I’ve written about villains before after complaints about The Walking Dead. This post was also partially inspired by The Walking Dead. This Sunday’s episode showed the back story of Negan. SPOILERS FOLLOW
Negan was a villain in an earlier season of the show. He killed two of the good guys. One of those was one of the original, much loved characters. This death was also in the comic. Eventually, he was defeated but rather than kill him they locked him up in their community jail. The story has now flashed forward six years. The show has slowly made Negan less of of a villain. He bonded with a kid and then saved her at one point. He was allowed to escape from the jail so he could infiltrate the new villain group to take them down from the inside. He killed the new villain. His is very much a redemption story. I have read some of the comments on posts about the episode telling the story of Negan before he was a villain. In addition to the normal “is this show still on” comments from people who want to show they are way too cool to watch such things there were complaints about Negan getting a redemption arc. People are mad that the character who killed people they liked gets a chance to be redeemed. They think it isn’t possible that someone who once murdered someone could ever be redeemed or given a second chance. (see more on second chances here)
There have also been recent complaints about the new Hunger Games book being about President Snow when he was younger. People are mad that there is a book that shows a human side of someone who did terrible things. They don’t feel like a villain should get a backstory, especially one that shows they were not always bad. I’ve seen the same complaints about the idea of a Cruella De Vil origin story. The theory behind all of these complaints is a bad person is a bad person and will always be a bad person forever and ever amen and no one should care why they are a bad person. I disagree.
I think it is important and interesting to understand what turns someone into the villain. In fiction, it is a better story if the villain has depth and you understand why they are doing what they do. I have enjoyed seeing Negan go from Big Bad to antihero. I liked seeing the story of how he went from who he was in normal life to who he became in the zombie apocalypse. I think it was interesting to see how President Snow was as a young man and what happened to turn him into who he became. I am interested in watching Cruella(and not just because I have a crush on Emma Stone). Villain stories are more interesting to me than hero stories. Heroes and happy endings are boring. I like complicated characters who might be a little(or a lot) bad.
This thinking is also prominent in the real world. If someone commits a certain crime many people believe there is no redemption. Look at Michael Vick. People were mad that he was allowed to play football again. People are mad whenever he is not treated like a criminal who should never have god things happen to him. We want to send people to prison and keep them there. We don’t believe in redemption or rehabilitation. Bad people are bad people forever and ever amen. We don’t care about what might have led them to commit the crimes. We don’t want to spend any money or effort as a society to try to change anything. We are fine to continue to let people grow up in bad situations and then lock them away forever once they commit a crime. We don’t want to hear abut mental health issues. That’s just an cop out, An excuse to avoid prison.
I think our real life aversion to redemption and lack of sympathy for anyone who commits a crime bleeds into our feelings about fictional villains.