Anonymous asked realsocialskills:Does it say something bad about me that I empathize with storybook villains?realsocialskills said:I doubt it. There are a lot of good reasons that people emphasize with storybook villains, for instance:Storybooks can be very simplistic.
Sometimes the villains seem to have more agency than the heroes in storybooks.
- They don’t tell the whole story.
- The things villains do often don’t make apparent sense
- They’re crying out for an explanation
- And if you make up a backstory of a character, it’s likely to be a sympathetic read of them. Because people create characters they like, more often than not
- In that case, it’s very likely that you’ll sympathize with your version of the villain over the canon version of the hero
The heroes are sometimes not actually in the right.
- Sometimes, villains make choices and do things, while it seems that the hero just sort of has a lot of things happen to them
- Eg: the hero wanders into the enchanted forest and shares his lunch with a witch, or doesn’t, according to how he’s accustomed to behaving. The witch had decided to hang around that part of the forest, and decides in fairly creative ways how to curse or bless the hero.
- That’s sort of.. more personal, somehow?
- So it’s possible that you have more empathy for the villains because they seem more like people and less like simplistic embodied morals of the story
- You don’t have to like the hero just because the story says they’re the hero
- Eg: in Jack and the Beanstalk, the hero steals all the giant’s stuff and then kills him.
It might have to do with your experiences being treated as bad:
- If you’ve been taught to think of yourself as bad, it can be easier to identify with villains than heroes
- If everyone treats you like the wicked witch, ogre, giant, or evil queen, you’re likely to identify with the villain than the people who kill the villain
- When you’re bullied by a mob a lot, it’s not so appealing to cheer on a mob that rips someone apart
- The story may call them the villain, but so do the people who call you the villain
- And the villain may have had the chance to defy them, or come close to winning, in ways that you’ve never been able to do
I think the only way it might say something bad about you if it’s part of you convincing yourself that it ‘s ok for you to treat others badly. Or, if it’s part of building your identity as a person who is intrinsically destructive of everyone, and seeing that as a good thing. If you’re doing that, you should stop. But that’s probably not what’s going on.
Related to the “empathising because of being treated as bad” aspect - being treated as having, or believing yourself to have, characteristics more often shown in villains, like being “cold,” “emotionless,” “manipulative,” “unloving,” and so forth. Having ethical, political, or personal beliefs more aligned with a villain’s can also be another factor, sometimes an aspect of the heroes not actually being in the right just because they’re heroes.
And it’s very common for stories to implicitly or explicitly code villains as neurodivergent and/or mentally ill. On the most obvious level, it very common for the protagonists to call the villain crazy/insane (usually this means that they have psychotic symptoms, even if it’s not stated outright). More subtly, villains will be accused of having no empathy, or of being emotionless (and will have or appear to have these characteristics). Frequently, they will move or speak in atypical ways, in order to highlight their otherness. At another extreme, they won’t be able to control their own emotions or impulses.
There are also lots of common ways villains are treated that mirror the experience, at least for me, of being neurodivergent. They might be literal robots or aliens, and even if not, someone will be sure to point out that they’re not really human. They don’t feel the way humans feel. They need to be “cured” or “healed” of their villainy, which is to say, the way their mind works. In this type of redemption plot, there’s always a real, non-villainous person underneath whatever was wrong with them.
This is very much related to your point, James, and to the point about feeling like you’ve been treated as a villain. And it’s basically why there’s a whole stable of villains/people of narratively ambiguous status who do terrible things who I just want to hug and wrap in blankets and feed hot chocolate.
I think it’s also really important to understand that empathizing with/relating to a character has nothing to do with how you judge their actions. It’ll probably make you more likely to see things from their perspective, but it’s perfectly possible to love a character and identify with them and feel like they’re a poor, misunderstood baby, and still realize that the things they do are objectively unforgivable. Pointing out that a character struggles in the same way you struggle is not an ethical statement.