OP: Villains in our movies reflect our changing culture and ideals

30 April 2019

Alex Dant

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    It’s difficult to deny that media, such as movies, books and video games, has a massive impact on our lives.

    While entertainment is one of the biggest reasons as to why we create these genres, we also use it to communicate messages to other people.

    Usually, these can be messages that are totally missed, simply because of the lack of background on what the movie is about. The good news is that no matter the movie, you can always tell a lot about what the movie’s trying to convey by examining who the villain is in the story.

    It’s been said before that any aspiring author should write their villain before they write their hero, because of the conflict with the villain, be it person, circumstance or nature, the hero grows and develops their character as the movie goes on.

    Because the villain plays such a massive role in defining not only who the main character ends up becoming, but also what the story means, it makes sense to look at villains in today’s collection of movies and books, as well as villains that have come before in previous literature and movies.

    Some of the clearest examples can often be found in books that originate from comic books.

    There are four main kinds of “eras” in which there is a notable shift in the kinds of villains that not only appear on the screen but appear in a movie that gained immense popularity.

    The first era occurs in the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s and is a period of time in which the villains of the present day were well defined. During the time of the Third Reich and Nazi Germany, as well as Communist Russia, America at the time had no doubts about who the real enemy was.

    It’s in a period of well-defined enemies and clear-cut borders in which we get heroes like Captain America and Superman, who both originated as virtuous heroes who both actually fought Nazis.

    In the next era, we see a culture of moral ambiguity occur in the late ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, that arose in part of starting the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal respectively.

    This was a time in which Americans were becoming more disillusioned with their societal and governmental institutions, and movie villains reflected that.

    Movies like “All The President’s Men, which brought the Watergate scandal to the big screen, and Steven Spielberg’s classic “Jaws” depicted someone in a place of power that was out for themselves and did not care about the people below them, and could not be trusted.

    The institutions were the villains, and those who fight against the institutions were considered the good guys.

    In the ‘90s, and in much larger effect, the 2000s, movie villains reflected fears of terrorism from the homefront, or from unknown villains that only seek to spread terror and chaos. Two of these movies include flicks like “The Dark Knight” and “No Country for Old Men.”

    Today, with polarized political systems, seemingly broken institutions and evil that seems to come from everywhere, we see the rise of relatable villains that are in part relatable because they see themselves as the good guys in their own story, and are often fighting the same things we dislike about society.

    For example, in two of the most popular movies today, “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” we see villains that are trying to solve problems that they see in society, but use brutal and immoral methods to solve them.

    The reason why this is important to understand is because we can better understand the messages that we are being given to consume if we’re looking for them, and when looking for these subtle messages, there’s no better place to look than your favorite movie ‘bad guy.’