A Perfect Villain
by Rick Davis
The trap most certain to catch and hold us is one we set for ourselves. Current American culture with its hodgepodge of Traditionalists, Moderns and Whatever Comes After (including Gen-Xers, Millenials, et al) may soon complete its trade-off from a society with some agreement on the objective understanding of God for a subjective (and flawed) understanding of the human condition. In so doing, America will lose its villains and, then, just as surely, its heroes.
Why should we care?
We should care because the absence of villainy will make heroic courage more obscure.
We should care because we are in danger as a culture; the kind of danger one can fight only hero to villain, not relativist to sophist.
We should care because we need real heroes.
A hero is a twelve year old boy dying, a rare form of cancer expressing an exquisite pain in him, who says, “I don’t want anyone to be mad at God because of what happened to me.”
Marvel at his example.
Heroes show courage and so inspire courage in others. Villains may be courageous, but their ultimate end is not heroic; it is despicable, but may inspire enough cowardice or bigotry or greed to be successful for a time.
Heroes and villains need some explanation, anyway. A hero was once the (male) lead in a play. The word hero itself once had to be applied to a male. A heroine was a woman and might not need to do anything more heroine-like than be in a position to be heroically rescued. Now, the hero may be male or female, a typical correction of history to the Left, but, sadly, the ladies take the stage just as the play changes.
Nowadays, a hero not only need not be a male, he or she is not even required to be heroic. He or she must take up some space, absorb some resources, beat others to the goal, but he or she need not even be good.
The anti-hero remade the hero. This is the trap we set for ourselves.
Think of anyone from Shylock to Dirty Harry to Hawk-eye Pierce, from Ferris Bueller, all the way back to Lillith-in-her-cave. These are the anti-heroes; the protagonist as lacking in common virtue. Recent cinematic efforts have recoiled from the anti-hero and, belatedly, have returned to the hero as courageous, virtuous and inspiring. Sadly, this is mostly in the cartoon-like heroes, from Luke Skywalker to Yoda (he’s a Muppet, friends, and sounds like Fozzy Bear) to the Left Behind series to Harry Potter.
One longs for a Katherine Hepburn-like character from “The African Queen.” One cries for a Lincoln in politics, a Riis in journalism. But I digress.
The word villain comes down to Modern American English from Middle English to which it swam the channel, perhaps with the Normans in 1066, but certainly from the Old French language, whose speakers appropriated it (or had it forced on them) from an even older Roman (Latin) term. The Old Roman word did not necessarily mean “evil,” so much as it meant “common” or “rough.” The Romans, the French, the English, the Americans; all formidable peoples at one time and people who held the poor, the rough, the common, to be something less than the successful. The Less Than Successful are worthy of pity, which, itself, must be equal parts mercy and scorn.
A villain, then, from ancient times, is someone who has a hard time getting on through life. A hero can complete a villain, compete with a villain, but will not finally show contempt for the villain. Part of heroic courage is inspiration, which may be taken in by the villain. Darth Vader belatedly remembers he is a father, not a vassal, because he sees the pure evil of his captor and the inspirational courage of his daughter and son.
Yes, laugh at the trivial comparison, but there are more people globally who know Darth Vader than those who know Donald Trump. A perfect villain is not one who is un-redeemable. A perfect villain is simply one who is mature in evil, who really means to do harm, who will take any advantage to overcome good. He or she may be redeemed only at the final moment.
A perfect villain is a teleos villain. I hope to get there tomorrow.