What happens when you discover that evil is not what you thought it was? What if real evil is not that malevolence, the furious rage, the sinister force tales told us it was?
If you grew up with Disney, Super heroes and Fairy tales the bad guy was easy to point out. In classic westerns the bad guys wore black. In Jackie Chan kung fu movies the bad guys are in white. Batman of course wears Black and the Joker wears purple and green.
There is a clear delineation between who are good and who are not. There is a good reason for it. Mostly this is designed for children to know not to trust strangers, not to go into the forrest, not to stray too far from the village. These tales create stereotypes that exist across cultural narratives.
I grew up with Skeletor, Gargamel, Megatron, The Emperor, Freddy Krueger, Jason. They were bad, evil and irredeemable. I knew the face of evil it looked like The Emperor, Skeletor and Freddy. Sneaky, scarred and often in purple and green or red and black. The music would change announcing them clearly.
Anti-Heroes and Redemption Arcs
Note that I did not mention Darth Vader. Because the tale of Anakin Skywalker is one of descent and a last gasp salvation. Emperor Palpatine is capital ‘E’ Evil, Vader is complicated. Many narratives pick up on the Star Wars redemption of Anakin Skywalker. It is a curious theme that goes outside the old bad is bad of Fairy Tales.
Another narrative trick is the not so bad, bad guys. The Straw Hats in One Piece, Harley Quinn, Han Solo, Wolverine, Megamind. Rouges, Rebels and Scoundrels who exist outside the law but are not the big bad. These characters will fight the big bad alongside the plucky heroes often making the difference in the final battle.
Historically these rouges and scoundrels have become Anti-heroes. They protect the weak and innocent but fight the hero too. Out for their own, doing what they can in the grey areas outside the safe normal world. The real bad guys are those who do not think about their actions and have no care for innocents or children.
Do We Really Know Evil?
Even worse is bad guy written as protagonist. For me the pinnacle of this is the Joker movie. Go talk to fans of the movie. You will find them sympathising with the Joker. Often using the word relatable. The Joker, a being of chaos and casual homicide is now relatable. Can you not recognise evil?
Or do we not recognise evil because true evil is not some homicidal maniac. As Megamind explains the difference between a plain villain and a super villain is presentation. The Joker and his ilk are stylised drama queens compared to the grey of true evil.
Yes I said evil is grey. I take this position from the work of Hannah Arendt and the fiction of Terry Pratchett. Arendt and Pratchett come from very different times and places in the world but both understood that we miss a lot when it comes to identifying what evil is.
Arendt and Eichmann
Hannah Arendt wrote about politics and humanity responding to the genocidal actions of the Nazi regime. She was part of the German Academic world, studying philosophy. As a Jew in Germany she found herself stateless and on the run. Her colleagues and mentors signing up with the national socialists.
Arendt escaped Germany before Dachau and Auschwitz were established. Yet the way in which organised methods of genocide were accepted by the German people influenced her later works. Especially her coverage of Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem. Where she wrote about the banality of evil.
For Arendt, Eichmann was not the malevolent villain that the prosecutors painted him as. This former door to door salesman was without guile and far from whatever super-villain he was supposed to be. He just fell into the party and never questioned the status quo. He was involved in a genocidal plan the authorities approved of and never doubted it was wrong.
Evil is Grey
Pratchett wrote fiction that always reflected back on reality. In “Johnny and the Dead” Pratchett’s hero Johnny Maxwell comes to the conclusion that evil is grey.
“Real dark forces….aren’t dark. They’re sort of grey... They take all the colour out of life; they take a town like Blackbury and turn it into frightened streets and plastic signs and Bright New Futures and towers where no-one wants to live and no-one really does live. The dead seem more alive than us. And everyone becomes grey and turns into numbers and then, somewhere, someone starts to do arithmetic…”
Evil is Grey, Banal. When people stop being people and become numbers. Victoria’s Traffic Accident Commission ads attempt to correct grey thinking. They ask a person what is an acceptable Road Toll, then present the person with that very number comprised of their own family. When asked to correct the number they reply, zero.
Evil is not The Joker. The Joker is a stylised form so children can learn the concept early. To find it relatable is disturbing in the least. When a true crime is considered normal, regular, routine, that is evil.
The COVID Numbers
It should shock us when we see one person dying as a result of anything. But when it is just numbers on a screen we do not equate it to people. We do not see that person, their family, the funeral, the grieving relatives and friends.
Somehow statistics detach the connection between the numbers and the people. Then we get the arithmetic that less than one percent of the population will die from the virus. Is it evil to consider that those odds are good for me? Mathematically impossible odds that me or mine could get infected or die. It is the arguing point for many who call for the restrictions in Melbourne to be lifted immediately.
We find ourselves arguing numbers and percentages. You can argue the effect that the restrictions have caused significant damage too. Yet money has always been numbers and what affects our bank account directly affect us. Statistics of infected and deceased people we will never know eludes us. Especially when the numbers are all that we see.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.