When we’re kids we don’t understand the concept of nuance. We don’t get that the world is made up of gradients of gray and is rarely black and white.
We need that black and white though, need to learn first that there is a difference between acts that are good and acts that are bad.
Art gives us these stories, and gives us the villains we can root against.
History gives them to us as well though, as I said, there are few that manage to be fully ‘evil’ and none that I think you can fairly say are without fault.
Our faults are what define us and our paths through life.
Our faults are our ever present teachers to remind us that we can always do better and be better.
That we are only a poor decision away from slipping away from the self we want to be.
The us we want to be.
While tales of heroes and villains though were once the norm, they have fallen out of favor, just a little, with an eye on telling more nuanced stories.
Stories where the characters are more than representative sin and chivalry.
Much like we want stories that embrace more of the world, stories with characters that are not solely White and not solely Judeo-Christian.
With the internet and social media the world is around us at all times and we want to see it reflected.
We need to see it reflected if we are going to be able to live in it.
We can’t go forward in life with the old stereotypes and tropes many of us grew up with.
That lazy so and so could one day be our boss.
That greedy such and such could be our partner.
We need nuance to get past the things that poisoned our past.
Sure, it was easier then, I suppose, to point to a villain and say, THERE THEY ARE! When it stopped just being an old crone or an evil ruler though it got dangerous because suddenly if you looked deeper you saw people were represented by the masks of the story. Racial stereotypes, cultural ones, sexual ones, and on down the line.
Sure, once upon a time in the once upon a time there were clear cut villains, often shallow ones, that hated because they could, hated because someone was beautiful, or had a nearly supernatural charm. They were bad because they were bad and that was all. It was fine for the kiddie cartoons but times changed.
They had lived through wars.
They had lived through social upheaval.
They had lived through political chaos.
They had lived with the fear that someone in a distant land could push a button and end the world.
Storytelling changed because we changed.
There are still stories of black and white, you find that often in the superhero tales, but even there there is nuance. There is an understanding that there is more to someone, even their hatred and fear, than just blind anger. There’s a fuse that was lit.
We don’t have to LIKE the villains but we should see ourselves in them, enough to remind us that all of us are closer to villainy than we may like to think.
That we are closer to being the bad guy than we may want to believe.
We can be as disappointed as we like that the animated films of our youth, the media of our childhood doesn’t represent an ‘easy’ view of the world we wish existed but we can only deny reality for so long. We can only pretend that there are good guys and bad guys and we are always a goodie because that isn’t reality.
We are always, always, always someone’s frown.
That’s just the way the sun shines, darlin’.
Our kids deserve better than to say, here’s a meaninglessly bad person that wants to do bad things and we don’t have to care why because that’s not the world they live in.
Kids deserve to see nuance.
They deserve movies like TURNING RED where the film isn’t about a baddie but about overcoming the fear you have of yourself. Think of your life and how often you had to overcome a villain, and then think of how many times you had to overcome a challenge. We may think that it’s not as exciting but that’s why these are storytellers, they can make it exciting.
They make it compelling.
Not everyone will be along for the ride.
Some folks still want the cowboy riding off into the sunset after having vanquished Black Bart but for most of us, we want more. We want to understand why someone wants to become the monster so that we don’t follow a similar path.
The great thing about stories, the most powerful thing, is that there is one for all of us out there, and you should find the ones that speak to you, and for my part, I will hope that you give yourself the grace to appreciate nuance for all the wisdom it can impart.
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