The following is a video I made for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a video version of an article I wrote a while back. I added and removed a few details to the video. If necessary, I’ll do a follow-up. Enjoy!
We currently live in a golden age of villains. Between Thanos, Erik Killmonger, the Joker, and Walter White, there has been a veritable surge of complex characters who also happen to be compelling villains. While there’s still a place for the kind of pure evil that Disney villains have relied on for years, this trend in a more refined brand of villainy feels both refreshing and overdue.
I’ve written extensively on villains before. As a lifelong fan of superhero comics and movies, I’ve consumed, contemplated, and scrutinized hero/villain dynamics more than most. In doing so, I’ve noticed plenty of trends. Like most aspects of popular culture, it’s always evolving. Very few themes and details remain constant, especially when it comes to antagonists.
That said, there’s one trend in villains that has remained somewhat constant over the course of my lifetime. It’s also a trend that I see as intensifying, albeit in a subtle way. Some of it coincides with the growing complexity of villains in popular culture, but most of the trend precedes the current era of superhero-dominated media. If anything, superhero media helped accelerate it.
While most villains and heroes rarely identify with a certain political affiliation, it’s usually not hard to discern how most would vote in a contemporary election. I would even argue that it’s easier to surmise what a villain’s political leanings are compared to that of heroes. Take any villain from the past 10 years of movies, be they superhero or otherwise. Chances are a vast majority of them would identify as conservative.
Now, I understand conservatism is an exceedingly broad term. It has a dictionary definition, but as a political philosophy, there are many sub-sets, divisions, and variations. From fiscal conservatives to social conservative to neoconservatives, there are many wildly different ideologies that still identify as conservative. A few actively clash with one another.
Those complexities aside, there are some core tenants associated with conservatism and it’s those very tenants that make it such an effective basis for villains. Chief among conservative values is the idea that traditional norms, institutions, and values be maintained. Change isn’t actively dissuaded, but it is viewed with caution and suspicion. To be conservative is to affirm the status quo, to some extent.
That’s all well and good if the status quo is beneficial to everyone. It’s not so preferable for those who either fail to benefit or are actively screwed over by that same status quo. Since there has never been a society in history that has achieved perfect prosperity for everyone, regardless of their minority status, there’s bound to be people who get left behind.
In our own real-world history, we’ve seen people from those disaffected groups organize and fight the status quo to better their lives. That struggle has played out in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the movement for women’s rights, and the LGBT rights movement that’s still going on today. Those who oppose these movements tend to have, broadly speaking, conservative leanings.
Look at the groups that opposed the Civil Rights movement.
They all espouse rhetoric that would put them at odds with Superman, Captain America, and most other superheroes who value justice, truth, and peace. For some, their talking points sound like ideas that only villains in the mold of Lex Luthor would agree with. While not all of them identify as overtly conservative, the standard principles are there.
Anything too different from the status quo must be wrong or evil.
Anybody too different from the people everyone else in a society must be bad, evil, or devious.
Any idea, trend, or movement that is disruptive or deviant in any way is something to be opposed.
It doesn’t just manifest in superhero movies or underdog stories, either. Look at a movie like “Footloose.” In this story, the people who ban dancing are uptight, dogmatic, religious zealots who likely voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984 when this movie came out. They were the antagonists of that story and the kids, while not overtly liberal, dared to defy them.
It can even manifest subtly in other media. In kids shows like “Recess,” “Hey Arnold,” and “Rocko’s Modern Life,” the most common antagonists are uptight authority figures who have no tolerance for new ideas, big changes, or anything remotely fun. It’s hard to imagine any of these characters voting for someone who builds their slogan around change, reform, and reinvention.
They like things the way they are. Most of them benefit from the current system and will naturally seek to preserve their place in that system. While they won’t always see themselves as villains, it’s difficult for them to come off as heroes. You can only be so heroic when your side is closely aligned with predatory business practices, fun-hating religious zealots, and unabashed war-mongers.
That’s not to say it’s impossible for liberals to be villains too. It does happen and it can be done very well when done right. I would argue that Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther” was more in line with an extreme liberal revolutionary who didn’t just want to pursue change. I would make a similar argument for Ra’s Al Ghul in “Batman Begins.”
These characters didn’t just seek to change society from its current unjust state. They sought to violently destroy it and rebuild it from the ground up. That kind of liberalism exists in the real world and it can make for compelling villains.
However, the number of villains who align with the politics of Killmonger are far fewer than those who would align with the politics of Lex Luthor. In general, it’s easier to resist change rather than embrace it. It’s also necessary to some extent for those to resist change to be uptight authority figures who are okay with coercing others to maintain traditions. Logistically, the villains in many conflicts must be conservative.
Now, that’s not to say that villains will always lean conservative in popular media. What it means to be conservative changes over time. If you were to listen to conservative rhetoric 50 years ago, they would sound very different. They might even sound liberal by today’s standards.
The same goes for liberalism of previous eras. It hasn’t always been closely aligned with the politics surrounding minority rights, income inequality, or political correctness. The liberals of the 1920s would likely clash with the liberals of today. That’s just part of the ever-evolving nature of politics.
For the time being, though, being a villain in popular culture usually means being conservative to a certain extent. Conservatives are more likely to be the rich, greedy business people who would gladly burn down a rain forest or exploit slave labor to raise profits. Conservatives are more likely to be the rule-loving, fun-hating, curfew-enforcing religious zealots who wouldn’t mind electing theocrats with every election.
These types of individuals are far more likely to be villains in a story. At the very least, they’ll side or tolerate the villain. It’s easy to believe that those who side with the religious right and well-connected rich people will generally oppose a selfless, likable protagonist. From a narrative perspective, these kinds of villains are better in that we tend to root for heroes who oppose authoritarian bullies like that.
Again, it’s guaranteed that political and cultural trends will likely change what it means to be conservative, liberal, and everything in between. For the time being, if you were to bet on the political leanings of an antagonist, the odds are mostly in favor of that antagonist being conservative.
It’s really happening.
I doubt anyone expected it to happen in their lifetimes, but after years of protesting and pushing, it’s finally happening. The Washington Redskins are changing their name. As someone who has followed NFL football his entire life and knows way too much about the history of every team, I am genuinely shocked. I really didn’t think this was going to happen, especially with how stubborn the owner of the team has been.
Shocked or not, it’s happening. The Washington Post announced it and the team made it official. They are changing their name.
In an interview July 4, Coach Ron Rivera – who is working with owner Daniel Snyder to choose a name – said he hoped the new name would be in place by the start of the 2020 NFL season. Others have said it will be revealed as soon as within two weeks.
Two people with knowledge of the team’s plans said Sunday that the preferred replacement name is tied up in a trademark fight, which is why the team can’t announce the new name Monday.
Many are already celebrating this victory. In the battle against offensive sports mascots, this was the equivalent of Goliath. It’s one thing to get a publicly funded college to change their name. It’s quite another to get a private multibillion dollar sports franchise with an 80-plus years history. It’s a huge feat. Let’s not deny that.
Granted, it’s a feat that only happened once money became a factor. This was not done for moral reasons or because someone made an impassioned plea. This was a business decision done for the sake of doing future business. If there’s any lesson to be drawn from this endeavor, it’s that. Moral arguments do nothing. Money does all the talking.
It’s because of that, I suspect this is one of those issues that will still divide people. No matter what the new name is, people are still going to see them as “that team that used to be called the Redskins” or “that team that used to have a racist moniker.” Even though the team eventually did what some saw as the right thing, they’ll still be scorned because they didn’t do it soon enough.
That’s just the world we live in. The people who protested the name aren’t going to say “thank you.” They’re more likely to say, “It’s about damn time you racist piece of shit. Now, suffer for the rest of your life while we shame you, your children, and everyone you ever associate with and take it with a goddamn smile.”
That might be hyperbole, but that’s the power of outrage. It’s kind of addictive. The idea of turning anger into kindness, friendship, and harmony just feels like a bridge too far. People do get bored with outrage eventually, but only because they find something else to direct it towards.
That being said, I have a question to all those who are celebrating this feat. I want to ask that same question to everyone who passionately protested this name for years, protesting its racist connotations and use of caricatures. It’s a sincere, simple question that I hope people seriously contemplate.
What real, tangible benefit will changing the name of a football team accomplish for Native Americans communities in the long run?
The key word in that question is tangible. I’m aware of the various studies regarding the psychological impact of Native American mascots and caricatures. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this. However, psychological impacts don’t always translate into tangible impacts. You can feel and think all you want. If you don’t do anything with it, then the impact never goes beyond brain chemicals.
As I write this, nearly a quarter of Native Americans live in poverty and the unemployment rate on many reservations is around 40 percent. That’s a trend that has not improved substantially in recent years, regardless of how many or how few mascots a sports team uses. The Native American community has a host of other critical issues to deal with that include, but are not limited to:
These are complex issues. I’m certainly not equipped to discuss them in detail. Some are more urgent than others, but plenty involve real, tangible impacts on a community. A lack of adequate health care, decent housing, and good education all incur tangible impacts. That’s beyond dispute. How will changing the name of a football team affect any of these issues?
I’m not being facetious. I genuinely want to know how much or how little that changing the name of an NFL football team will impact Native American communities in a tangible way. I don’t doubt that some will feel better about not having a football team with a racially insensitive name, but is that the only extent of the impact? Does that impact justify all the time, energy, and resources that went into this effort?
Please don’t answer that question now. Preferably, I’d like someone who is in touch with the Native American community to answer at least four years from now. By then, there will have been enough time for the impact of this event to play out. Whether it’s a decrease in poverty or an improvement in life expectancy, it should be clear by then. If it isn’t, then that poses another question.
Was all that effort to change the name of a football team a quality use of time and resources?
Again, that’s not a facetious question. I ask this as someone who really wants to know just how much a football team’s name actually impacts a large number of people within a minority community. I don’t expect to get clear answers now, but I hope they become clearer in the next few years. I also expect those answers to raise even more distressing questions.
To everyone out there who values peace, justice, and equality, I wish you a happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. To some, this is just a day where kids get an extra day off school. To others, it’s a reminder of just how far we’ve come in the struggle against racism, injustice, and bigotry. Even though it seems like we’re stagnating at times, we’re still world’s better than we were in the days of Dr. King.
It’s hard to for young people today to understand just how entrenched racial attitudes were 60 years ago. For generations, inequality and bigotry wasn’t an aberration. It was the norm. Fighting that was like fighting the tides for a lot of people, but unlike the tides, hearts and minds can change.
That’s something Martin Luther King Jr. believed in. He dedicated his life to confronting hate and pursuing justice for everyone, regardless of race. His legacy lives on today for minorities of all kinds, from the LGBT community to immigrants. It may seem like an uphill battle at times and even after Dr. King’s death, there are still plenty of bigoted attitudes in the world today. Some people cling to those attitudes more than most.
However, it is possible for someone to let go of their hatred. It’s not easy, but it does happen. In the spirit of this day that I’m sure brings out a lot of conflicting passions in today’s society, I’d like to share one of my favorite Ted Talks.
This one is from Christian Picciolini, a former Neo-Nazi and white supremacist who managed to leave his hateful past behind. His story is one that’s especially relevant on a day like today because it doesn’t just reveal how people end up in hate groups. It shows just how difficult it is to get out. It can be done, though, and Mr. Picciolini’s story is one worth telling.
Whatever your politics, prejudices, and attitudes, we are all still human. We all inhabit this planet together. We all want a better future for ourselves and our loved ones. Ultimately, we can achieve much more by working together than by hating one another. That’s what Dr. King fought for and his legacy is worth celebrating, now more than ever.
Usually on a holiday, be it a major one that kids celebrate because it means no school or a more contrived one meant to sell greeting cards, I go out of my way to acknowledge it on this blog. I even try to channel the spirit of the holiday, if only to make the day feel like more than just something people mark on a calendar.
With today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, though, I feel compelled to do more than just acknowledge it or the spirit behind it. In fact, I feel as though the spirit of this holiday is more critical now in 2018 than it has been in year’s past. When I look at the world today and all the ongoing conflicts unfolding before my eyes, I believe that the message and spirit of Dr. King is more relevant than ever.
Most people know who Martin Luther King Jr. is and why he’s such a prominent figure in modern history. He has a holiday named after him for a very good reason. He was both a leader and an icon of a very volatile time in American history. He was also a strong man of faith, one who actually took the non-violent teachings of Jesus Christ to heart. That’s an increasingly radical concept these days.
What Dr. King accomplished was remarkable, especially in the face of so much heated opposition. However, it’s how he accomplished it that really sets him apart and makes him worthy of celebrating. Like I said before, he believed in non-violence and he took them very seriously.
According to the King Center, Martin Luther King Jr. had a very specific way of utilizing non-violence to achieve the goals he sought. In his book, “Stride Towards Freedom,” he organized them into six principles.
Take a moment, if you can, to appreciate the sheer heart and idealism espoused in these principles. Remember, Dr. King fought against some of the most extreme racism anyone can imagine. Take the most offensive, vile messages you’ve seen on social media or 4chan. Then, create a society around them and give it political power. That’s what Dr. King was up against.
However, he didn’t seek to defeat that racism through the kind of outrage, protests, and meme wars that seem to dominate the overall rhetoric today. He took these principles of non-violence and employed them. He did this, despite often being threatened with violence.
He still stuck to those principles, though. He believed that his message would transcend the violence. The fact that he now has a holiday named after him and is one of the most celebrated figures in modern history proves that his beliefs were vindicated.
What stood out with these principles and how Dr. King practiced them literally showed the power of these beliefs. Rather than pick fights with racists, he sought understanding. Rather than voice outrage, he chose to voice love. This is readily apparent in his famous “I have a dream” speech that still resonates to this day. Even in 2018, it still gives people chills for all the right reasons.
Read or listen to that speech and then contrast that with how people today are trying to fight racism, sexism, and bigotry. Think about the misguided movements from both sides of the political spectrum that operated under very different principles. Then, look at the results or lack thereof.
This is where the power of Dr. King’s principles really shows. It also reveals just how much we’ve forgotten or negated what it means to seek equality or combat bigotry. It’s articulated in the second and the fifth principle of non-violence. He sought understanding and love over retribution and hate.
This matters today because society today is more and more driven by a toxic mix of outrage culture and attention-driven economics. We’re seeing this in increasingly petty arguments within feminism, racial politics, and political groups. These days, it’s become less about actual progress and more about winning debates.
As a result, our entire understanding of justice and equality has become twisted. It’s no longer a matter of pursuing the equal treatment under the law that Martin Luther King Jr. fought and eventually died for. It’s about fighting and hating the real and perceived source of that inequality.
We see it among both feminists and men’s rights activists who seek to demonize one another rather than promote gender equality.
We see it among racial and ethnic groups who seek to elevate themselves at the direct cost of another.
We see it among religious groups, sometimes within the same religion, who seek to dominate rather than cooperate.
These are antithetical to the message that Dr. King espoused. In his preaching and protests, he didn’t demand that one group be elevated over the other. He didn’t demand that oppressors suffer the same indignity as the oppressed to balance the scales of justice. He understood, probably better than anyone alive today, that fighting injustice with injustice still leaves us with the same amount of injustice.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It’s not always the kind of obvious legal injustice that was so prevalent in Dr. King’s time. Today, injustice takes many forms. There are those who seek to actively punish those for daring to express thoughts that counter a popular movement that claims to seek justice. There are those who seek to shame others for not being affiliated with a movement or not going far enough.
We’re getting into dangerous levels of tribalism in that it’s becoming less about pursuing justice and more about being part of a shared agenda. Thanks to the internet, that’s becoming distressingly easy and the broader ideals of Dr. King’s principles seem to get lost under the weight of all the outrage.
In his tireless efforts, Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equality of treatment. He didn’t seek to elevate one group over the other, exchanging one form of oppression for another. He didn’t seek to destroy his opponents. He sought to make them friends and allies. He fought their hatred with love and their ignorance with wisdom. It wasn’t about winning a debate. It was about actually pursuing the spirit of equality.
That, more than anything, is the message we should heed in 2018. Pursuing equality doesn’t mean subduing opponents. It means standing with them on the same level, embracing what us similar and unique. We can never share the same outcomes in life, but we can share in the struggles.
In the end, pursuing equality requires a great deal of humility, as well as a genuine faith that people will embrace justice if you give them a chance. We’re giving ourselves fewer and fewer chances these days. In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and everything he stood for, we would all be wise to give ourselves those changes moving forward.
In general, I try not to comment on major news stories until after the media shit storm has died down somewhat. In my experience, very little meaningful debate comes storms of swirling shit, consisting primarily of hyperbole-heavy headlines and glorified shouting matches on cable news. Those are all things that most sane people can do without.
In this case, though, I think it’s better that I not wait because it’s likely to be an issue for a while. It also involves an issue that I’ve been looking to talk about for a while now, albeit under better circumstances. Since this blog talks a lot about sex and ongoing issues concerning human sexuality, it makes sense for me to touch on relevant social issues of the sexy kind. At the moment, few issues are more relevant than transgender rights.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say that I don’t know a whole lot about finer details of transgender issues. I know it’s a thing. I have only a basic understanding of the issues, concepts, and science behind transgender individuals so I apologize ahead of time if anything I write sounds ignorant or under-informed.
I do know, however, that the transgender community has had a growing target on their backs lately. The uptight, repressed, missionary position loving crowd lost the battle against same-sex marriage. They know they can’t be a dick to gay people anymore and profit from it like they used to. As such, they turn their attention to the next vulnerable minority that makes the “Father Knows Best” crowd cringe.
It started with a surge in so-called “bathroom bills,” which are much less sexier than they sound. Apparently, people were horrified that other people who don’t look like the gender they were born as were going into public restrooms to sexually abuse little girls.
Sure, it sounds extreme, but it’s not the first time society has tried to protect women from a supposedly-deviant minority. Also, never mind the fact that approximately 75 percent of child abuse is perpetrated by someone the kid already knows. The transgender community was still singled out, if only because they’re low-hanging fruit in a world where bashing gays is politically inconvenient.
Then, last week the transgender community took another blow and this time, it involved something much bigger than not being able to take a shit in a Walmart restroom. The White House announced that transgender individuals would no longer be welcome in the United States Military.
Historically speaking, singling out minorities in the military has not turned out well for those hoping to live in the world of George Wallace. That’s not to say that transgender issues are the same as those involving race, religion, or who you’re sexually attracted to. However, discrimination is still discrimination, no matter the excuse.
By all accounts, having transgender individuals in the military had not been causing any problems. Even some high-ranking officers within the military were surprised by the announcement. If anything, it comes off as a decision that simply followed the anti-transgender momentum that started with the bathroom bills.
There may very well be other dynamics involved, but in terms of the big picture, the style is the same. These are sexual minorities, the kind that don’t vote conservative or fit the profile of extras in a 1950s sitcom. These individuals are considered “weird” or “deviant” to those who prefer straight monogamous marriages with a few mistresses on the side, at most.
These same individuals used to say the same thing about homosexuals and often still do, although not in a way that carries any political weight. There’s this aura of deviance and debauchery associated with sexual minorities. They’re just so different from what we’re used to that the whole “ick factor” comes into play. It’s not like nature promotes variations and diversity within a species or something, right?
That last sentence was sarcasm, by the way, which I hope highlights the primary flaw in the debate surrounding transgender issues. It’s a flaw that most people, myself included, fail to recognize whenever they try to discuss these issues. It all comes down to one simple truth. By and large, we have a very poor understanding of human sexuality in general.
Sure, we understand that a penis goes into a vagina. We even understand that most living things are hardwired to dedicate much of their existence to pursuing that melding of body parts. It’s that exact biological wiring that I try to appeal to with my sexy novels.
However, the biggest problem with that biological wiring is that it’s biological. Biology, and nature in general, tends to be pretty chaotic and not just in sexual matters. Just look up images of a platypus, an echidna, and a naked mole rat to see what I mean. Trust me, though, the naked mole rat isn’t as sexy as it sounds.
Biology is so complex, dealing with so many moving parts in terms of chemical reactions, that it’s bound to cause some crazy manifestations. This is, however, kind of necessary because for all biological life to adapt, reproduce, and survive, it needs variation. Since the world around life is every bit as chaotic, it’s only logical that biology would try to match that chaos so it can keep up.
This certainly plays out in human sexuality. The sheer breadth of genre porn is proof enough of that. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I know better than most that our sexual proclivities are as diverse as they are kinky. It may horrify priests, mullahs, and conservatives, but I think it’s a beautiful thing.
In that context, I think it perfectly appropriate to put transgender individuals on the same spectrum as homosexuality. It’s a variation of the kinky chaos that is human sexuality. As such, and maybe this is just the erotica/romance writer in me, I believe it’s not something that warrants condemnation or discrimination.
I understand that’s not a universally-held opinion. There are some who still believe that transgenderism is a manifestation of mental illness. Since the science on human sexuality is often in flux, so much so that the female orgasm was once considered part of a medical disorder, there’s no telling how our understanding of sexuality will change in the future.
Based on our current understanding, though, being transgender does not fit the criteria of mental illness. Like homosexuality, shifting gender does occur in nature to some extent. There are multiple species of fish, reptiles, mammals, and insects that undergo a shift in gender under certain conditions. Since humans are part of the same taxonomic tree, it makes sense that something similar would manifest in humans.
The fact that it’s rarer than most variations, from homosexuality to being left handed, is part of what creates that “ick factor” I mentioned earlier. When something is rare, different, and poorly understood, it’s bound to cause some consternation among the population. As a famous comic book villain and Walter White precursor once said, “Mankind always fears what it doesn’t understand.”
This leads me to the ultimate crux of the transgender debate that will likely guide the debate moving forward. Unlike the science of sexuality, this is much simpler in that it basically comes down to being a dick.
Sure, the idea that someone is transgender may make certain people uncomfortable, but being a dick to a minority is an idea that most reasonable people cannot and will not get behind. It may be socially acceptable in the short term, as we’ve seen with race and homosexuality. In the long term, however, being a dick to anyone rarely works out, unless your Kanye West.
I don’t deny that this military ban is a setback for transgender individuals and their families. I certainly don’t support it. If someone wants to serve their country, regardless of what gender they are or believe themselves to be, then there’s no legitimate reason to prohibit them from doing so.
As we saw with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it may take a while for the transgender crowd to recover from this. I believe, though, that the momentum of history is in their favor. It’s one thing to be a dick to some random transgender person on the street, but to be a dick to an aspiring soldier is something that will never pan out in the long run.