At What Price Evil?

Y’no, I’m getting really sick of evil.

A strange thing to say for someone who loves romantic (in the old meaning) stories as much as I do, and a strange statement in general that I should probably explain.

Recently I’ve been consuming a lot of media (Dune, Dae Jang Geum, JuMong) that has had a few clear things in common- the key thing being that the characters in the stories all have clear motivations, and there are no “evil” people in any of them. (I even marveled at that to my wife recently, how I couldn’t find a single evil character in the entire cast of JuMong. It really shocked me!) Even the worst antagonists are clearly motivated people who do what they believe is necessary and while they might be ruthless at times, they are by no means “bad” or “evil” people per-se. (Even Barron Harkonen in Dune is a character I’ve come to respect and even admire to a point.)

As a result of this recent media diet (which has also taught me the true nature of court intrigue, but that’s another discussion) something that has bothered me for a while has gone from annoying to grating- evil characters, or perhaps evil in general. Why is it that every Western-style Fantasy story has to be about the great nebulous evil which threatens the land? Is it just because Tolkien set a standard that everyone else feels compelled to follow? Or maybe the result of the Comics Code (and the Broadcast Standards and Practices for TV) which basically meant that from the 1950’s until the 1980’s in comics (and 1980’s-Now in Children’s TV) you couldn’t actually give a villain anything resembling a motivation. Two whole generations grew up on shallow crap as a result of these rules, where villains were watered down characteritures of pure evil as opposed to other people with thoughts, goals and reasons.

I guess the reason this pisses me off so much is because I’ve had my eyes opened to how much deeper and more interesting antagonists are who are just other people. Watching the interplay between different royal houses or different factions within single organizations is so much more fulifilling that anything resembling “good versus evil” has to offer.  Sure, “good versus evil” stories have their place and can be a lot of fun, but watching different and well motivated intelligent characters face off with each other and struggle through their own movtivations and values has so much more to offer.

Any kid can write “Hero versus Evil” stories, it’s almost a form of “Man versus Nature” in a way, but “Man versus Man” and “Man versus Himself” have just so much more to offer. No more “he wants to kill all life on earth for fun” or “he wants everyone to feel the pain the world caused him teen angst” please! How about some other plots!

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