It would be silly of me to sit here and say that bad guys aren’t cool. For one, I’d sound like an after-school special, waxing lyrical about the virtues of telling the truth and recycling your plastics correctly. But mostly, I’d just be wrong – bad guys are cool. Who amongst us hasn’t found ourselves rooting for the bad guy when playing our favourite game? Who hasn’t found themselves thinking ‘damn, if only they could win’. From Bioshock’s Andrew Ryan to Borderlands’ Handsome Jack, there’s something to be said about how we feel about the baddies. Let’s take a closer look.
And I Am A Material Girl
I think Madonna said it best when she said we are living in a material world, and when it comes to bad guys, there’s something about their materialistic nature that gets us every time. Maybe it’s just the fact that the outfits are cooler. Maybe it has something to do with each of us, somewhere deep down, wanting to own a doomsday device. Bad guys always seem to have the best gear, whereas the best the hero is usually armed with is a sense of justice and a winning smile. It’s no secret that humans like stuff, and villains have stuff aplenty.
Personality By The Bucketload
I think another key facet of the human race finding coolness in villainy has a lot to do with the villains having actual personality. Excuse me for mixing my metaphors (and my fandoms), but contrast someone like Captain America with the aforementioned Andrew Ryan. I am not saying that they are both not deeply faceted and cool in their own way. What I’m saying is, that on the surface one has way more personality than the other. Captain America’s personality boils down to “right is right”, whereas… well, I won’t summarise Atlas Shrugged here but you get what I’m saying – Ryan has way more immediate charisma than Cap. And we are nothing if not creatures of instant gratification – we are drawn to what is immediately interesting and disregard anything we might have to work towards understanding (for example, Cap has a lot of deeper features, but mostly we just ignore them because it’s easier to do so).
Psychology of Evil
There is a lot to be said about psychology when it comes to finding the villains cooler than the good guys. I know Freud would have a lot to say about it, but disregarding the filthier psychologists lets look at human nature. We are drawn to what disgusts and horrifies us. We’ve all driven slowly past a car crash to see what’s happened. It’s human nature. And villains tap into that nature by providing us with something to fascinate our darker side, something to indulge our secretive love of the macabre. I could quote some psychology texts here, but I won’t. I didn’t do psychology at school for a reason.
I don’t think that all bad guys are cool. I can’t find any good examples, but there’s bound to be some writer out there so bad that they screw up writing a bad guy so much that they’re not cool. But for the most part, human psychology is drawn to finding joy in the dismal so much that anyone remotely bad is cool. I think TV Tropes said it best (incidentally, it’s my favourite website), and I’ve linked it here. But there are also lots of examples of people straddling the good/bad line and being even cooler than cool (antiheroes, anyone?); perhaps we’ll explore that in a later article…!