By Annabel Owen
He’s sprinting down the street, desperation licking at his heels. Gun in one hand, he flicks his head from side to side to see if they’re chasing him. You can hear footsteps, pounding against cold pavement. His breathing is heavy, panicked, and urgent. There is blood on his right hand and smeared across his white t-shirt that isn’t his own. It belongs to the man he just killed. They’re gaining on him as he runs, getting closer and closer. He hears gunshots and ducks once, and then twice. There is yelling. He runs faster. You see his face, panicked and familiar. He comes to a bridge, black murky water beneath. He takes one look back, then steps up and takes the leap. He plunges into the water and kicks and splutters to the surface, before swimming as fast as he can to safety. Relief.
The man in this story is a killer. You might even go as far as to call him a villain. Yet, despite this very fact; you want nothing but for him to get away. Where is the logic in that? Well, as a matter of fact, the logic lies in the character himself. They are the Villain Protagonist, a phenomenon becoming a more prevalent twist to conventional storytelling. It places the villain, the antagonist, as the leading or one of the major characters; making us more inclined to like them.
Ever watched a television show, or read a book, or seen a movie, or read a comic strip where the main character is the bad guy, and despite this information and their wrongdoing, absolutely loved them? Then don’t worry, you’re not a complete sociopath. We all would have seen one at some point or another, perhaps without even knowing it.
Take Walter White, for example, a once soft and shy man who evolves into a fearless and cunning “villain”, alienating his own family and caring solely for his own survival, yet we root for him the entire time. He lies, he breaks the law, he kills people to protect himself, but there we are, sitting on the edge of our seats, praying he does not get caught. Another likable villain would be The Joker in Batman. Yes, he’s the bad guy, but everybody loves him because of his cheeky grin, his cunning jokes and cackling laugh. Or even the Coyote in Road Runner. Wouldn’t it be great if in one episode he just caught that god-damn bird?
Perhaps a more complex example would be Game of Thrones, where all the perspectives of war are depicted. Sometimes you actually like and have sympathy for the bad guys, and you also see the aws in the good guys. In this case, there isn’t just one main character but many; however it still bodes as a perfect example of liking those that are ‘evil’.
The most obvious one I can think of would be Dexter, who works for the Miami Police Department while leading a secret life as a serial killer. We follow the story from his point of view, even though he is the antagonist. He claims to have no feelings, divorcing himself from humanity and kills to feel alive. Creepy, huh?
So the answer is yet to be found: Why do we like them so much? It’s a fair question. I don’t know about you, but when I watch the news I don’t exactly turn around and say “hey, I hope that murderer doesn’t get caught.” So why do we open up a soft spot for these types of characters in television shows, movies and books? It’s not because of their charming looks – Walter White, Dexter and The Joker aren’t exactly Channing Tatum lookalikes; but rather something much more.
These characters often possess qualities that we are able to relate to. Now I know what you’re thinking – I’m not a villain, I’m not ‘evil’, and I certainly would never be the ‘bad guy’, unless I consume a little too much alcohol one night…But believe it or not, we can be very similar to these villains. Since the story is often told from their point of view, we begin to believe what they believe. In a way, we justify their actions with excuses. It is because we get to know them. We know the reasons behind their actions.
We see that while everything Walt does is wrong, his underlying motive is his love for his family. We see that while killing people is brutal, Dexter abides by his own moral code; only allowing himself to kill people who he
can prove are murderers themselves. Dexter likes children and treats them with care and respect, and shows his connection and loyalty to family throughout the series. We like Dexter because while he does bad things, he has good reasons.
We see in Game of Thrones violence and crudeness, but underlying honour and protection of family. It’s hard to pick just one character, but if I had to comment, it would be on Jaime Lannister. A major character that is in love with his twin sister, murders countless people and even maimed a child, but beneath all of that holds passion for the things that he cares about. He will literally do anything to protect his honour and those things that mean the most to him.
These characters are bold, they are strong and they always have the upper hand. They do bad things, but there is always a good reason. They murder, they deceive, they have no conscience; but they can love and they can care. They are the bad guys; and we like them. And in the end, there is nothing wrong with that.