—From CB—

How do you know a villain?

Really know him? That came up in a writers’ group I’m part of. A woman was blocked on rendering her villain believable. Most genre fiction requires a villain, of course, so it’s not a dumb question.

But villians have to use the can. They have to shave if they’re male, lest the beard interfere with their villainy. Maybe they take pills for hypertension. They have to earn a living, as nobody gets paid directly for being a villain. How do they fill their spare time?

Most important: How do they justify, to themselves, why they must do what makes us call them villains. Did their daddy beat them? It’s all they know how to do? They have this unstoppable urge? They’re part of Plan 9 from Outer Space? They get a monthly check from Marvel Comics? They’re doing lots of good?

I suggested the writer get a recording device and talk to herself in her villain’s voice. About all of these. Anyone can do this. You don’t have to be an actor: nobody will hear it except you.

But then I had a further thought. Why not do this with real people we call villains? Donald Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene. your husband or wife? The purpose is not to win them votes, God forbid, but only to turn on your headlights so you can see the road and the onrushing truck.

I empathize with attempts at humor, e.g. dissing all Trump supporters as stupid or finding new ways to spell his name, but I’m tired of it. I read that Chaplin regretted making THE GREAT DICTATOR because he hadn’t fully grasped the scope of the threat. True comic genius is its own excuse—I just watched it again—but I see his point.

Yet sniggering at the Villain’s obvious flaws or his supporters’ intelligence is no strategy. It doesn’t address the fears of millions of voters. To my mind, it’s pointless “virtue signaling”: I’m superior to them. THE ART OF WAR repeatedly emphasizes the need for accurate intelligence: the enemy’s strength, location, intentions. That includes objectives and weaponry.

Personally, I feel that the strongest weapon of the current popular Villain is fear and his greatest strength is bravado: to say whatever he wants and do whatever he does—sincerity, it’s called, whatever its results. We desperately want someone who doesn’t compromise. All sides want a dictator, who does what needs to be done: to comfort us in this time of radical change. In a play devised by a friend, God is a bedeviled guy trying to answer a flood of desperate phone calls, confused by a switchboard monkey, feeling the need to do it all himself. There’s no Devil: it’s just a muddle. Not until he lets go of the reins of power is there a possibility of peace.


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