I keep telling y’all this is why y’all need to visit my Tumblr site, because we have some of the most interesting discussions of pop culture there. Now the people on Tumblr can see my articles from here, and sometimes they respond. Sometimes I just respond to things they write, but unlike Twitter, you can actually hold more nuanced discussions, while responding directly to people, without having to worry about a word count.
This topic arose out of a discussion of how fandom vilifies “good “characters, in favor of lionizing villains. But fandom doesn’t just lionize villains, it often attributes the very characteristics they claim to hate in the hero, to the villain. They make up tragic backstories (with no proof) to excuse their behavior, or describe behavior that is clearly wrong as somehow being heroic. And if that’s not enough they often seek to villainize the heroes, especially if that hero is a person of color. For example, I’ve seen delusional writings of how Sam Wilson is a Hydra agent, in the movie Captain America, how Scott McCall, from the TV series Teen Wolf, harms his friends, and how Finn from Star Wars is a misogynist, for grabbing Rey’s hand, in the first movie.
Super interesting how the more a character is cited criticized as being perfect (Scott McCall, Dick Grayson, etc), the more the default reaction to that character seems to be proving that they’re not that great, look, they’re just as bad as everyone else, no wait, they’re worse – instead of like….seeing that character as someone to aspire to being like. An inspiration to be more like them instead of trying to tear them down to make them more like everyone else.
Especially interesting as usually the characters IN story tend to be more often inspired by those ‘annoyingly perfect characters’ and driven to be more like them, instead of….trying to tear them down or ‘deconstruct the myth of their greatness’ the way so many of those other characters’ very fans are often intent on doing.
Often coupled with this is a sort of worship of characters who embody their polar opposites (Peter Hale, the Joker) as some sort of liberating antithesis to inspiration. They give value to villainy, they defend the indefensible, they romanticize the darkness.
Maybe they think it’s cooler or sexier. Maybe they think that inspiration is a form of control (think about how many times you’ve seen arguments where the inspiring characters are called fascists and tyrants). Whatever they’re so convinced that cruelty and selfishness are the true experiences of humanity, that they’re unwilling to listen to any story that argues against that.
(It doesn’t help that I just watched the new trailer for Joker.)
it’s interesting, all right. And a little depressing.
*Shrugs* I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m more than a little convinced that a huge part of the glorification of assholes in fiction and focus on them getting happy endings, is it makes people who aren’t the people they WANT to be feel like see, we can still get our happy endings without doing any work on ourselves and our flaws at all.
And I mean…..you can? LMAO, because that’s literally how reality works, what happens to us in life rarely has anything to do with what we do or don’t deserve, because there are so very many fucking variables that affect our lives beyond just our own personal morality, so…..you aspire to be a better person because you WANT to be, regardless of anything else, and if you just flat out don’t want to put in any work on yourself then yeah, I guess it does make sense to just want to focus on stories that are like, see, its not like you even have to, you can still be an Imperialist Space Fascist and get your uwu happy ending with My Life Ben So Hard Guess I Gotta Go Kill My Dad Now Solo.
Don’t forget that we’ve had umpteen years of stories that glorify being a villain, or sympathizing with the villains, giving them backstories, and making excuses for why they are bad people. Contrast that with the 1979 Star Wars movie, where Darth Vader is very obviously evil, and no one gives a fuck about how he got that way.
We’ve also had about twenty/ thirty years of television shows that glorify and humanize the lives of awful white men. Dexter, House, and Breaking Bad, are just three examples of white men behaving badly, and being given lots of excuses for why. Viewers are also being given the message that you need not do any work to improve yourself because the people in your orbit, no matter how awful you are to them, will be willing to overlook it, because you’re such a brilliant/or frightening human being.
Now couple this constant showcase of pop culture images with the entitlement that comes with being mediocre, white, and sometimes male, and you get a toxic stew of delusional people, who spew racist drivel constantly, but believe they’re not racist, men who prey on women, but don’t believe they are rapists, and men who are complete assholes that believe they’re being heroic by “telling it like it is”.
America, in particular, has always had a problem with lazy people who want to be thought of as good and/or excellent people, but don’t actually want to put in any of the work that would be required to bethought of as good or excellent at anything, and to me, that is something directly tied to the idea of White supremacy.
Because privilege of that kind confers on people the belief that they are good and/or excellent as they are, and need not know more, do more, or be more than that. They can and should receive accolades for doing the absolute bare minimum. Now, contrast that attitude with Black people, whose history of active exclusion from fully participating in society has resulted in the ongoing mantra, that we have to work three times as hard, and be twice as good, to succeed in the world.
Take a facet of crime, and then look at television shows/movies that feature those criminals as protagonists.
White serial killers.
White political corruption
White drug dealers
I mostly want to talk about this as a TV phenomenon, but pick a crime, any crime, and Western media has probably made a movie/TV series/play/etc. with a white person that romanticizes the criminal activity. No matter what, a white person can do whatever terrible crimes and still have a TV/movie fanbase that loves them.
When you see black or brown people committing crimes on screen, you are to see them thugs and criminal masterminds and people to be beat down.
When you see white people committing crimes on screen, you see a three-dimensional portrait of why someone might commit that crime, how criminals are people too, and how you should even love them for the crimes that they commit because they’re just providing for their families or they’ve wronged or they’re just people and not perfect. This is particularly a luxury given to white male characters, since there few white female criminals as protagonists.
If and of the above shows were about black or brown folks, there would be a backlash of (white) people claiming that TV and movies are romanticizing criminals and are treating them too much like heroes and that it will affect viewers and encourage violence and “thuggish” behavior. And yet fictional white criminals get to have a deep fanbase who loves these white criminals, receive accolades and awards, get called amazing television that portray the complexities of human nature. Viewers of these characters see past the atrocious crimes and into their humanity, a luxury that white characters always have while characters of color rarely do. The closest that mainstream TV has come to showing black criminals as main characters is probably The Wire, and even then, the criminals share equal screen time and equal status as main characters as the police trying to stop them.
The idea that crime can be so heavily romanticized and glorified to such a degree is undoubtedly a privilege given to white characters. The next time you hear someone talk about Dexter Morgan or Walter White in a positive way, it may be an opportunity to rethink how white people can always able to be seen as people no matter what they do, while everyone else can be boiled down to nothing but a criminal.