Once upon a time, I had a favorite villain.
A glorious movie called “The Avengers” came out. A movie full of heroes. But the show-stealer was the god of mischief himself: Loki.
This was partly because the actor, Tom Hiddleston, is super-talented. But the main reason Loki shone through this flick is because this villain’s got personality, depth, motivation for his actions — and after a while, you kinda sympathize with him and his backstory. Plus, Loki definitely has the best lines: “I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose.” BRILLIANT.
Long story short, he’s just really…cool. (Sure, the heroes are cool and stuff, but let’s be real: The villains are usually cooler.) And Loki’s just one of many in the ranks of “cool” villains — ranks that are growing rapidly.
In fact, there’s a growing trend where stories are focusing more on the villains. The film “Maleficent” is about the witch’s perspective. The show “Once Upon a Time” gives villains a sob story. Even in “The Dark Knight,” we rooted for the Joker somewhat because of how cool he was.
…But then it hit me.
If these bad guys are now “cool,” then what makes these heroes and villains good or bad?
In other words, villains — or those who are on the “evil side” in our latest blockbuster stories — aren’t so evil anymore. At least, that line isn’t black and white. It’s pretty blurry.
And even if they are clearly “evil,” we still root for them because they’re cool. The upcoming movie “Suicide Squad” is a perfect example. It’s a story about DC comic villains recruited by the government for black ops. The trailer, of course, looks awesome.
But that’s the thing.
Making villains — or evil itself — look cool or attractive is dangerous.
1. What comes in, comes out.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about how we need to be careful about what we consume in our media: in other words, garbage in, garbage out. If the media we watch tells us that evil is okay (“It’s not that bad, look, the villains are just misunderstood, they’re really actually cool guys — better than the heroes, even!”), that message is subtly affecting the way we see the world.
“The eye is the lamp of the body; if the eye is sound, the whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt 6:22-23)
What’s really happening is that these shows or movies are twisting the truth. Evil should never be glorified. It should be shown for what it is. The truth is that evil is ugly and boring. It just is. Evil cannot create — it only twists and distorts what is already made. Making wickedness look fun and exciting is making something false attractive.
This might not seem like a huge deal. You might be thinking, “Whoa, Therese, way to blow up a mountain out of a molehill!” And compared to other things, watching a movie that glorifies evil isn’t going to send you directly on the path to hell.
But here’s the big deal: When real evil strikes our world — whether it’s something like the Planned Parenthood scandal, or the genocide of thousands of people by ISIS — we’re not really shaken by it. We become numb to it, when in reality we should be shaken. Because it is evil. And that should make us want to take action against it.
You might be thinking, “I know this. But it’s fine. It’s not a big deal. Media can’t affect me like that.”
Well, whether you admit it or not, it does. Because…
2. Stories are POWERFUL.
Stories shape us. They’re powerful. Jesus Himself used stories to inspire us. Stories (and art in general) inspire us toward something, whether it’s something good or bad.
Here’s just a little example: There’s a reason why the first thing the Nazis did when they came to power was burn books, take control of the media and crack down on art and literature. They knew the power it had to inspire people to hope.
The good stories, the ones that stay with us, are the ones that tell us we were made for something more, to do something great. Heroes show us that good is bigger than evil, even if it doesn’t seem that way. Good, true and beautiful stories inspire hope, not complacency. They point us outward toward a greater purpose, not further into ourselves and our pleasures.
“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” – G. K. Chesterton
We don’t need more stories with more evil characters portrayed as being cooler than heroes. We don’t need stories that show evil just for fun. We need to be shown the truth of evil and be given inspiration to do something about it — whether that battle is in the world or in ourselves.
Here’s the bottom line…
I’m not saying that you should stop watching everything that might possibly condone evil, or even that you should give up watching Marvel movies for the rest of your life.
Here’s what I am saying:
1. Analyze the story.
Be critical of the messages you take in. How are they affecting you? What’s the movie’s main message? How did it make you feel? What actions are done in the story, and does it lead to good or evil?
If you’re at least aware of those messages, you won’t fall down the gradual slope of becoming apathetic to real evil in the world.
2. Find good, true and beautiful stories.
Find stories that reveal more of yourself to you, stories that inspire you to greatness. These are the ones worth watching. These are the ones that shape your soul and make you a better person.