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Thread: What makes a villain?

  1. #1

    Default What makes a villain?

    See title for the question.

    I want this thread to be completely open to your mind. Hence the simple OP.

    What is a villain? What makes a villain? What motivation drives him/her/it? How does one become a villain?
    Also: How'd you learn what a villain is? Or at least what is a villain supposed to be? Y'know. All that random stuff.

    I talk in a very generic sense. Real life, nowadays, far away past or far away future, fantasy universe, it does not matter.

    I expect lots of interesting thoughts.

  2. #2
    basics's Avatar Praeses
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Derc,

    I think it is built into everyone the possibility of being villainous. There seems to be a certain pleasure in getting one over on someone and we know from growing up how pleasureable that can be. Of course not everyone becomes what the extremes of villainy can do yet there is a certain pleasure that we get out of such acts. In a lot of cases villains have become heroes in history and perhaps circumstance has a lot to do with that. In the end it is a choice sometimes in the spur of the moment and at other times premeditated planning.

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    Turkafinwë's Avatar The Sick Baby Bunny
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    In real life it's fairly difficult to determine what a villain is since it's extremely subjective. In books/movies it's easy because the author says who to villain is because he writes from the perspective of the protagonist. A villain is determined by his counterpart, to which he is a villain. This does not mean he is a villain in a general sense only that he is the villain to our hero. It's like the very popular idiom says: "Everyone is a villain in somebody's story". Because of this a villain can be anything or anyone with a multitude of traits with the crux of the matter being that he needs to be the one who stands in the hero's way. There are many tropes of course and giving your villain quote on quote "bad" traits makes it easier for people to 'feel' that he is the villain rather than just being told he is, otherwise they could start sympathizing with the villain (which some writers use to great effect, the tragic villain).

    Generally, in real life, the term villain is used to delegitemize people and their ideas since a villain is evil incarnate, someone with no redeemable qualities. Someone who has wronged you can become a villain to you if you keep harbouring resentment for that person. If we start looking at villainry that way it has more to do with the one looking at the villain rather than the person of the villain itself.

    In short: A villain is someone who "muhuahuahuahua"-s

    Chapter XXXI: Éomer Returns
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    The villain is the other who stands in the path of the protagonist; a more charged way to say 'antagonist', which is not an actual (or at least credible) assessment of how 'good' or 'evil' an individual is. In an older sense calling someone 'villain' does have a stronger implication of evildoing, but these days it's thrown about and can be interpreted more liberally. Particularly as villains in media have gone a few cycles of being written 'understandably' where you may sometimes get their point, and all they're doing is roadblocking the protagonist.

    How this is identified largely determines on what framing you want to use. Often, particularly in real life, it is a far more nebulous question when things like politics are involved.

  5. #5
    Muizer's Avatar member 3519
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    I would tentatively define a villain as "Someone who, in the pursuit of self interest, violates the trust of others". With 'trust' referring not just compliance with interpersonal agreements, but above all societal norms of acceptable behaviour.

    Neither the pursued goal, nor the violation of trust alone suffices. People who further their interest without violating trust are at worst 'honorable foes'. People who break trust without intent of furthering self interest, are 'maladjusted', sufferers of mental illnesses.
    "Lay these words to heart, Lucilius, that you may scorn the pleasure which comes from the applause of the majority. Many men praise you; but have you any reason for being pleased with yourself, if you are a person whom the many can understand?" - Lucius Annaeus Seneca -

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    Morticia Iunia Bruti's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Villains are sociopaths or psychopaths.
    Stereotype fools
    Playing the game
    Nothing unique
    They all look the same
    In this sea of mediocrity
    I can be anything -
    Anything I want to be

    Arch Enemy - We will rise


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    AqD's Avatar 。◕‿◕。
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    Icon5 Re: What makes a villain?

    Quote Originally Posted by Turkafinwë View Post
    Generally, in real life, the term villain is used to delegitemize people and their ideas since a villain is evil incarnate, someone with no redeemable qualities. Someone who has wronged you can become a villain to you if you keep harbouring resentment for that person. If we start looking at villainry that way it has more to do with the one looking at the villain rather than the person of the villain itself.

    In short: A villain is someone who "muhuahuahuahua"-s
    What are redeemable qualities?

    To apply your idea, Hitler and modern Jihadists are probably not villains, because they didn't laugh, and they're certainly full of rare qualities such as extreme loyalty, extreme passion, and unmoved by social conventions and ethics.

    What is "being wronged"? Hitler believed sincerely his people was wronged by Jews, does that make pre-WW2 Jews villains? Were the peasants wronged by the well-to-do self-owned farmers whom they killed in revolutions? Or maybe I've been wronged by everyone who has more money than me

    Quote Originally Posted by Morticia Iunia Bruti View Post
    Villains are sociopaths or psychopaths.
    Are abortioners psychopaths, ending lives for their own benefit? Are animal eaters sociopaths, who cook the corpses of cows and chickens though most of them wouldn't kill any themselves?

    What about Vikings or Roman legionaries? Or mercenaries? Or US soldiers in Iraq, who travelled across half the planet to kill people they never met before despite great pain and zero benefit?


    IMO villains are like rocks dropping into water. The rest of people are just boring fishes and seaweeds.

    Imagine human history without villains.
    Last edited by AqD; December 11, 2020 at 05:45 PM.

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    Morticia Iunia Bruti's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    That are not sociopaths or psychopaths. I use the psychiatric definition.

    https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/...h-difference#1
    https://www.healthline.com/health/me...alth/sociopath
    https://www.healthline.com/health/psychopath

    In my opinion that are the obviously villains.
    Stereotype fools
    Playing the game
    Nothing unique
    They all look the same
    In this sea of mediocrity
    I can be anything -
    Anything I want to be

    Arch Enemy - We will rise


  9. #9
    Turkafinwë's Avatar The Sick Baby Bunny
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Quote Originally Posted by AqD View Post
    What are redeemable qualities?

    To apply your idea, Hitler and modern Jihadists are probably not villains, because they didn't laugh, and they're certainly full of rare qualities such as extreme loyalty, extreme passion, and unmoved by social conventions and ethics.

    What is "being wronged"? Hitler believed sincerely his people was wronged by Jews, does that make pre-WW2 Jews villains? Were the peasants wronged by the well-to-do self-owned farmers whom they killed in revolutions? Or maybe I've been wronged by everyone who has more money than me


    IMO villains are like rocks dropping into water. The rest of people are just boring fishes and seaweeds.

    Imagine human history without villains.
    Redeemable qualities can be anything you want. It's a matter what that kind of person thinks are good qualities and worthy of redeeming the bad in someone. Of course society has a general consensus of what "good" qualities are and it changes depending on which culture you're from but there is a main line almost all human beings consider "good" traits to have. There is no such thing as an objective villain since its villainry is determined by the person opposite of him. It's subjective in its nature. We'd like to think that people like Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot and etc. are objectively villains because (almost) everyone agrees they are. In the end it's nothing more than subjectivity reinforced by the voices of many. If Germany had won WWII Hitler would probably be revered as a hero who dragged his nation from the brink to become a dominant world power. Caesar is not considered a villain and is remembered for his military brilliance rather than his genocide of the Celts of Gaul or ruthless behaviour towards his enemies. In other circumstances society could've condemned his actions and brand him a villain (which the Senate and Brutus certainly did only they lost in the end). Everyone can be a villain to someone. There's nothing objective about it. Societal norms, ethics, morals are not objective things just products of their time.

    Chapter XXXI: Éomer Returns
    #JusticeForAkar #JusticeForCal #JusticeForCookie #JusticeForAthelchan
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  10. #10
    antaeus's Avatar Simplism
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    A villain is someone who is part of a relative out-group, who either does, or is attributed to have done something to put the out-group interests ahead of the in-group.

    - The size, scale and makeup of that out-group is entirely subjective. It could be a class, culture, social, family, gender or what ever.
    - An action or expression is required. Something has to have been done, or is being done or is claimed to have been done. This could be a physical action, or spoken or written word. Literal or metaphoric.
    - The villain could do the action themselves, or the in-group could have assigned the action to them without their active involvement or knowledge.
    - Out-group status could be assigned through the action

    Referencing CommodusV above: they are the active other and we are the active protagonists.
    IN PATROCINIVM SVB MARENOSTRUM

  11. #11

    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Quote Originally Posted by AqD View Post
    What are redeemable qualities?

    To apply your idea, Hitler and modern Jihadists are probably not villains, because they didn't laugh, and they're certainly full of rare qualities such as extreme loyalty, extreme passion, and unmoved by social conventions and ethics.

    What is "being wronged"? Hitler believed sincerely his people was wronged by Jews, does that make pre-WW2 Jews villains? Were the peasants wronged by the well-to-do self-owned farmers whom they killed in revolutions? Or maybe I've been wronged by everyone who has more money than me
    I think it is possible to measure the extent to which someone is a villain, by weighing the amount of suffering and destruction he caused against the (long-term) benefits of his actions, or other, independent actions by the same individual that are not villainous. In the end, we have to accept that everyone has a good side and a bad one, it's just that they can be different in extent. I think it's possible to admire the extraordinary abilities in an individual (e.g. Genghis Khan being a brilliant leader) while still condemning his actions (e.g. Genghis Khan being a genocidal sociopath), and of course one shouldn't expect the victims of such an individual (or their relatives) to pay homage to him.


    Are abortioners psychopaths, ending lives for their own benefit?
    Depends on the individual, I'd say. IMO (using logical reasoning) there is a higher likelihood of psychopaths occurring among abortion practicioners, because normal people would be less capable of enduring the emotional strain.


    Are animal eaters sociopaths, who cook the corpses of cows and chickens though most of them wouldn't kill any themselves?
    No, that'd be Vegan propaganda. Other animals are not members of our species and thus it doesn't make much sense to use the same metrics. In addition, when you look at it at a species level, livestock actually profit in some ways from their predicament. Compared to wild animals, they are extremely successful, now occurring almost everywhere and in unnaturally high numbers.


    What about Vikings or Roman legionaries? Or mercenaries? Or US soldiers in Iraq, who travelled across half the planet to kill people they never met before despite great pain and zero benefit?
    Yes, they are certainly villains from some perspective (nb that modern day US and other "Western" soldiers commit far fewer war crimes than their ancestors, or their less scrupulous contemporaries).



    IMO villains are like rocks dropping into water. The rest of people are just boring fishes and seaweeds.

    Imagine human history without villains.
    Maybe, but I still find them abhorrent.

  12. #12
    chriscase's Avatar Princess Thunderballs
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Alternatively all it takes is to be born into serfdom.

    Why is it that mysteries are always about something bad? You never hear there's a mystery, and then it's like, "Who made cookies?"
    - Demetri Martin

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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    A hero makes a villain.

    You...complete me


    The bigger the hero, the bigger the villain needs to be. To embiggen our Hero the narrator embellishes the hero attributes...oh noes better embellish the villain or its a pushover...and then weird stuff happens. Achilles becomes such a rage filled killing machine, and Hektor such a decent human I end up sympathising with the Trojan over the Phthian. The internet is far more obsessed with the Joker (penniless knife wielding hobo) than the Batman (genius billionaire playboy philanthropist) maybe because a life driven by fear and vengeance is less attractive than just...living in the moment. I think Loki owns the Marvel franchise, they had to move him onto the heroes team because he was so full of win.

    This happens from the Mahabharata where (in some versions) the "villainous" Kauravas end up in heaven ahead of most of the Pandavas, and often excel them at moral behaviour in life. As for the Nibelungenlied well its a mess (combining Iron Age, Volkswanderung and early medieval elements), but "our hero" Siegfried is a rapist, the homicidal Kriemhild and Hagen quite justified in their own ways and the moral of the story is...might makes right? Don't kill dragons maybe?
    Jatte lambastes Calico Rat

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    basics's Avatar Praeses
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Deception is the best way of dsecribing a villain because in any aspect that is how we are for no-one can say that they have nothing to hide and usually that hiding has affected someone else.

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    Morticia Iunia Bruti's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    As for the Nibelungenlied well its a mess (combining Iron Age, Volkswanderung and early medieval elements), but "our hero" Siegfried is a rapist, the homicidal Kriemhild and Hagen quite justified in their own ways and the moral of the story is...might makes right? Don't kill dragons maybe?
    Don't mess with our national epos.

    The Nibelungenlied has its own medieval moral of loyalty between knights and their feudal masters and the moral codex of being a real knight.

    You can't understand it completely without knowing the medieval society at the time of its creation.

    Its heroes are not black and white, they are grey, this is quite modern.

    Gold corrupts( Fafnir, Alberich...).

    Blind Revenge leads into downfall.

    ...
    Stereotype fools
    Playing the game
    Nothing unique
    They all look the same
    In this sea of mediocrity
    I can be anything -
    Anything I want to be

    Arch Enemy - We will rise


  16. #16
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Quote Originally Posted by Morticia Iunia Bruti View Post
    Don't mess with our national epos.

    The Nibelungenlied has its own medieval moral of loyalty between knights and their feudal masters and the moral codex of being a real knight.

    You can't understand it completely without knowing the medieval society at the time of its creation.

    Its heroes are not black and white, they are grey, this is quite modern.

    Gold corrupts( Fafnir, Alberich...).

    Blind Revenge leads into downfall.

    ...
    I beg your pardon, but I have read the introduction to the Black Penguin edition of the Nibelungenlied and I feel well informed on the topic.

    My feeling is it resembles the Irish and British mythoi eg Arthurian Cycles where we see Iron Age (and maybe even bronze Age) motifs repositioned in medieval romances or sermons. I mean we see that sort of literary mosaic work in the Bible and numerous other contexts too.

    Sigurd/Siegfried embodies heroic Age values with sits uneasily alongside the semi-historical recollection of volkswangderung/post-Roman era destruction of the Old Burgundians the latter elements of the cycle, and to have it rounded up in a medieval context (tellingly during the "proto-renaissance" of the post-crusade 12th-13th centuries, so not unaware of Homeric and other precedents) adds another layer of ethics and expectations. I do not mock, I marvel at the wonderful Christmas Pudding that results.

    Edit: Are you saying Alberich is the villain in the Nibelungenlied? Obviously in Wagner's nutty adaption he is. Fafnir so easily defeated, he's an episodic villain perhaps but not the BBEG. Hagen and Kreimhild are the cursed figures at the heart of the 'Lied, he exacts revenge on the demigod who dishonoured the queen, and she on him; in the iron Age context the wooing was Zeus-grade Alpha stuff but in a medieval/feudal context Siegfried rudely broke taboos like "don't rape your future brother-in-law's wife".

    I love that its a train wreck and you're right, the greying of moral right and wrong, possibly an artefact of its layered sources and periods of influence are quite modern.

    I'd say Siegfried like Achilles is a problematic fav, not a milkshake duck exactly but defo Tyler Durden like. "Oh yeah, cool guy, if you need a dragon killed, a dwarf mocked, a queen raped...umm so yeah, a bit psycho really, and very hard to kill, so cool guy, yeah"
    Last edited by Cyclops; December 14, 2020 at 08:25 PM.
    Jatte lambastes Calico Rat

  17. #17
    basics's Avatar Praeses
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Cyclops,

    Hey, I like my Xmas pudding especially chest deep in custard so don't knock it. Concerning heroes and villains is there one greater than Macbeth whom Shakespeare made the villain of the piece when in actual fact he wasn't? Viking legends tells us that Thorfinn struck the blow that killed Duncan. It was expedient of Shakespeare to make MacBeth the villain as the Canmore clan were in power both in England and Scotland so you don't bite off the hand that feeds you.

  18. #18
    Morticia Iunia Bruti's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Fafnir and Alberich are not really big villains, but both were corrupted by their greed for gold. Fafnir was once a human/dwarf, brother of Mime, who transform into the dragon to defend the gold.

    As child this book was quite interesting, as it contains all german medieval myths and the illustrating drawings were nice.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 


    Edit:

    At a personal note:

    Thats my favourite myth from this:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eckenlied
    Last edited by Morticia Iunia Bruti; December 15, 2020 at 02:34 AM.
    Stereotype fools
    Playing the game
    Nothing unique
    They all look the same
    In this sea of mediocrity
    I can be anything -
    Anything I want to be

    Arch Enemy - We will rise


  19. #19
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Quote Originally Posted by Morticia Iunia Bruti View Post
    That are not sociopaths or psychopaths. I use the psychiatric definition.

    https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/...h-difference#1
    https://www.healthline.com/health/me...alth/sociopath
    https://www.healthline.com/health/psychopath

    In my opinion that are the obviously villains.
    First, a psychopath is born as such, never in his life has he had the ability to choose to be more empathetic with people. Second, you can be a psychopath without going around doing more harm to those around you than a "normal" individual. You can be a psycopath living a "normal" life, not being a sadic.

    Regarding villains, I classify someone as a bad person when they consciously harm innocent people.

  20. #20
    Praefectus
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    Default Re: What makes a villain?

    Quote Originally Posted by basics View Post
    Cyclops,

    Hey, I like my Xmas pudding especially chest deep in custard so don't knock it. Concerning heroes and villains is there one greater than Macbeth whom Shakespeare made the villain of the piece when in actual fact he wasn't? Viking legends tells us that Thorfinn struck the blow that killed Duncan. It was expedient of Shakespeare to make MacBeth the villain as the Canmore clan were in power both in England and Scotland so you don't bite off the hand that feeds you.
    Indeed. Villains are made, not born, and its usually circumstantial, and for plot reasons. To put it another way (and to paraphrase Umberto Eco) sometimes "a villain is a hero seen from the other side". Also custard is nice with pudding.

    I think our friends who compiled Bible stories shaped some men into villains and heroes for our edification. A good hero (like Moses, David or Solomon) is flawed, and is chastised as well as triumphant.
    Quote Originally Posted by mishkin View Post

    Regarding villains, I classify someone as a bad person when they consciously harm innocent people.
    It pays not to be too conscious then haha! . Jokes aside that seems a fair working definition. Of course pretty much everyone leading any sort of independent life harms others, and it very hard to say who deserves it. I can call myself a villain by drinking coffee from a "bad" country, or littering. Je m'accuse! That's reasonably motivating I think. Be the villain you want to see in the world. I don't have the super-villain lair but I can do my bit.

    Quote Originally Posted by Morticia Iunia Bruti View Post
    At a personal note:

    Thats my favourite myth from this:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eckenlied
    Great stuff +rep. so many myths and epics to explore, I just love it.

    As an anglophone we mostly encounter German myth through Beowulf (which nutty anti-celt Englishmen tried to explain was an English epic, despite being about Swedes and Geats in Denmark) and Tolkien (who after WWII had to evade accusations his work was overly Finno-Celtic-Germanic, instead claiming it was somehow Christian with its elves, trolls, giants, Gandalf/Odin/Väinämöinen, magic rings, Arthur figures, etc etc). Wonderful German contributions like the great Lieds are ignored, and contributions to wider streams (like the seminal Parsifal cycle woven into the Arthurian mythos) downplayed.
    Jatte lambastes Calico Rat

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