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.
As a general principle, I limit my discussions on abortion to a maximum of three per year with zero still being the preferred amount. Last year, I wrote a couple articles about it, but that was it. I tried to make clear on both occasions that while I don’t deny the seriousness of this issue, I generally have little to contribute.
It’s not just because I’m a man and will never need an abortion. Pretty much all the arguments surrounding abortion are intractable. Like debating creationism, there’s no way to convince someone who is set in their opinions to change them. You’d have a better chance convincing someone the sky is green, Mars is made of cheese, and “The Emoji Movie” wasn’t terrible.
All that said, abortion is still a serious issue that is evolving before our eyes both culturally and legally. This is one of those issues that affects everybody, either directly or indirectly. Regardless of whether you’re a baby, an old man, or an aspiring erotica/romance writer, abortion’s reach is vast because it involves life, sex, family, and the propagation of our species. The stakes can’t get much higher than that.
Even with those stakes, the only reason I’m talking about it now is because I live less than two hours away from Washington DC. When there’s a major protest, I generally know about it before it starts trending on social media. The latest gathering was the annual March For Life protest, a demonstration dedicated to decrying the ills of abortion and supporting “pro-life” legislation.
Now, I put “pro-life” in quotes for a reason that I hope will make sense in a bit. I’ve already criticized that term because there are those who use it to hide the fact that they care more about maintaining consequences for those who have more sex than churches, mosques, and synagogues prefer. I don’t intend to belabor that argument, but it is somewhat related to the point I want to make.
Having seen plenty of these protests, I notice a common theme that is at the forefront of the “pro-life” movement, but is rarely scrutinized. That’s the whole concept of the “sanctity of life.” I put that in quotes too for the same reasons I hope are obvious by the end of this article. Unlike the anti-sex crowd, this concept is central to the overall movement.
Beyond the intractable belief that life begins at conception and abortion is the taking of a life, the idea that there’s an inherent value to all life, regardless of what stage it’s at or how it affects the life of the mother bearing it. Without there being substantial value, then the whole arguments about when life even begins becomes meaningless.
I’m not going to make the argument that life has no value or that life, in general, should be devalued. I’m of the belief that we only get one life to live and that makes it valuable to some extent. However, I do want to take a minute to try and quantify that value, if only to provide some context to the “pro-life” movement.
I’m not first one to try this. The late, great George Carlin dug into this issue with more candor and brilliance than I or anyone else ever could in 1996. He dared to ask this question in a way that still came off as funny, yet insightful.
“Only living people care about it, so the whole thing grows out of a completely biased point of view. It’s a self-serving, man-made bullshit story. It’s one of these things we tell ourselves so we’ll feel noble. Life is sacred, makes you feel noble.
Well let me ask you this, if everything that ever lived is dead, and everything alive is going to die, where does the sacred part come in? I’m having trouble with that. Because even with the stuff we preach about the sanctity of life, we don’t practice it.”
It may sound cynical, but it’s relevant if the “pro-life” movement is to have any logical and moral validity to it. If it’s going to ascribe a high value to life, then that value can’t be too vague. There has to be some part of it that translates into real, tangible value. Without that, “pro-life” arguments are just empty rhetoric wrapped in inflamed emotions.
So in order to give that value to life, I want to pose a couple questions to the “pro-life” crowd. I don’t expect anyone to answer, but I think it’s important to put this question out there to put context into the anti-abortion arguments that seem so intractable.
“If you truly believe abortion is murder and want to save the lives of unborn children, are you willing to pay women to carry their unwanted children to term?”
That’s a simple yes/no question that shouldn’t be too hard to answer. I have a feeling many answers will be quick and brash, as most are in highly emotional debates. I expect the phrase “personal responsibility” to get thrown around a lot. That seems to be a catch-all word that conveniently provides an excuse to not help someone in a bad situation.
I’ll set aside the issues with that concept for now and ask the second question. This is where it gets more specific.
“How much are you willing to pay someone to not get an abortion and carry a child to term?”
I expect more variation with this question. I also expect more vitriol because I’m basically asking someone to put a price on a human life. I understand that very thought makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Nobody likes to think of themselves, a loved one, or a child as having some sort of number attached to it.
Then again, we don’t seem to mind that when we get our social security numbers, our addresses, or our paychecks. Like it or not, we’re all ascribed some amount of numeric value at some point in our lives. That doesn’t mean some lives are inherently more valuable than others, but it highlights the fact that we can and do link life to numbers.
Now, in order to help out those who may struggle with this question, allow me to do some simple math that should help make this question more palatable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 652,639 legal induced abortions in the year 2014. In addition, the average total cost for pre-natal care according to the Kaiser Family Foundation is approximately $2,000. Since that’s only for healthy babies, let’s make it $2,500 to account for complications.
Now, multiply 652,693 by $2,500 and we get $1,631,732,500. For the sake of redundancy and accounting for other possible complications, let’s round that up to a total of $1.7 billion. So for $1.7 billion, you could conceivably cover the cost of pre-natal care to every woman seeking an abortion. For that price, there could’ve been zero abortions in 2014.
With that number in mind, would you be willing to pay that price? I know $1.7 billion seems like a lot, but in terms of the US economy, it’s pennies. The size of the US economy is measured in trillions these days. Even with respect to government spending, the defense budget alone in 2014 was $614 billion. A sum of $1.7 billion barely would’ve registered.
Even if you’re against the idea of the government spending money, on principle, that kind of money is out there in the private sector. According to OpenSecrets.org, the pharmaceutical companies alone spent over $3.7 billion in lobbying over a 10-year span.
Even religious organizations have money to spend on this issue. Back in 2015, CNN reported that the vehemently anti-abortion Vatican had over $8 billion in assets. That’s just one denomination, too. According to the Giving USA Foundation, churches received over $114 billion in tax-free charitable donations in 2014. Given that sum, is $1.7 billion really that much?
It gets even better than that, though. Abortion, as a whole, is on the decline. That means it would be even cheaper to pay the price to stop all abortions in 2018. Abortion still happens, though, and if you genuinely think abortion is murder, then there’s just one more question.
“If you’re NOT willing to pay any price to stop all abortion, then how can you say life is sacred and has intrinsic value?”
I understand that sounds like a loaded question after overly simplifying the issue. I concede that if stopping all abortions were as easy as writing a check for $1.7 billion, somebody would’ve done it by now. It’s not that easy an issue. Abortion wouldn’t be such a hot-button issue if it were.
What I’m trying to get at here is that a general unwillingness to put any tangible value on life essentially undermines the arguments of the “pro-life” movement. We’re willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a smart phone and more than five bucks for a latte. What does it say about someone’s stance on abortion if they say life is sacred, but won’t put up any actual money for the lives they’re trying to preserve?
The March For Life demonstration, as well as most anti-abortion demonstrations, didn’t stress measures like encouraging women to carry a child to term, lowering the cost of pre-natal care, or improving contraception access so that abortions aren’t necessary. Most of it centered on favoring legislation that would make abortion more difficult to obtain.
Never mind the fact that such legislation often has some fairly detrimental effects on women’s health, as John Oliver highlighted a couple years ago. That effort doesn’t vindicate the arguments of the “pro-life” movement, nor does it even accomplish their stated goals. It’s basically a way to claim they’re winning the debate and, as I’ve pointed out before, winning a debate isn’t the same as being right.
I feel like I’ve already talked enough about abortion for one day/month/year. If I want to make one point with this article on abortion and the March For Life protest, as a whole, it’s being “pro-life” and promoting the inherent value of life is a great emotional argument. However, if there’s no substance behind that argument, then it’s not a movement that can logically sustain itself in the long run.
Now, do you understand why I put “pro-life” in quotes?
When you live within a short drive of Washington DC, you tend be numb to all the demonstrations, protests, and what not. Talk to most folks who live in and around the DC area and they’ll tell you the same thing. Protests and detour signs are hard to distinguish.
That said, when protests are so big they enter the six or seven-figure range, it’s a lot harder to ignore. In fact, it’s a clear sign that it shouldn’t be ignored. This was the case with the Women’s March that took place last week. I’ve already reacted to that. However, there was another march right after that, namely the March For Life.
For those in the DC area, two big marches are like two all-night drinking benders. One alone is hard enough to handle. Two is really pushing it. At some point, you run out of energy and your body runs out of vomit to adequately process something. In the interest of fairness, though, I think I should react to this march as well because, like the Women’s March, it had a powerful message.
This means I have to talk about abortion again. I know. I don’t want to do it either. Nothing makes people less horny than talking about abortion, but it’s kind of hard to avoid when you’re reacting to a pro-life/anti-abortion march.
Again, even though it has come up before, I hate talking about this topic. I’m a man. I don’t get pregnant. I have nothing to contribute to this issue. This is one of those issues that affects women. Therefore, policies and decisions on abortion should be made by women. The fact that men make these laws is kind weird when you think about it.
I say all this with the hope that everybody uses this opportunity to brace themselves. I know this topic sucks and it riles people up in the worst possible way. Comedian Dennis Miller once commented that if America fights another civil war, it’ll likely be over abortion. Sadly, I think he’s right in the least funny way possible.
It’s controversial. It’s emotional. It literally deals in matters of life and death. It also deals with the most fundamental of freedoms in being able to make decisions on the most important issues affecting your life. This is not protests and outrage over the season finale of the Walking Dead last year. This is a powerful issue that affects women, children, and the most fundamental aspects of our society.
It’s for those very reasons that a major protest is entirely warranted. Abortion is an unresolved issue in this country, to say the very least. Some parts of the country are so vehemently anti-abortion that their state only has one functional abortion clinic. Overall, abortion clinics are being closed all over the country, sometimes directly and sometimes through shady TRAP laws.
In that context, the pro-life crowd is winning the war, even though Pew regularly reports that a majority of people are pro-choice. In some sense, the March For Life last week was a celebration of their recent victories and a push for more victories. For the pro-choice crowd, they are on the ropes. They are losing and, given the current regime in DC, those losses will continue.
Given this situation, it’s hard for someone like me to make sense of it. Again, I’m a man. I have next to nothing to contribute to this topic. However, being an erotica/romance writer, it does kind of affect me because abortion is linked to sex. For an abortion to occur, sex needs to occur. It’s just basic biology. Granted, it’s a sexy kind of biology that I love exploring, but it’s still biology.
So when I see these anti-abortion protests and the gains made by the pro-life movement, how do I react? How can I react? Well, I’ll let Steve Carell take convey the sentiment better than I ever could with words.
That, my friends, is a professional level blank stare. I’m only an amateur. My blank stare can only be so strong, but it’s enough to get the point across.
What exactly is that point? What sort of sentiment does a blank stare convey in the face of such a sensitive, emotionally charged issue like abortion? Well, allow me to explain.
A blank stare is not the same as being confused or ignorant. Think of Jenny McCarthy’s reaction to a quantum physics lecture. That is confusion. That is ignorance. A blank stare is the look we all give when we expect something more from a conversation.
It’s the natural response to something that we feel is incomplete. Someone ends a conversation mid-sentence, we’re going to be somewhat frozen in place, waiting for that final piece of the puzzle to come into place. It’s how our brains work. It makes connections and recognizes patterns.
With the abortion debate, which is very much incomplete, the pro-life side of the argument has a difficult oversight that’s hard to ignore. It’s easy to say you’re pro-life. It’s easy to say you’re against abortion. It’s easy to say you think abortion is murder and dead babies are wrong. These are all simple, basic sentiments that check every box of the Simpson Filter. It’s easy for everyone to understand and rally behind.
The problem that makes this issue so incomplete are the implications. These implications are reflected in the actual practice of abortion. In liberal states, there’s more abortion, but fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer divorces. In conservative areas, it’s the reverse. There are fewer abortions, but the extra unplanned pregnancies create unstable family structures and are highly correlated with poverty.
In both cases, the people are subject to the same forces, namely the desire to have sex and procreate. This is the only unifying factor in the abortion debate. This force remains in place, regardless of whether abortion is punishable by death or available on every street corner. It’s also the factor that the pro-life movement cannot circumvent, although it sure as hell tries.
Their response to this issue is as simple as it is misguided. They just shrug it off by saying, “Then don’t have sex!” That approach might work for kids who eat paste, but not for one of the most fundamental drives in nature.
This best manifests in how many conservative, pro-life communities champion abstinence-only sex education, which has been proven time and again to not work. It turns out teenagers are very horny. For some reason, this is news to the pro-life crowd.
This is the reason why I have a hard time reacting to pro-life arguments and the overall spirit of the March for Life. I agree. Life is great. Life should be protected and cherished. However, this isn’t just about life. This is about abortion. There are two lives involved, the potential child and the mother. When you focus too much on one, you undermine the other.
I could process the rhetoric to some extent if the pro-life crowd was also the most vocal proponent of contraception and effective sex education, but that’s not part of their message. If anything, they make every effort to gloss over that part of the message, as though human sexuality can ever be truly glossed over.
Many have tried in that effort, attempting to circumvent human sexuality. All have failed. Human beings are wired for sex. They’re also wired to enjoy it, shockingly enough. Until the pro-life movement confronts this issue, then their current victories will not last. At some point, the human desire to just make love will overpower them. It won’t be sexy for them, but it will be for everyone else.
I go out of my way to avoid politics on this blog. I’ll gladly discuss touchy social issues like feminism, sexual objectification, and religion, but I’ll pump the breaks the nanosecond that discussion gets too political. This isn’t an accident either. I avoid politics for the same reason I avoid hungry grizzly bears on crack. There’s just no way to discuss it rationally.
I used to talk a lot about politics. I even tried creating a few blogs to share my political views. Those blogs are now long gone and if they ever came back, I’d shoot them on sight because I’ve from experience that they’re a waste of time. Discussing politics on the internet is like trying to hammer a nail with a feather duster. It’s an unfit medium and an unfit tool for an ugly, unsexy topic.
All that said, politics is still a big part of our lives. It affects us whether we like it or not. In fact, you could argue that it affects those who don’t like it far more than those who do. Politics is like the dirty diapers of civilization. They’re ugly, they stink, and they need to be frequently changed. That’s exactly why citizens of democratic societies, like the United States, need to get out there and vote.
Today is Election Day. Today is the day where we elect the leaders who will guide the political discourse for the near-future. Say what you will about how unsavory politicians are. Make all the jokes you want about how they lie, cheat, and steal. Here, I’ll even post one.
Laugh all you want. It’s good to have a sense of humor during difficult times, but there’s a time for dirty jokes about virgin prostitutes and there’s a time for civic duty. I’m usually more intrigued by the former, but the latter is far more important on a day like this.
I’m not going to take a position on who you should vote for or what party you should vote for. I’m not even going to mention the names of any candidates. That’s just giving them more attention that they deserve and far more than they need at this point. You know their names. You know which party they belong to. You don’t need an erotica/romance writer adding to the chaos.
So please, my fellow Americans, go out there and vote! It may not be in my best interest to say this, but take a break from the sexier issues of life and do your civic duty. When all is said and done, reward yourself for participating in such an important process.
For me, after I vote, I intend to go home, take off all my clothes, turn up the heat, and read comics for the rest of the day while drinking hot chocolate. That’s as good a reward as I can give myself without getting a beautiful woman involved. Whatever reward you deem most fitting, use that as motivation. Use whatever you can to get out there and vote!
Say what you will about the inefficiencies of our government and our civilization as a whole. It only works if the people involved give enough of a crap to participate. This is your chance to show that you matter. Go for it and then reward yourself with something sexy afterwards. You’ll have earned it!