Lessons only Villains can Teach

I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m a fan of comic book movies. Comic books, and the characters within their pages, have influenced an array of fields in a variety of ways –  from design to engineering, computer technology and the like, the list is extensive. My favorite contribution though actually comes in the form of philosophy; particularly as it relates to villains. Everyone, well almost everyone, enjoys the heroes that pioneers such as Stan Lee have created but it’s the villains I’m personally drawn to. I’m not sure exactly what it is that has long held my interest, but even as a kid I found myself instead of casting stones at their behavior questioning what made them that way in the first place.

Why is that you might be wondering? It’s simple really – while heroes tell us what many aspire to be: strong, fast, smart, courageous, ready to respond, etc., it’s villains that tell us who we really are. I’ll use an example to demonstrate this. The ‘S’ on superman’s chest stands for what? Hint: it’s not super. The house of El and the symbol it bears actually stands for hope. Hope is a great many things but one it’s not is ‘reality.’ Hope is a concept that sits in limbo, situated somewhere between supreme confidence and absolute uncertainty. This is why it’s such a stirring thing, and also such an unfulfilling one. You can never quite grasp the idea and because of the fact it so infrequently bridges the gap to something becoming an actuality we are forever chasing rainbows.

Now villains…villains move us to some very concrete emotions – albeit not the most positive ones. Loathing, disgust, anger and even hatred, these are all things successful villains invoke in us. Another thing about villains is that their mission is usually quite clear – destruction. There’s no maneuvering between various ideologies, no gray areas, they’re just straight up assholes. It’s this last part I want to expand on a bit as it will help string together this otherwise random rambling. The goal here is to explain an interesting, though sad, phenomenon revealed at times only by wicked forces.

You see the bad things done by both comic villains as well as real life ones are often rooted in an extreme form of frustration. Thanos snapping his fingers wiping out half the earth’s population (a result of his [maniacal] desire to bring balance and order to the cosmos after suffering the loss his planet) shares I feel much in common with the rise of the Nazi party (a result of the economic and social instability brought upon by the loss of the German state in World War I). In the frustration of these central characters (or person in the case of Thanos, who appears at times to be in command of some type of group) we are shown that desperation not treated both quickly and efficiently will lead to only more problems, many of which can rapidly scale to immense size.

The hallmark of the hero is to react to this evil and ‘defeat’ it but what is that actually teaching us? Creating mythical status for those who only respond after the fact is pervasive in our society. In the past I’ve been guilty as most but say if for a moment we turned to those whom history or current sentiment show are villainous and seek to figure out the ‘why’ rather than get wrapped up in the ‘what’. Recognizing that in our lives there are reasons that give way to results will go further to preventing future injury and suffering than just about any other method I could think of. So, if we’re to curb even a fraction of our suffering turn to the lessons that only villains can inspire us to and let’s work our way back from there.

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