Bad Guys are People Too

Constructing an antagonist is almost more complicated than creating your protagonist. Why? Because the audience has to believe that the bad guy has real motivations for their actions. No matter what atrocities they commit, the antagonist always has to believe that what they are doing is right.

The Avengers offers a great example of this in the character of Loki. As actor Tom Hiddleston said in an interview,

Well, I think he genuinely believes in his kind of motivation, which is that the human race is busy fighting each other. The planet Earth is rife with war and if the human race was united by the reverence of one king, he would create peace. It’s hopelessly deluded and misguided, but he’s also a character that’s also brought up with the expectation of his entitlement.”

So although Loki is incredibly misguided and is actually bringing about the destruction of the Earth, he truly in his heart believes that he is the hero of this story. And that’s the key – no one sees themselves as a villain, not even the actual villain of the story.

Not only does ensuring that your protagonist has a meaningful, even relatable or understandable motivation make him or her more realistic and believable, but it also makes them more complex, prompting the audience to be more  interested in the conflict with the protagonist.

Dexter is another great example of a “bad guy” with believable motivations – in fact, he isn’t even the antagonist. Somehow the writers on Dexter have managed to create a protagonist who, as a serial killer, is essentially a “villain”, yet the audience still roots for him every week. Check out this article discussing why and let me know what you think. What are some other examples of “bad guys” who have this sort of believable depth and motivation, arguably making them into possible “good guys”?

Specs & The City: Bad Guy Protagonist and ‘Dexter’
Brad Johnson @ Scriptmag

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So you think that bad guys can only be Antagonists? Think again. They’re just as multi-faceted as the good guys these days. One day, when you least expect it, you’ll realize the script idea rolling around in that brain of yours is crying out to have a bad guy protagonist at the heart of the story. But how do you put someone like that at the center of your script and expect the audience to go along for the ride? Audiences like to cheer for the good guys, right? Actually, what they really like to cheer for is a character with whom they identify. On some level – any level – if the audience can catch a glimpse of themselves inside the character, then you’re golden.”

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Tarantino on the Censorship Controversy of ‘Django Unchained’

Even though it’s been out for over two weeks now, I can’t resist at least a brief discussion of the controversy surrounding Django Unchained, especially because of how closely related it is to my own adoption of the moniker “mewling quim”.

Django Unchained uses the n-word approximately 110 times in its 166 minutes, a level of vulgarity that has caused some uproar. My first reaction to the arguments against it was simply that, coming from Quentin Tarantino, what do you really expect? He is known for excessive violence and language in his films, almost to the point of satire, and that is honestly what is so great about them.

The whole issue reminds me a lot of the episode of South Park, “It Hits the Fan” (S05:E01) that took a stance on censorship through the excessive use of the word “shit”–they even kept a counter at the bottom of the screen of how many times it was uttered in the episode, reaching 162 by the end of the half-hour show. This episode emphasizes the fact that the more a word is used, the less impact it starts to have. It seems to me that this is exactly the point of Django Unchained, as it is meant to realistically reflect its setting at a time and place when the n-word was not offensive. Words change their meaning and their import over time, so why are we so concerned that Django Unchained uses the n-word 110 times instead of 10? Would it be less offensive if there were fewer instances of the word?

But even more importantly, as the interview with Tarantino below reflects, the “excessive” use of the n-word in Django Unchained is not actually excessive, because “no one can actually say with a straight face that we use the word more than it was used in 1858 Mississippi.” And to me, this is the overriding principle in terms of censoring film and television–and creative productions in general: if it’s something that the character would say, then they should say it. You have to be truthful to the characters you write.

One of the most interesting aspects of this interview is that, in response to the Drudge Report posting a splash page of Tarantino across the top of its front pages with the n-word written below it seven times, Tarantino indicates that they were trying to offend him. An ironic state of affairs when you consider the fact that many see Tarantino himself as the one who is being offensive. His reaction to this intended slight is incredibly admirable–he doesn’t let it offend him. He simply says that what they did was ridiculous, and he can’t take it seriously.

What do you think of the controversy surrounding Django Unchained? Check out the interview with Tarantino here.

Quentin Tarantino Isn’t Fazed By ‘Django Unchained’ N-Word Controversy
Kevin P. Sullivan @ MTV

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It should come as no surprise that Quentin Tarantino‘s latest film — which we’ll remind you is a slavery-era tale told in Spaghetti Western style — has stirred up some controversy. What is slightly shocking, however, is that much of the controversy is coming from media coverage of “Django Unchained” as opposed to the movie itself.

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‘Deception’: Deceptively Intriguing

A new crime investigation show, Deception, premiered on NBC last night, and while the premise seems intriguing enough, I’m not sure how sustainable it will be.

After the scandal of a young socialite’s death, the intrigue of this show centers around the dark secrets of her distinguished family and the tense, complex relationships between them. Deception then deceives us into thinking it is a show about solving a murder, hooking the viewer with a “whodunit”-type mystery, but in fact reveals itself to be more about the characters—exploring their relationships and inner struggles. While the members of this wealthy family could very easily come off as one-dimensional, the secrets they hide give these archetypal rich snobs a certain depth that makes them both intriguing and believable.

However, if the pilot is any indication as to the style of the show, most of the action seems to happen in the past. As secrets continue to be uncovered and as memories begin to resurface, flashbacks are (almost over-)used to help illustrate them. In the present, then, we find the characters spending most of their time simply talking about the past. Granted, as a pilot this episode does have to deal with a lot of exposition, but, especially seeing as this show is so character-driven, it would be all too easy to let action fall by the wayside. To be sure, a lot of action is not necessarily vital to maintaining interest if the characters are compelling enough, as they seem to potentially be, but a focus on the past can keep the story from moving forward.

The pilot then begs the question: where can you go with this? The complex relationships and the many skeletons in the Bowers family closet will certainly provide enough material to last at least until the end of the season, but at some point the murder will have to be solved, thus ending the investigation. While the family’s laundry list of secrets certainly appears to be never-ending, it is doubtful that they could carry the show through multiple seasons. If Deception hopes to have a long life, then, it will have to do more. Especially if it stays mired in the past and the secrets to be found there, the series won’t be able to move into the future.

Did you catch the premiere? Tell me what you thought.

Meagan Good Goes Undercover in ‘Deception’
Liz Medendorp @ PopMatters

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It opens like a standard crime investigation show: late at night, a shadowy figure follows a young woman to her car; by morning, she’s dead. But Deception isn’t just another crime procedural, as it seems to be. Instead, it’s another investigation of the dark secrets of the wealthy, who have a lot to hide.”

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