Oh man, I’m late on my post! And I was trying to go for perfect attendance. Darn it. I have many thoughts on villains and now I’m a bit rushed so I apologize if this is somewhat incoherent and obtuse.
The difficulty with villains is that if you make them believable and even thoroughly naughty then it’s hard to make them bad guys, right? It’s hard to understand at what point a normal human being thinks, “Gee, I think I’ll rape and beat to death someone today for kicks.” I mean, do they not have cable TV? What’s the deal?
I’ve long been fascinated by how easy it is for nice people to turn into pitiless torturers with very little coercion. Here are three classic examples of social psychology experiments which show how easy it is to be evil. What’s more interesting is that all of these experiments are now banned since so many of the participants suffered long term psychological trauma from discovering that they are exactly the kind of people who would line up Jews for the gas chamber. Should we really stop that kind of research? I always thought it would be smarter (if painful) to continue a modified version of these tests in the hopes of finding out how to train people to not be evil, but that’s just me.
The Robber’s Cave Experiment is your basic “Lord of the Flies” study. They took a bunch of little boys at summer camp, randomly divided them into two groups and told them that the other group was full of horrible evil boys that were their sworn enemies. The purpose was to study why in-group/out-group behavior to understand why sports fans occasionally attempt to kill fans of a different team and the like. Just telling them to hate the other team and then having them compete for prizes worked so well that the boys quickly grew pretty violent. This study is actually pretty excellent because then the researchers focused on how to make the boys stop hating each other by forcing them to work together.
From the halcyon days of scientific study when is was just fine to secretly give college students experimental drugs, there is the Stanford Prison Experiment. They wanted to study why prisons are so frequently abusive places and why guards can be so vicious. They randomly had some subjects be prisoners and some act as guards. The experiment had to be halted after six days as the whole group rapidly descended into torture, riots, and total psychotic breaks. As could happen to anyone, evidently.
The absolute classic is the Milgram experiments in which they got normal people to believe they were painfully electrocuting people if they answered a question incorrectly. Turns out, your average Joe will, given the opportunity, shock someone to death for science. Milgram was trying to understand how so many German’s after World War II replied, “I was under orders,” when asked why they committed so many atrocities. Who would follow such orders? Apparently, almost everyone. If you get a chance, there is a video of the experiments that is absolutely fascinating. I think it’s on Youtube. One of the best conclusions that can be drawn from these experiments is that highly literate people (that’s you and me!) are more likely to refuse to participate in cruelty. So keep on reading and refusing to be a cog in the machine, folks!
There seem to be very few real life examples of the kind of nasties that litter the pages of fiction. If the prevalence of villains were equal, I’d have at least a dozen stalkers and an excellent nemesis. Alas, disappointingly, no one plots my eventual tragic demise (as far as I can tell.) In Revolution World, the true villain is the government and the ruthless machines of bureaucracy, but that is a difficult bad guy to portray so I had my villain and the face of the government be a rather overblown stereotypical example of the pointless cruelty and stupidity an over-reaching bureaucracy inspires.
True, nobody is ever that bad in real life, but having five or six people doing small stupidly cruel things for no other purpose than to make you miserable is totally normal. At least in my life it is, but I work with health insurance companies. After seven years, I can’t even remember what it’s like not to have evil hoards of adjusters screaming at you daily for your obviously criminal desire to get a sick person feeling better. In my novels, I mostly aim to poke fun at these kinds of villains, because let’s face it, if you can’t laugh then you’ve got to cry and crying gets boring after a while.