I love villains. I love villains so much I often call myself a “villain whore”. Maybe it’s because I always felt vilified for being different. I think it’s because the villains are often more complicated (because no one ever is evil just because, but people are good just because). Maybe it’s because the villains are the hidden id. Maybe it’s because the villain always gets the funniest lines. Who knows.
However… I often hate other villain fans with the same level of passion my dark idols reserve for their respective nemesis.
My expertise (if I can call it that: I’m basically a dork with a laptop) is in the realm of comic books and comic book movies. I’ve noticed superhero movies build and build in popularity before crescendoing with the Nolan Batman films and Marvel’s The Avengers. This had led to a “mainstreamification” of some of my favourite characters—notably, the villains. The examples I’m going to use in this post, mostly because of their popularity, are Magneto (X-men) and Loki (Thor, The Avengers). If you look at social media *coughtumblrcough* these two are the among the most popular.
These are villains that do things that everyone who isn’t an evil human being has a problem with, namely, genocide. They have complicated motivations and lives. Magneto is a holocaust survivor who was experimented on in the camps, and Loki was raised in a world he doesn’t belong to and was made to feel inferior to his older brother, Thor. Both turn to evil out of a desire to do the right thing, to the point where it blinds them to the people around them who care about them.
However, fans tend to reduce them to “woobies”.
Woobies, according to TV Tropes, are “…any type of character who makes you feel extremely sorry for them. Basically, the first thing you think to say when you see the woobie is: “Aw, poor baby!” Woobification of a character is a curious, audience-driven phenomenon, sometimes divorced from the character’s canonical morality…An important aspect of the Woobie is that their suffering must be caused by external sources. A character who suffers as the result of their own actions is a Tragic Hero and does not qualify.” The page goes on to list subtypes of woobies, but that isn’t important right now.
I don’t know if it’s because the characters are portrayed by attractive actors, or because the struggles with family (Loki) or inequality (Magneto) are things that resonate with the audience. But it happens, and these complicated villains are reduced to one-note woobies.
How can you tell that a character has been “woobified”, you may ask? If you hear fans defending the characters genocidal actions because they “believe they’re doing the right thing” or if you hear fans saying the character is “misunderstood”. For example, I recently saw a picture set of villains on Tumblr with the words “A villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told” featuring Magneto, Loki, Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader), Gollum, and Khan, among others (http://ericscissorhands.tumblr.com/post/88703071937/a-villain-is-just-a-victim-whose-story-hasnt)
You guys do know that Magneto was purposely written to have similar ideals to Hitler, right? And he admits to this in X-men: First Class.
As a writer, this annoys me. Real work went into writing these characters, creating them to be complicated and interesting. And these “fans” just ignore all of that! It would be like, for the non-writers among you, if you spent all day making a delicious cake and all anyone could talk about was how sad it was that the little icing flowers you added to the corner were wilting.
Why is this frustrating? Referring back to the post I mentioned, subsequent rebloggers have said it’s putting the abusers feelings above the abused, and implying that any victim is going to turn into an abuser. As an abused person, this pisses me right off. This is a problematic message: if you have a tragic backstory, you can do whatever you want. My abuser has a pretty tragic backstory. That does not make what he did to me okay.
You know who else has a tragic backstory? Hitler, and Stalin.
There are examples of woobies in the same universe as Loki and Magneto who have had similar and often worse (not the holocaust, though, I don’t imagine it can get much worse) things happen to them.
In the same universe, What about Spiderman, or Batman, or Wolverine? They have tragic backstories, but they realised that they have a choice: let the sadness consume them and let the rage and hatred become them, or make a difference
And that’s the choice that all of us have.
So stop doing a disservice to the writers. Or I will become a supervillain. See how many people think I’m misunderstood then.