I originally posted a version of this in the comments last time, but I wanted to re-phrase it and give it a post of its own, so that I can link back to it later, sorry for the repeat...
last time about whether or not most villains think of themselves as the heroes of their own story. My argument was that this claim is overstated. I would say that most villains think of themselves as righteous and justified, but not “heroic”: they know that they are violating society’s ethics and morals in an unlovable way. Most either enjoy being hated or just don’t care.
Veteran commenter J.S. proposed that only psychopaths know that they’re doing wrong and don’t care, but I countered with my own diametrically-opposed belief that only psychopathic villains truly think of themselves at the hero of their own stories, whereas the corrupt and criminal are more likely to think of themselves as “the bad guy.”
To wit: lets look at three members of TV’s dog-killer club:
Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) kills her client’s dog and frames her opponent
for it at the end of the pilot episode of “Damages”. Does she think
that this is the right thing to do? I say no. She knows that she’s chosen to
do an evil thing. Does she think that her larger goal is justified?
Well, she keeps saying that her goal is justice for her defrauded
working-class class-action clients…but we can tell that she doesn’t
really believe that anymore.
She still pays lip service to idealism,
but she’s basically just a shark at this point, gobbling up money and
power for the sake of money and power. Like Walter White, the only
motivation she has left is spite (for a world that she feels is unfair
to powerful women). Unlike Walter, however, she feels guilt for what
she’s doing, and occasionally breaks down crying when she realizes what a
wretch she is, which shows to me that she’s not a psychopath.
Underwood (Kevin Spacey) one-ups Patty by killing a dog in the opening
minutes of “House of Cards”. Does he think that this is the right thing
to do? Yes, as he explains directly to the camera, he thinks that the
dog needed to be put out of its suffering. Does he think this makes him
a good guy? No. He knows that his actions are cold, Machiavellian and
unlovable. Does he think of himself as a good guy in general? No,
like Patty, he accepts that he is ruled mostly by his own petty hatreds.
Unlike Patty, he thinks that he can still do some good politically,
but only once he has total power, and he’s more than willing to do
things that he himself considers to be evil in order to get that power.
Unlike Patty, he cannot cry about his wretched state, but his narration
to us lets us know that he is aware (and slightly regretful) that he is
hurting people, which, once again, shows me that he is not a
Contrast this with King Joffrey on “Game of Thrones”, who orders his
fiancé’s wolf killed, giving him an honorary membership in the club. I say that Joffrey is the only one of the three who does think
of himself as a hero because he’s the only one of the three who is a
Joffrey is incapable of feeling empathy-- incapable of
understanding that the needs and wants of others are equally valid as
his needs and wants. The dog hurt him, and so it dies, and if his
fiancé disagrees, then she’s an idiot, because she should realize that
it’s the job of everything in the universe to please Joffrey. Unlike
Patty and Francis, he truly believes that he is hero of his story: he
thinks that he’s never done anything wrong, and that everybody loves
him, because he’s their king.
Now don’t get me wrong, we have
empathy for Joffrey: we see that he was purposely spoiled by his
sadistic parents, who saw him as their weapon of revenge against the
world. Joffrey is merely what he was raised to be. So we have empathy
for him, but no sympathy, and we recognize that he will never have any
empathy for others.
So I feel that, amongst villains, only
psychopaths see themselves as the hero of their story, while corrupt
people, like Patty and Francis think of themselves as
people who have decided to willfully transgress society’s
commonly-accepted notions of morality and ethics for their own personal
reasons, even if that means that others will think of them as “The bad
(One big request: I have only seen the
first four episodes of “House of Cards” and I’m on season two, episode
two of “Game of Thrones”, so pretty please don’t spoil anything I haven’t
seen.) (On the other hand, I only watched the first season of “Damages”,
but I’m probably not going to finish it, so spoil away.)