Stereotypical Vices

"Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart."
-Orson Scott Card
I recently started watching Once Upon A Time. The first episode was atrocious in every way. The writing, the acting, the special effects... I really don't know how in the world they got past a pilot episode. But I'd heard that it gets better, so I continued. It has gotten a bit better (though I've heard that it goes downhill again after season four, so that's where I'm planning to stop) but one of the first thoughts I had was about how two-dimensional the main villain was. She was flat-out cruel and she knew it. Her motivation was revenge, and that was all that drove her: anger and rage, and a desire to bring about pain and suffering. In fact, in one of the episodes that I just watched, a character asked her how she felt about all the misery she had caused. Her answer was that she felt regret- regret that she hadn't caused even more sadness and despair. Such a character is so obviously evil that nobody could possibly hope to relate to her.

This is a stereotypical vice. She's evil. She knows she's evil. Over and over again in the show they say that good will always win, and it terrifies her, because she knows that she's not working with the good guys. But real life isn't like this. People don't identify as villains and set out to cause misery in others. But these villains are easier to handle, because we can identify them easily. People can look at a character in a book, TV show, movie, etc., and identify them as the "bad guy." These are the characters that technically have a motive, but not one that actually makes sense, because only an extremest would take that course of action. It's one thing to say "I hate that person now." It's quite another to say, "I hate that person, so I am going to dedicate my life to making her miserable." People in real life can do the first. They're far less likely to do the latter.

Another example can be found with the homunculi in Fullmetal Alchemist, which are named after the seven deadly sins: Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Greed, Wrath, Sloth, and Pride. Of course, these villains were never intended to be, strictly speaking, human. Their motives are entirely different from our own, so it's not really a fair comparison. But they're so unspeakably evil that nobody would sink to their level of obvious villainy. Real people think they're doing what's right- at least, they do on some level. I believe I've used this quotation before, but I like it, so I'll use it again.
"No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks."
-Mary Shelley
In this way, the villains in stories which are supposed to teach us about vice actually cause us to justify ourselves, in that the vice we display isn't as bad as the one from the story. Many times, a person will either refuse to admit that a vice is a vice, or else will claim that they are not displaying that vice. In both cases, the person almost certainly believes what they are saying. Because we refuse to see villains as being exaggerated for the sake of adventure, we sit behind a wall of "I know I'm not perfect" without actually doing anything about our problems. We fail to recognize that in any story, we are rarely the hero, but rather, the villain.
"The moral world has no particular objection to vice, but an insuperable repugnance to hearing vice called by its proper name."
-William Makepeace Thackeray

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