Everyone loves a bad guy.
Villains from all walks of popular culture have always held a special, strange little pocket of ours hearts hostage as we willingly and warmly watch them commit evil. In real life, we condemn our Bin Ladens and Pol Pot, but how many Jokers do you see every Halloween? The fictional fiends get away with being bastards, and we love them for it.
So the question becomes who’s the greatest? Since that’s one of the many unanswerable pop culture questions, instead let’s break it down into groups. Tropes and trends are common place across all entertainment, so I believe we’re justified in isolating particular groups to see who really is the biggest, baddest baddies of all.
The most frightening thing about robots to me is the inability to reason with them. You can’t convince your toaster not to burn your Eggos, and you can’t convince the T-1000 that you’re actually a really nice dude who donates to NPR every year.
Toss in things like the uncanny valley and the ever-so-popular blow off its legs and make it claw across the floor to getcha, and you’ve got some pretty frightening visual aesthetics as well.
Of course, the only to make fear worse is sadness, and evil robots are only made that much worse when you realize that we made them. From Ultron to the Cylons, they all call the same species mama and daddy: humans. These genocidal gearheads are all our bastard, bionic offspring, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
And since we’re profiling, let’s throw in sinister cyber characters as well. So, yup, that means you Agent Smith, SHODAN, HAL, Russell Crowe in Virtuosity, and others. When you can’t trust your own Operating System, you know you’ve got quite the formidable foe.
But as we learned in Chrono Trigger, robots aren’t inherently bad. They’re programmed that way. And so while we curse Skynet’s name, it was programmed to be self-resilient. Sure, the Sentinels are walking/flying murder hate drones, they weren’t magicked into mayhem. It’s hard to call something evil when they understand the emotion any more than they do happiness or hunger.
And we have plenty of examples of good robots. The MST3K bots, C-3P0, the Iron Giant, freaking WALL-E! Don’t let a few bad Apple computers spoil the bunch.
Metaphysical stories about xenophobia aside, there are seriously some wicked ETs out there. We all cheered when Arnold covered himself in mud, almost as much as we did when Ripley threw down in the exosuit cargo-loader. In a battle between us or them, we prefer two eyes and a pretty smile any day.
I hear you protesting that Predator and Alien(s/etc.) are just examples of one creature horribly outnumbered, but let’s not forget that most of our major cities were wiped out by floating Oreo spaceships in Independence Day. Ra planned on ctrl-alt-deleting Earth in Stargate. The Yeerks were this close to shoving worms in the entire universe’s ears.
Aliens are not us and will never be us. And while you may root for your buddy’s team when they’re playing some schmucks from a different timezone, but when it’s you against them, it’s always gonna be you. It’s basic survival instinct and it’s most likely what got them from their atmosphere to ours.
But that’s just the thing, it’s usually just survival. That was just the MO for the Independence Day aliens. Do we think ants are evil for colonizing a new mound of dirt? The Yeerks wanted to conquer, and so did most of the human race for the majority of its existence. Everyone wants to get ahead in life, not just Earthlings.
And I’m not even going to start listing the good space cases out there. Go watch Star Trek. Plenty of intergalactic guys and gals to get along with. Just like being an asshole isn’t unique to humanity, you can’t fault aliens as a whole just because a few tried to kill us with lasers. Be more open-minded.
Here we go.
The Reader can try to humanize them but at the end of the day Nazis are Nazis and much like Crystal Pepsi: nobody likes ‘em, nobody ever will.
Remember, I don’t mean historical Nazis, I’m talking about the SS of the cinema and beyond. Aside from the…really sad ones…movies with Nazis as bad guys are typically super fun. Indiana Jones, Inglorious Basterds, Dr. Strangelove: these movies are all riots and a big reason is that they have a universal trend of having such a despicable group of villains.
Nazis as bad guys are like the comfort food of movies, video games, etc. Everyone enjoys hating on them, there’s usually little to no moral gray area, it’s all very elegant. Very simple. They’re bad, and we hate them. Where Spec Ops: The Line really left me uncomfortable attacking my enemies, mowing through Third Reichers in Wolfenstein is always an unquestionable blast.
Bringing people together through mutual love is great. Bringing them together through mutual hate, now there are some ties that bind. Just writing this makes me want to pop in Call of Duty and lay waste. Who’s with me? ‘MERICA!
Okay, bad boys and girls, who did I leave out? Plenty, I know. No, zombies don’t count. They’re just hungry. Sound off below, villains and villainesses!
Adam Esquenazi Douglas is a playwright who was born in Texas, grew up in Arkansas, was raised by a Jewish man and a Cuban woman, and, somehow, he doesn’t have an accent. His plays have been produced across the United States from Los Angeles to New York City, as well as in Canada and Japan.
He is co-host of two podcasts, The JimmyJew Podcast Extravaganza and Schmame Over Level 2, which can be found at http://jimmyjew.libsyn.com/ and http://schmameoverlevel2.libsyn.com/ respectively, as well as on iTunes. He is a contributing writer to www.GamersSchmamers.com.
He currently lives in Brooklyn where he drinks far too much coffee.