Friday, April 19, 2013

Why We Sometimes Need the Bad Guys to Wear Black Hats

by Sara N.

Well. It's Friday. I think we're all thankful that this terrible week is coming to a close.

A snippet of dialogue from a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode has been haunting me over the last few days. In "Lie to Me," Buffy asks Giles if life every gets easy, and this is his reply:

Giles: What do you want me to say?

Buffy: Lie to me.

Giles: Yes. It's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.

Buffy: Liar.

Oh, if only.

If only the bad guys always wear black hats to cover their pointy horns.

They don't, though. They wear baseball caps and carry backpacks and blend into the crowd. And the good guys aren't able to save the day every time, although they'll keep trying to save the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

Many of the best villains in our entertainment are drawn with some lovely shades of gray. Snape. Magneto. Loki. Selina Kyle. Darth Vader. Ozymandias. Regina George. Jaime Lannister. Benjamin Linus. The Cylons.

Rather than stories that feature a white-hatted heroine facing off against a black-hatted villain, these bad guys all do Very Bad Things, but for Very Good Reasons. A compelling backstory. An understandable motivation. An excusable flaw. You may not like what they do, but you can't totally condemn them.

I don't like what you did, but I get why you did it.
When faced with turmoil and terror in our own cities, we always want to know why. What drives a person to cruelly snatch life away from innocents who did nothing to deserve it? We can debate why Snape chose to side with Voldemort, or whether Ben's devotion to the Island justified his actions. What we'll never be able to understand is what drives a person to enter a school and open fire, or how someone can rationalize killing and maiming citizens cheering on a crowded city street. We can't find identifiable motivations in these actions. This week was tragically long on Very Bad Things and terribly short on Very Good Reasons.

Faced with such horror and grief, the lure of simpler entertainments, where the bad guys are safely black-hatted, becomes obvious. Sauron. Scar. Emperor Palpatine. Megatron. Zod. The Starship Troopers bugs. Cruella DeVille. Baron Harkonnen. The Kurgan. Pinhead and the Cenobites. Torak. Reavers. Zombies. Joffrey Baratheon.

Those characters are pure evil, and watching the good guys take them down is immensely satisfying. Maybe after the shock and sadness of the past five days, we all need a viewing of Return of the King this weekend so we can watch the white-hatted forces of good triumph over the destructive Sauron and his army of Uruk-hai warriors.

It's scary to think that we live in a world with real super villains. Thankfully, it's also full of heroes. Let's focus on the heroes and hope for a beautiful week next week.

And if those good wishes aren't enough to bring a little light to the end of these emotionally wrenching days, perhaps the very best moment from Game of Thrones will.

The world needs a little more Joffrey slapping.
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