Winning the villain over to your side is a power fantasy.

Like, a really big one, too.

Social emphasis has it that men should value strength,
aggression, and violence, and women should value kindness, empathy, and
community. But really, anyone who has
learned to prefer social success to might/aggression is going to favour a
strategy where you can make your enemies into allies of some kind, over one
where you just kill them. As a display of dominance, killing is overly
simplistic. And it’s also hard to ignore the reality that luck usually has more
to do with most fights than actual strength.

So, many people vastly prefer stories where the villains don’t
die, but instead, get won over by the hero. It’s also a much more prevalent
power fantasy among women than it is among men, because women are often taught
that violence on our parts is inherently distasteful and ignoble. If you can’t defeat your enemies by putting a
bullet in their heads, then what could
be more satisfying than convincing that enemy to come and fight other people on
your behalf instead?

This is a major component to why villains end up as popular
shipping material. I honestly don’t think it’s the ‘bad boy’ impulse, or some
branch of misogyny, or at least, not in a majority of cases. It’s a total and
sincere power fantasy. Someone going ‘all I care about is myself and all I want
to do is DESTROY THE WORLD MWAHAHAHA’ meeting you and then being like ‘oh no
wait I also want to please you and spend time with you and I want that so much
that I will now give up those other things’ implies an intoxicating level of

Of course, like most power fantasies, it pays to tread
carefully with it. Because real life rarely accommodates such things, and as
with some muscle-bound hero easily lifting a house over his head, being able to
take a wholly selfish being and convert them into a devoted companion is… unlikely to happen outside of fiction.
For a lot of reasons.

However, I bring it up because I am C O N S T A N T L Y
seeing the compulsion to ship characters with villains misattributed to A)
agreeing with the villains, B) some form of self-hatred, C) a noble impulse
towards compassion and understanding, or D) sheer stupidity, and really… it’s
just another power fantasy. Wonder Woman punches a tank. Tony Stark buys an
entire island. Storm calls down a lightning strike. Batman outwits all his clever foes. And some seemingly random,
ordinary human woman convinces Lex Luthor to chill out and stop trying to kill
Superman. It’s all power, displayed
in fantastical proportions.

(Which isn’t to say that you have to like it or think that
every such relationship is good and healthy, gods no, but once you realize that
everyone’s just pretending to be the Superman of relationships, it’s easier to just go ‘oh that’s what you’re after’ and… y’know… fret less.)

This is an EXCELLENT point. 

Allow me to share a couple of quotes from Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women, a collection of essays about the romance genre.

“The strong, domineering hero of the romance novel has long been the subject of criticism. What critics don’t realize is that it is the hero’s task in the book to present a suitable challenge to the heroine. His strength is a measure of her power. For it is she who must conquer him.” ~Robyn Donald, “Mean, Moody and Magnificent: The Hero in Romance Literature”

“…in a romance the hero must play two roles. He is not only the hero, he is also the villain.” ~Jayne Ann Krentz, “Trying to Tame the Romance: Critics and Correctness”


we’re about to get feminist for a minute, but here’s my advice of the day: let female villains be villains.

go ahead, make them awful, make them ugly, make them horrible human beings. make them bloodthirsty, make them greedy, make them abusive, make them vile, but don’t ever make them anything less than a villain, because it’s the idea of men that women are too pure to achieve true villainy. your classic villains are all men. your classic antiheroes are almost always men. your mainstream culture can’t envision a woman that can be anything more than a blank slate for a man to impress his opinion upon; their flaws must be nothing, their weakness must be zilch, and, therefore, their personality must taste like stale bread.

female heroes have to either be wonder woman or black widow – too pure for this world, or sexpot slayers from someone’s wild wet dream. the female villains, though, the female villains can’t be truly evil; poison ivy has to save orphans, harley quinn has to exist in a liminal space where she’s good but still technically a villain. i don’t want to see poison ivy go through a trite redemption arc when i don’t even see her evil in the first place. what the hell does she need to be redeemed from, the narrative squawking, “bad guy over here!” without ever once proving it? no. that’s bullshit. that’s total bullshit. get me a villainous woman i can actually be scared of









say what you want about woobifying villains, but i think tragic backstories and redemption via love are staples for good reason. we want to believe that people are fundamentally good, just hardened by a harsh world. that suffering earns you a happy ending. because then it means something, then pain isn’t just senseless and futile.

people don’t ‘excuse’ the actions of villains because they just don’t take those actions seriously. i think it’s a kind of projection – we forgive them because we want to forgive ourselves, and we look for the good in them because we want to see that in the world, even in people who have wronged and hurt us. because earth is a goddamn terrifying place if other humans really are evil, if they’re really monsters.

and idk, i just think it’s kind of beautiful that we all want to believe that the scariest mass-murdering motherfucker alive can be brought down by something as pure and innocent as love. that love is the answer, not violence. i don’t think that’s cheap or ‘problematic’ or a bad influence. i think it’s human, and profoundly optimistic in a way that few people are brave enough to be.

If I didn’t hold the hope that love could make a difference, my world would be cold and bleak.

People who ONLY ever like “pure, cinnamon roll” characters and try to buff away every flaw and every morally grey dimension and reduce stories to pure heroes and pure villains give me the creeps, because it seems to me like those are people who refuse to acknowledge their own capability to do terrible things, the inevitable fact that they have done things that hurt others in the past and will do so again (because that IS inevitable if you interact with other humans), who never question themselves, who think incredibly harsh standards of judgment are just fine because of course THEY would never need forgiveness or mercy.

THOSE are the people who are most likely to stomp on your face with a boot while being utterly convinced they’re doing the right thing and you deserve it. And they will never admit they were wrong and they’ll never apologize, because only bad people do bad things, and of course they’re not a bad person, so if they did it, it must have been good.

Give me friends who are honest about their own capacity to harm, who know where their own darkness lies, and can see it played out in characters good, bad, and – best of all, somewhere in between. Who understand when to rage, when to forgive, and when to just walk away. Who understand that other people, just like them, are ever-changing bundles of contradictions. Those are people I feel I can trust.

^This last comment. I’ve been thinking about this, and it’s not just that “every villain is a hero in their own mind.” I think it’s that act of making oneself into a hero in one’s own mind, of giving up self-criticism and clinging to an identity that’s based being Good, that opens the door for a person to do truly horrible things to other people. I honestly wonder whether philosophies or faiths where good is a thing you ARE rather than a thing you DO are more prone toward instigating violence in the name of said philosophy.

This. This, this, THIS.

Reposting this bit for emphasis because I think it also speaks directly to what’s wrong with Tumblr’s black-and-white-morality Purity Culture:

“THOSE are the people who are most likely to stomp on your face with a
boot while being utterly convinced they’re doing the right thing and you
deserve it.
And they will never admit they were wrong and they’ll never
apologize, because only bad people do bad things, and of course they’re
not a bad person, so if they did it, it must have been good.

There are definitely fic (and canon) narratives of villain redemption that are creepily worshipful and too ready to dismiss the harm the character has done. Some seem so eager to get to redeemed character stuff they don’t give their wrongs enough weight. But those are individual problems. Done right, these can be some of the most powerful stories.

“we forgive them because we want to forgive ourselves, and we look for the good in them because we want to see that in the world, even in people who have wronged and hurt us.”

Very much this.

I think this is the best post I’ve read on here for a while…




tbh the people i’ve met who really empathize with villains are people who have been villainized in their own lives and unjustly made to feel like they’re bad people by those around them. They doubt themselves and instinctively want to support disliked and obviously flawed characters, characters doomed to fail, and attempt to find the good in those characters that no one in their own lives see in them.

real evil people don’t relate to villains, they see themselves as the hero. :

This really holds to my theory that the best villains are played by actors who are genuinely good people. Compare Jared Leto’s abominable work as the Joker to the villainous prowess of Vincent Price, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Hamill, and my BAE Wentworth Miller.

Good people know what villainy is, so they know how to portray it. Bad people don’t.

Reblogging again for this commentary









I want villains who go against the stereotypical bullshit that “evil cannot love” or whatever.

I want villains who spend months in their creepy dark lab building the death ray with their best buddy and hug each other when the superweapon is finally complete.

I want villains who fall madly in love with the other evil prince or princess they married to consolidate their power.

I want villains who tell bedtime stories to the little clone they created to be the successor to their throne and order their minions to get the clone a cup of warm milk because she can’t sleep.

I want villains hanging out with their best friends and acting like dorks while they bowl with their enemies’ skulls.

I want villains who are both evil and real, and real people have friends and families and loved ones.

Do you mean heroes?


How do you get heroes from this!? What hero goes bowling
with the skulls of their enemies?

I want
villains with families.

I want
mad scientists helping their children with their science homework.

I want villains leaving halfway though a battle because it’s
their anniversary and they are not going to leave their spouse waiting.

I want villains who don’t work on Wednesdays because that’s
the day they visit their mum and take her out for tea.

I want villains who hypnotise teachers to give their
children good grades.

This reminds me of a series of recordings I made once as a joke…

Child: Daddy, Mrs Brown was talking about careers in class, and she asked me what you do.

Villain (in a deep, growling voice): I watch the world burn.

Child: Yeah, but I think she meant as a job?

Child: Daddy, Mrs Brown gave me detention again.

Villain: Let me fetch my gasoline.

Child: Um, Daddy, I’m not sure that…

Villain: Fire is the only way.

Villain: Ella, what is wrong? Are you crying?

Child: Josh said I’m ugly.

Villain: Ella, you are more beautiful than the screams of agony of a thousand enemies as I set them aflame.

Minion: Master, the elementary school has breached our security control and broken into our intercom system. They wish to negotiate with you regarding your daughter’s grades.

Villain: Negotiate? There is no negotiation. There is only repentance, or death.

Minion: Very well, master. Also, your daughter requests a bedtime story.

Villain: Tell her I am coming at once.

Minion: Master, why are your cape and robes… pink?

Villain: It is my daughter’s birthday today.

Minion: But what about darkness and evil, master?

Villain: The covenant of darkness is lesser than the covenant of fatherhood, Gerald.

If I have children and subsequently grandchildren, I will keep my three-year-old granddaughter near me at all times. When the hero enters to kill me, I will ask him to first explain to her why it is necessary to kill her beloved grandpa. When the hero launches into an explanation of morality way over her head, that will be her cue to pull the lever and send him into the pit of crocodiles. After all, small children like crocodiles almost as much as Evil Overlords and it’s important to spend quality time with the grandkids. 

~The Evil Overlord List, additional suggestions, Cell Block A




I think one of the things that bothers me most about the “Cool motive, still murder” response to posts about antagonists is that it comes with a refusal to differentiate between someone who is redeemable and someone who is not.

A character who does horrible things out of misunderstanding, or in response to trauma and terrible circumstances, has still done horrible things, but is probably more deserving of a redemption arc and a shot at atonement than a character whose villainy stems from simple sadism. A character whose motivations are understandable and relatable is someone who we can see ourselves reflected in; we want to see them redeemed, because if we can see ourselves making the same mistakes as they do were we in their circumstances, we want to believe that we too would be capable of earning forgiveness and being better. This ability to project and put ourselves in the shoes of another person – even a fictional person – stems from our capacity for empathy and compassion, and our ability to recognize how imperfect we ourselves are.

By contrast, characters whose genuine maliciousness and glee at suffering are unfathomable and alien to us are seen as monstrous. At a certain point, we no longer wish for redemption in these characters, because we no longer see ourselves in them – or want to see ourselves in them. 

Motive matters. It matters in the legal system (premeditated murder is classified differently from crimes of passion) and it matters in our understanding of morality. This isn’t to say the means justify the ends, but morality isn’t absolute, isn’t black and white, and shouldn’t be separated from the nuances of context and the inherent beautiful messiness of human beings.