-villain will be in upcoming movies. Why is this so?
The simple answer is that good guys are dishwater dull.
Bruce Wayne? Nothing more than a tormented cure for insomnia.
Peter Parker? College nerd with hot girlfriends.
Clark Kent? As exciting as a glass of milk.
But the Joker, Green Goblin and General Zod? Based on how they are written, they tend to sell out movie theaters.
This theory applies to real life. Good girls marry nice guys—but, secretly, in a place they do not invite many to visit, they dream of bad boys. And the opposite? Name me one guy who has not chased at least one bad girl in his life. The one girl that makes him smile when that one particular make-out song comes on the radio.
As Mae West, the sultry actress from the 1930’s once said, “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better.”
It might just be an American thing. We are a large country of incredible wealth. Fairness is a concept we sometimes scoff at. As such, those who succeed tend to have a pomposity to them. Look at a guy like Donald Trump. Most people hate him. But, when he gives an interview it is nearly impossible to turn away. His narcissism is hypnotizing. Most of us hate him so much we are compelled to know what he thinks on various subject.
This also translates into modern sports. How many kids do you see daily wearing New York Yankees apparel? Why do the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders have so many allegedly loyal fans in every backwater town throughout America? With the Yankees, it could be a case of Americans being front runners—because if you root for the Yankees you can somehow adopt their 27 World Series wins as your own. Too many Americans need to associate with a winner to feel better about their own inadequacies.
Another answer is that some people grab on to the image that these teams have successfully branded themselves with. Every west coast rapper in the 1990’s wore an Oakland Raiders hat. By doing likewise, the message a young man gives to the world around him is lucid.
I’m a bad @#%*!
Consider the New England Patriots. When they won the Super Bowl in February of 2002 they were a decided underdog to the dynasty in the making, the St. Louis Rams. The Pats won that game and served as a model of post-9/11 America teamwork and selflessness.
Eleven years later, they are more hated than al-Qaeda.
Teams that win are hated. And that, embodied in the American psyche, makes them popular. Rich and famous people whose smugness can be seen by outer space satellites have thousands of Twitter followers. People caught up in scandals get offered television commercials. Badness sells. Goodness smells.
It is often said that nice guys finish last. This is not entirely true. However, if nice guys do win and everyone has changed the channel out of boredom, does it matter?