Bad People Aren’t Evil
I grew up in San Diego, California and I went to college in Worcester Massachusetts. This proved to be a big change for a California boy. Apart from the weather, fashion, food, and geography, I found the people to be different. Overall, they all had a rough exterior with a nice interior.
A good example of this difference can be described by my roommate’s tire change experience. One winter evening, he got two flat tires and a police officer stopped to ask why he parked on the side of the road. The officer proceeded to yell at my roommate for not avoiding the pothole, having a dirty car and not having the foresight to carry a second spare tire. (What college student caries around two spare tires in a Honda Civic?) The officer then drove my roommate and both tires to a local garage. Afterward, he drove him back, yelled at him for not parking his car in an appropriate location to allow for a safe tire change and helped put the tires on.
To people who grew up in Massachusetts, that story makes perfect sense. The officer acted mean, but he didn’t have a mean soul. For me, this personality type took a lot of effort to get used to. College provided me with wide experiences both inside and outside of the classroom.
In life, we encounter many mean people. This might include a parent who demands their child to maintain a clean room, a boss who is upset at a worker who arrives late, a friend who insists we pay owed money or a driver who is upset at being cut off. Of course, people can cross the line. A nice parent has a rough day and yells at their well-behaved child.
What about that mean boss who is always in a bad mood? He never says anything nice and is critical of every decision. Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. Managing people is difficult and we have to think about the company as a whole. Is this boss keeping the group in line and profitable? Are people treated equally? Is he evil?
If we look at the great business leaders, parents, teachers, and politicians they often are required to act mean. For example, a business leader needs to eliminate an entire division because it didn’t make a profit. Think of all the people who lost their jobs. However, if the leader decided to keep the division, it would take profit away from the profitable divisions. The company would have less money to invest in development. Eventually, the entire company could fail and everybody could lose their jobs. Side note. My last company eliminated their San Diego division and put me out of a job. This (in part) resulted in a billion-dollar lawsuit. In hindsight, not a good decision. Black to the blog.
The same logic could be applied to the parent who insists a child’s room be clean. Why? A dirty room is unsafe and unsanitary. Of course, the child doesn’t understand. The politician raises taxes to fix our roads. The judge who is tough on crime. All of these people act mean, but they improve society and allow it to grow just as a forest fire clears out the deadwood.
At some point, a person might become evil. The parent who enjoys punishing their child, the power-hungry politician or the vindictive neighbor. The difference is these people have crossed a line without remorse.
Do evil people move society forward? In some cases, they do. Otherwise, evil people do serious damage. To make matters worse, evil parents often raise evil children. One could argue that truly evil people have improved our world. As a result of war, we invented new medical procedures. Not a great argument.
Let’s invent an evil character. This character will put obstacles for our hero and make us hate them. At the end of the story, our hero will defeat this evil character in an epic battle. Please hate this bad character so much that you buy/watch the sequel.
Are these evil characters realistic? Truly evil people do exist in real life and movies/stories love to embellish. However, there is a problem. Evil characters must be one-dimensional. The boss is simply evil an evil person. Why? The reader/viewer does not always have to know. Over the course of the plot, we grow to hate them and appreciate their destruction. In many ways, the evil character is like a bug that we splat and then feel good about it.
To complete matters, we now have anti-heroes in our plots. Are there Robin Hoods in real life? Is the tire changing police officer an anti-hero? I would argue that this is not a good analogy and we don’t have true anti-heroes. Characters must be evil without consequence. Darth Vader is a bad guy and nothing more. We watch a movie about him and go home. The tire changing police officer had a boss, real rules and consequences for his actions. For the rest of his life, he will need to live with to consequences of all his decisions.
Is it bad that bad fictional characters don’t require a back story, can always get away with atrocities and have no consequence? No, it’s wonderful. This helps normal people to overcome real-life and cope with horrific events. It gives authors the freedom to quickly enter a story and get out without explanation or consequence. Even Darth Vader gets a break when he blows up an entire planet. His only real concern is improving ticket sales.

You’re the best -Bill
December 18, 2019

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