The Villain’s Descent


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Copyright Matthew Schembari 2012

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The Villain’s Descent

  1. 1. The Villain’s Descent tm 2012 Matt Schembari
  2. 2. A Little About Me Graduate Student at Argosy University, San Francisco – Masters in Forensic Psychology BA in Psychology and Behavioral Analysis from UC Davis (English Minor) Former Student of Mrs. Loomis Author of “The Villain’s Descent”
  3. 3. The Antagonist• Mostly Marginalized in Modern Literature - Good almost always triumphs over evil - Lessons conveyed through development of hero, villain just an obstacle.• Germanic/European Literature emphasizes Tragedy -Lessons learned through defeat -Characters as warnings instead of good examples.
  4. 4. Importance of the Antagonist• Without Adversity there can be no development. -Everything good you have in your life was won through adversity. Everything!• A strongly developed antagonist creates a more compelling story. -The harder the obstacle the more profound the change.• Antagonists need not be individuals: -People, Organizations, Culture, Ideas
  5. 5. Examination: Evil & VillainyWhat is “Evil”?
  6. 6. Examination: Evil & VillainyWhat is “Evil”? Difficult to define Can be circumstantial or accidental. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” In some circumstances, may even be justifiable. (i.e. “necessary evil”. Ex: Capital Punishment) Definitions vary by culture, over time.
  7. 7. Cultural Perspective•Morality is socially transmitted •Ideas about morality are culturallyand changes over time. based, learned behaviors.Swim wear 1900’s Swim wear 2012
  8. 8. Theological Perspective• The angel Lucifer, corrupted by alust for power waged war on Godand was cast out, along with 1/3 ofthe angels in heaven to becomedemons.• Sought revenge by corruptingman, God’s most beloved creation.• The Book of Enoch: Fallen angelsresponsible for introducing vanity,greed, and war to mankind.• Conflict between Lucifer and Godillustrated in Milton’s Paradise Lost• Struggle between good and evil isboth personal and ethereal.
  9. 9. Biological Perspective• Argument that evil stems from primal ancestral urges and instincts. (Dominance, Territoriality, Self Preservation, etc.)• Does evil occur in nature?• No Such thing as Evil Animals. (Except Him)• Evil a uniquely human trait.
  10. 10. Examination: Evil & Villainy: Psychological PerspectivePhilip Zimbardo
  11. 11. The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971)• 24 Male students randomly assigned to be either “prisoners” or “guards”.• Make shift prison created in basement of Stanford Psychology Lab• Psychological torture, sadism, abuse• Experiment had to be stopped after only 6 days• Long lasting Psychological Trauma
  12. 12. The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971)Implications: Questions about human nature, influence of power, situational factors influencing behavior
  13. 13. The Milgram Experiment (1961) Stanley Milgram
  14. 14. The Milgram Experiment (1961)Implications: Obedience, Role of Authority, “Just following orders” mentality.
  15. 15. The Milgram Experiment (1961)• Obedience Study: Aimed to see if participant would deliver lethal shock to learner just because an influential figure told them to.• Prediction: Less than 1% would administer lethal shock.• Result: More than 60% administered lethal shock.• (No one was actually harmed in this study. Participant only made to think they hurt someone)
  16. 16. The Milgram Experiment (1961)
  17. 17. Kitty Genovese (1935)The Bystander Effect• New York City woman assaulted, raped, and killed outside her apartment• Despite numerous witnesses and numerous cries for help, no one in the area responded• Assailant assaulted her, left, returned 10 minutes later, assaulted her again, raped her and killed her.• Police were called several minutes after her death, authorities responded within minutes.• The bystander effect: the more people in the area, the less likely any one individual is to respond to a situation.
  18. 18. So what does it all mean?• Stanford Prison Experiment: Evil is inborn. In the right circumstances, “That Evil Do that I do do…” even normal people can be compelled to evil do.• Milgram Experiment: Evil is influential and persuasive. People can be convinced to suppress their morality with limited coercive force.• Kitty Genovese: Evil thrives in indifference. Ignoring it only makes it stronger.
  19. 19. Ok, get to the point, big nose…Recap:-The capacity for evil is inborn within all of us.-Evil is motivated by uniquely human pursuits. -Envy, Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Lust, Gluttony, Pride-Evil is perceived to occur when individual needs, beliefs, aspirations, or ideals clash with social and cultural norms.Ergo: The struggle between good and evil is a struggle between competing ideologies.
  20. 20. Ex: The Joker vs. Batman• Humans are intrinsically selfish. • Humans may wear masks but the Morality & camaraderie is only a masks are who they should strive mask they wear to cover their to be. People need a symbol of true nature. Man should embrace righteousness to aspire to so they chaos and chaos will produce can evolve into something better actualization of mans true self. than what they are now.
  21. 21. So Who is Right?• Answer entirely dependant on personal perspective.• The Joker is a compelling villain because his ideology is both socially unsettling and remarkably plausible.• Formula for a good villain: – Violation of social norms + feasible utility• When the audience can see the utility in the villain’s ideology it forces them to identify with the villain, and thus confront the evil within themselves. So how is this accomplished?
  22. 22. The Villain’s Descent• Cataclysm1. Tragedy - nearly all stories of villainy begin with a tragedy. -death of a loved one, personal injustice, inner conflict, etc. -Something must interrupt the normal course of the antagonist’s life and force them to re-evaluate their way of thinking.
  23. 23. 2. Denial - Tragedy often produces a duality of thought: Cynicism vs. Optimism. -must often reconcile bitter, pessimistic, often hateful and destructive thoughts with forward thinking, i.e. "Life goes on", "it will get better with time", "it doesnt rain every day", etc. -This is common and natural, but usually people eventually accept the positive thoughts because they are more adaptive. It’s easier and more favorable to try to be happy, than to wallow in misery. -The villain-to-be will find this unsatisfying. This sets up the duality of thought that will ultimately propel the antagonist down the road to villainy.
  24. 24. 3. The Demon on the Shoulder - Society doesnt just encourage emotional healing in the face of tragedy, it demands it, almost oppressively so. -If one doesn’t move on after a mourning period society deems acceptable they can be seen as depressing or even clinically ill and suddenly sympathy turns to disdain. -The villain will try to move on, but there will always be a demon on their shoulder, pointing out the insincerity of their sympathizers, the oppressive push of social pressure, and the overall emptiness of the healing process. Inherent in this step is the cold reality of the world: The anonymity of the individual, the superficiality of morality, and the anti-personal, hierarchical nature of human society.
  25. 25. 4. The First Offense - This is the step where the antagonist commits their first real crime. -This need not be a physical crime. Ideally it should be on a smaller scale, a person to person crime, particularly against the source of the initial tragedy from step 1. -Hasty and poorly thought out, and should be successful, but end much more severely than the antagonist intended. -The antagonist may be caught and penalized or may get away scott free, depending on the writer’s preference.
  26. 26. 5. The Point of No Return - the antagonist has now committed an unforgivable sin. This triggers an irrevocable change within the antagonist. They can no longer return to their old way of life. -This could involve many processes, the antagonist might be expecting to feel guilty but instead feels justified and energized by their actions, they may see some good come of their actions and assume a false heir of righteousness. -plenty of room for the author to play around inside the antagonist’s head and involve their personal motivations.
  27. 27. • Conquest1. Moratorium - In this stage the antagonist struggles to recognize their identity as a villain. They develop a theme, or a gimmick, or a character, something that identifies them to the world, or gives them a sense of identity and purpose. -This is a process and involves some degree of rejection and experimentation. Their identity will continue to evolve throughout the remaining steps but this is where the initial framework for it is laid.
  28. 28. 2. In the Presence of the Demon - Here the antagonist settles on their identity and accepts their role as a villain. -They realize the contrast between their actions and the social norms but instead of feeling ostracized they feel empowered. -This is where their grand ambition should be introduced, the plan for world domination, the doomsday device; this is where it should come into play (particularly in the form of a malevolent rant).
  29. 29. 3. The Olive Branch and the Asp - As the grand scheme of the antagonist begins to go into play they should be confronted by the last vestiges of good that are left in their life. -represented in many ways: a former love interest, a friend, the hero or protagonist (etc). -This could also be represented by an inner conflict with some lingering doubts, or remorse over the life they left behind. Again this is more at the discretion of the writer, and how they choose to characterize their villain.
  30. 30. 4. Meeting with the Hero - This is the first time that the protagonist and antagonist meet in their roles as aspiring heroes and villains. -This is a clash of ideologies as well as a clash of physical strength. This is the test of the villains philosophy. -In most stories this is where the hero would conquer the villain, but if the author wishes to craft a truly memorable and salient villain, they must find a way for them to survive this encounter.
  31. 31. 5. Redemption vs. Vilification - Here the conflict must be resolved. -It is possible for the antagonist to reject their life of villainy and atone for the sins theyve committed, usually with death or by surrendering to the hero, but it is possible for them to change their ways, and become a good guy, at which point theyd switch over and begin the heros journey (this step would then become "the call to action" in the heros journey). -But for the sake of continuing the villain’s journey, this is the step where they would reject the olive branch, destroy the last vestiges of their humanity, and fully realize their potential as a villain. Its similar to the Point of No Return in the previous stage but it involves more of a direct personal choice rather than a forced acceptance. -At this point they are fully actualized in their role, and they have a clearly defined plan, and have set themselves up in staunch opposition to the hero and their ideology.
  32. 32. 6. The Birth of an Empire - In this stage the villain can now use their power to gain an influence, gather resources and raise an army. Here we would see things like the acquisition of henchmen, the expansion of a criminal network, and a much greater degree of public awareness. The villain is now a household name and an omnipresent threat, the scourge of the free and peace loving masses.
  33. 33. • C. End Game1. Beyond Metropolis - The personal journey of the villain is now complete, but their grand ambition has yet to be fully realized. Though they may have a plan, and a great amount of influence, they must now put those things to use to fulfill their ultimate desire, whether that be to take over the world, destroy the hero, gain riches, etc.
  34. 34. 2. Weaving the Web - The villain will now employ their resources on a series of missions to acquire the necessary means to enact their plan. Usually the hero will only see these missions as random individual acts, some of which he will be able the thwart, but others he will not. The hero will not see the grand spectacle behind these individual acts, or the way in which they all tie together until its too late, and the grand plan of the villain has been set into motion.
  35. 35. 3. The Looming Shadow - This step is optional. The villain may receive assistance from an outside entity: A collaborating villain with similar ambitions, or a fearful government or populace hoping to gain favor. The point of this phase would be to accentuate the slipping influence of the hero, and their increasing impotence to the villain’s ever growing power.
  36. 36. 4. Doomsday - The villain’s ultimate plan is realized. Depending on the plan this may well be the end of the story, if the plan should be something like the destruction of the world. But for the sake of the other story lines, this would be the point where the hero is killed, or the world is overthrown and the villain achieves ultimate power.
  37. 37. 5. Dominion - Evil has won the day, the moral of the story is forfeit and all hope is lost. But remember that the point of a good villain should not be evil for its own sake. This is where the utility of the villain’s evil plan must come into play. The villain does not simply conquer the world then hang up their cape. It is absolutely essential that the reader see the physical manifestation of the villain’s ambition and ideology. -If the essential component of the villain’s journey is the complete reorganization of a single individual’s mental world, you absolutely must show how that reorganization is reflected in the world in the wake of their rise to power.
  38. 38. Study Break! Look at the Kittens!
  39. 39. Class Discussion(aka time for me to finally shut up for a few minutes and listen to you)• What kind of antagonist is portrayed in your reading?• What is the antagonist’s driving ideology and how does it clash with the hero’s?• What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the antagonists ideology?• What steps from the Villain’s Descent can you identify, if any, within the text? Give examples.
  40. 40. Thank youfor listening. You guys were awesome!