Movies, books, and television give us examples today of villains as heroes. We watched “The Suicide Squad” a couple of days ago. I don’t recall any one of the Dirty Dozen doing the heinous things the Suicide Squad did. Am I just misremembering because violence wasn’t as gory back then?
I see the arguments that bad guys don’t see themselves as the bad guys, that they have some trauma that made them do the bad things. But I wonder, did Bernie Madoff see himself as the hero as he took other people’s money and lives? For every Ted Bundy, who psychologists now believe was abused as a child, there are thousands of abused children who don’t grow up to become serial killers.
When evil characters are given excuses for their actions, it’s letting them off the hook. William Shakespeare wrote the line for Don John in “Much Ado About Nothing” – “…it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.” There is something to be said for black hats and mustache twirling as an example that when people choose to do wrong, they themselves are wrong.
By the same token, when did it become a bad thing to be good? Many movie “heroes” today are not good people. My husband and I have watched a lot of movies and TV series produced in the last 20 years and said to each other, “I don’t like anybody in this program.”
A character who always does the right thing is, nowadays, portrayed as weak, inexperienced, stupid, or a comedy caricature. Contemporary stories suggest that in order to be successful in life, we must steal, lie, cheat, and get into fights.
Now, I do recognize that many financially successful and famous people lie and steal. Some of the wealthiest companies in the world got to the top by stealing ideas and technology, and by destroying or swallowing competitors. Thomas Edison became a household name because he stole ideas and lied about his competitors. Some leaders in the free world gain power by lying about their opponents.
But is this what we should aspire to be? Cruel, selfish, uncaring? Evil?
Growing up, I never thought that TV or movies or comic books could adversely influence the viewer’s actions or beliefs. It was ridiculous to me to think anyone would be harmed by seeing fictional violence. I say that because I lived in a household where, for the most part, my parents protected me from seeing things that were too grown up. Not that anything was as violent or gruesome or graphically sexual back in those days. Nearly 20 years ago, we went to see one of the “Lord of the Rings” movies and someone had brought their little kids. It was not a family film. Orcs were being chopped up left and right. Yes, it’s fantasy violence, but when the kids are kicking the backs of the seats in front of them (where we were sitting) and asking what’s going on, they don’t need to be in that theater watching that film.
Today, between cable and streaming, ultra violent and highly sexual content is in the living room, and I can guarantee a lot of children are seeing and absorbing those images and situations with no discussion, other than some adult or older child in the room saying how cool or awesome it is. I’m certainly not saying every family is like that, and yes, some children can handle more mature content at a younger age. However, those parents who ignore their children while they run around or scream in stores and restaurants, who hand their kid a device or turn on a seatback DVD in the car instead of talking to them, who yell obscenities at them in the front yard – those parents are not monitoring their children’s consumption of media or placing the content in any kind of perspective.
I have to wonder, every time I see a mass shooting, or hear of pre-teens ganging up to kill a classmate, I have to wonder, what have they been exposed to from the time they got home from the hospital? And ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, what are the kids going to be doing who were nursed by mom while she was watching “Game of Thrones” or who were standing in the playpen behind dad watching him play a first person shoot-’em-up videogame?
Are the children watching “The Suicide Game” today being taught to believe that killing and maiming is the road to becoming some sort of hero?