Give Us Our Villains

Shakespeare: “The evil men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Let’s play a game. I’ll name recent presidents and you tell me the first few things that come to mind. To make it more fun, hold your hand over my answers then compare answers.

Truman A-bombs, Korea, reneged on FDR’s deal with Stalin starting Cold War

Eisenhower Tolerated Joe McCarthy, ignored civil rights, Worsened cold war.

Kennedy Bay of Pigs, womanizer, Mafia fixed his first election

Johnson Escalated Viet Nam, Drank Coors beer, governed from toilet stall, pulled dog ears

Nixon McCarthy-ite, Watergate, expanded and prolonged Viet Nam war

Ford Pardoned Nixon, fell getting on Air Force One stairs

Carter Bopped beaver, Lusted in his heart, Blew Iran hostage rescue

Reagan Rise of the Neocons, Mass Deregulation, Dementia in office

G.H.W. Bush Iran Contra Scandal, Economy Tanked, Barfed at state dinner

Clinton Monika, Monika, Monika, Whitewater

G.W.Bush Iraq war, Cheney puppet, Economy tanked, “Nucular”

Obama Too smart and reasonable to be president

Trump You name it. All bad.

If good things came to mind first, you qualify for sainthood.

My college English professor claimed the only interesting thing in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is Satan. That poem is boring enough as is, but without my buddy, Luce, ( If you do not know to whom I’m referring, you have not read my books, so please go immediately to Amazon books and buy them) there would be no story at all. If you saw a film or read a book in which nothing bad happened, there was no villain to overcome, everyone was “la-la-la,” would you enjoy it? People love the struggle between what we perceive as evil (which literature and drama usually make unambiguous) and what we perceive as good. We need villains to keep from being bored out of our gourds, but more importantly, to maintain our own sense of goodness. Also, if there were no such thing as evil, there would be no good. Doing the right thing in itself is fine, but choosing to do it when part of you wants to do the wrong thing is the mark of good character.

In my work as a therapist, most of the unpleasant people I encountered were convinced that they were good people who had been mistreated and misunderstood. They failed to take responsibility for their mistakes and were blind to how they made the people around them, and ultimately themselves, miserable. My task was to find a way to open their eyes to their faults without enraging them so much they’d just walk out the door. (Not that, in several instances, I’d have minded if they did.)

It’s easy to define others as the villains. It’s difficult to look at ourselves honestly and struggle inside to be a better person. In my opinion, that struggle is what defines the meaning of life. If you take it on, life is exciting and challenging enough that you don’t need to set up straw villains to fight with. You don’t have to think of yourself as good and those who don’t agree with you as bad. You’re too busy focusing on improving yourself, vanquishing your own inner enemies. Lord knows we all have enough of them. The struggle between Lester’s inner villains and and his better angels is the stuff of my novels. That may be one of the reasons they have not enjoyed much popularity. We prefer action to insight and villains who exist outside of ourselves.

Still, there are objective standards of good. If an alien who was completely logical came to Earth and was asked which of the two parties generally supported good and which supported evil, what would he say? While the perceptions of good and evil differ greatly in our culture wars, at a certain point, in real life as in fiction, there’s an actual line between good and evil. You pretty much know my politics. If you tell me I’m deluded by viewing my own side as the good one and that I’m really one of the bad guys, I will not have to guess how you vote.

We may feel dismay at our culture wars, but on the bright side, whichever side we’re on, we have our villains. We need them. They keep life interesting. Remember the Coke commercial? “I’d like to hear the whole world sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.” I guess someone with a lot of cash (and a poor sense of nutrition) could buy and distribute 6 billion Cokes.

Everyone living in perfect harmony? Not likely. And anyway, how boring would that be?

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