Villainy: An (Attempted) Romanticization

For the past few years, the discourse around villains and bad guys pops up randomly amid various fandoms and groups. While there are several facets and elements that are brought up, the main gist of conversation narrows down to ignoring and, essentially, romanticizing the villain or bad person as some sort of hero and/or love interest (usually because they are attractive or considered cooler or more interesting than the hero/good person) while ignoring the very real horrors they have committed.

Most recently, this has been discussion around Wanda and Dr. Strange from their respective shows and films. However, I can recall this exact same exchange occurring with Walter White, Tony Soprano, most of the characters of The Wire, and so many others even before those. The humorous thing, to me at least, was that, for the most part, this was a conversation that arose from the fans and not really from the show or film. In fact, most of the time, the productions did a solid job of giving nuance to the characters and actually having them suffer or feel downtrodden for their devious efforts. Not always, but the scales mostly tipped in balance if not against these complicated characters.

Even in WandaVision, the most recent example of these talks, Wanda does suffer consequences and loss from her actions. Should she have been punished more severely? Debatable with both positions being justified, but the show did paint her as an antagonist, pitiable and understandable in her actions, but still very much in the wrong. As is the case in most of the classic given examples in this discourse.

While pondering on this ongoing debate, I happened to watch a Korean drama on Netflix by the name Vincenzo. Basic premise of the show is an Italian-Korean man who happens to also be a Consigliere of a prominent mafia family travels to Korea to find a literal fortune. He also happens to right wrongs and befriend many quirky characters during his tenure there. What was interesting was that the man is very much presented as a desirable and, at times, wholesome individual. He is seen as a demure, eligible bachelor with a specific, strong moral code of sorts. There are even several moments where he is shown as funny and quirky himself. However, he is very much a mafia captain as he commits some brutal acts of violence and vengeance that supersedes characters like Walter White, Tony Soprano, etc. while never having a moral crisis or dilemma as is usually shown in Western television.

This difference in presentation and moral difficulty gave me pause and made me wonder how much cultural expectation and background impacts both the individual and larger perception of these villains and their narratives. I don’t have a direct answer to that, and I am not sure if enough research has been done on it. But, considering how global entertainment has become with the advent and ease of technology, seems like a field and study that should have far more attention behind it.

It is interesting to see what aspects and fields will arise and given prominence with the ever evolving and changing landscape of entertainment in all mediums.

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