Disclaimer: This has been said before, I’m sure of it. Probably more eloquently and by someone much smarter than I. I have just had this on my mind and felt a need to get it out in my own words.
I read a tweet the other day. By the other day, I mean more than a week ago and by that I mean, I have no idea who tweeted it or exactly what the tweet said. Therefore, I’m going to paraphrase. The tweet said something like: What’s with everything wanting me to root for the bad guy? I want to root for the hero.
I get it. I really do. Rooting for the hero is understandable. Everyone likes to imagine themselves as the main character and no one wants to see themselves as the ‘relatable bad guy’. Fuck no. We all want to be the strong jawed, chiseled ab’d, perfect spoken, wealthy super-man (or woman). BUT, and here’s a big fucking but, that’s not the case. Every one is a villain to someone. There’s a quote about writing:
Every villain is the hero of their own story.
That quote gets its own paragraph, because it’s that fucking special. A real gem. No, I’m being serious right now. In all the stories we got as kids, the bad guys were just, bad guys. They just wanted to ‘rule the world’ for no other apparent reason than it gave them an excuse to try to kill the heroes in the most ludicrous possible way. That was fine when we were six. Sounded scary. Worked. But now, now things are different. Empathy is a comprehendible emotion that I didn’t so much have as a kid.
Those bad guys that want to take over the world? Yeah, they exist. And they do want to rule. Do you know why? Because they think it can be better. Every single person who has tried to take power of any sort, has done so because they think they can do better. How many times have you seen some half-assed operation and thought, ‘I could totally fucking run that better’? I bet you have. Some people take the gumption to actually take steps to change it. Whether we are talking about the service at McDonald’s or a country’s government, it’s the same.
So, that person trying to make change, they are doing so because they want to improve something. They want to change. Do you know what happens when things change? Someone inevitably gets fucked. Let’s use the fast food example, but not the place with the golden arches, we’ll call this place a small bar, let’s say, St. Sebastian’s. Now, this bar is getting along, doing fine. Sure, the servers don’t pay a whole lot of attention to their tables, and the bartender spends more time on his phone than serving drinks, but the place turns a small profit. Things are good.
Now, an entrepreneur sees the place for its potential. He thinks he can really shine the place up. So he buys St. Sebastian’s and takes over running the bar. Now, the servers have to pay attention to their customers, build loyalty and repeat service. The bartender has to put his phone down and fill orders, maybe even clean between mixing up those delightfully delicious daiquiris. Customers love the turnaround. St. Sebastian’s becomes a place where people like to come and drink, a regular shining example of what a hole-in-the-wall should be.
Our entrepreneur is a hero, right? He improved business and profit and has happier customers. Everything is better for everyone, right? Almost. Those servers and that bartender, remember them? Yeah, they hate our entrepreneur friend. With a burning fucking passion. They had a good thing going and this asshole had to stroll in and fuck it all up with that goddamn work thing. Are they wrong, for being mad because they are expected to work at their job? Of course they are. Do they understand that? Nope. Mr. Entrepreneur is absolutely a villain to them.
This boiled down example can be expanded to work on everything. So back to rooting for the good guy. At some point, people have realized that clear-cut heroes and villains are for the birds. Everyone is both. Every human is both a hero and a villain to someone. We have just transitioned so that we are telling stories from both sides. The bad guy has a reason and we are learning his reasons. I LOVE that. Show me what the (pro)antagonist is fighting for. It’s something.
Breaking Bad, for example. (WARNING I AM PROBABLY ABOUT TO SPOIL THE HOLY FUCKING SHIT OUT OF BREAKING BAD SO IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE SHOW YOU SHOULD PROBALBY STOP READING BECAUSE SPOILERS AND SHIT.) Breaking Bad is one of my favorite stories in recent memory. Let’s break it down.
Walt gets cancer. He’s a teacher and can’t afford that kind of thing. Being sick is expensive, who can afford that? Walt is a husband and a father. All the sudden he’s looking at sure death and leaving his family with a hudred grand worth of debt. No good person wants to do that to their family. It’s a fucking hell of a catch 22. Do you pay to keep yourself alive and screw your family financially? Or do you give up and not fight it to save money? No shit, this is a scenario I’ve thought about before because apparently being a parent makes you paranoid as a motherfucker.
Turn out, Walt is a pretty fly chemist. A chemist needs quick cash. What is the quickest way to make cash? Drugs. No, seriously. People always want drugs, people pay CASH for drugs. Walt knows drugs, Walt needs cash, so he takes the clear choice and makes them. Up to this point, we are on his side. The dilemma is relatable. Walt is breaking the law and manufacturing a hardcore drug. Make no mistake, he is a bad guy, but he has a reason. That reason is what drives the plot for me. Remembering why he started and where he came from all while watching how much farther he descends into being a total fucking asshole.
You’ve heard of gateway drugs, right? In a way, this is gateway villainry. Take a small, justified step toward the darker side of life and before you know it, you’re falling down a pitch black hole of world domination. That’s why I like to root for the bad guy and want more stories like it. Perfect can fuck right off. No one is perfect and no one gets where they are without stepping over someone else. Show me those steps. Bonus points if you show me both, the person doing the stepping and the person getting stepped on.