The Anatomy of a Villain
A couple of weeks ago, I was sick with the April flu, lying in bed in a New York apartment, and trying to distract myself by watching one of the film adaptations of "Nicholas Nickleby". I found myself repeatedly moved to tears, especially when anything good or kind happened. Okay, part of this was that I felt a little vulnerable, and may have over identified with poor tubercular Smike. But another part, I'm convinced, was the excitement generated by pure moral language, which you don't encounter so much in modern culture.
In Dickens, bad people are bad. The very badness of them necessitates the good behavior of other characters, and makes it incredibly precious.
But whom do you encounter in modern pop culture? Tony Soprano, Walter White, Dexter, Al Swearengen - these are remorseless killers, but they are also people with whom we are invited to identify. Do we understand pure villainy anymore?
On this show, we talk to scholars and big thinkers about what makes a villain, and if a villain needs a hero.
What do you think? Comment below, email Colin@wnpr.org, or tweet @wnprcolin.
- Chuck Klosterman is The Ethicist with The New York Times, and the author of I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)
- Brett Martin is a correspondent for GQ, and the author of Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution, From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad
- Brian Francis Slattery is a writer and editor of public policy and international affairs