The conflict between a villain and a hero is at the very fabric of a good story. Thanks to this summer’s film lineup—as well as in major we can look forward to watching our favorite superheroes overcome their adversaries and restore peace in troubled times. But it’s not just movies, it’s also the stories that capture our attention. In the Zimmerman trial, the Boston Marathon bombings and and even abortion legislation, we all feel the need to find one person to elevate as a hero.
However, sometimes we take more of an interest in the villains than in the heroes. Audiences flocked to see Despicable Me 2, a movie centered around a super villain named Gru and his minions. Though Gru is a reformed (and rather unthreatening) villain, his story’s popularity still speaks to our shift to making the antagonist the focus of the story.
Even outside of the theater—regarding real tragedies—it seems sometimes we are confused about who is the victim, who is the villain and who is the hero.
The Boston Marathon Bombings. Columbine High School. Virginia Tech. Aurora Colorado. Sandy Hook Elementary School. And so many others in-between. After each mass shooting, experts analyzed and related their deductions to the general public about what would trigger such violent behavior. The question became “why,” and as a sickening amount of similar incidents occurred, the causes were boiled down to such things such as treatment by peers, psychological problems, a breakdown in the family or even video games and media.
As the weeks and months following each shooting passed, a subtle shift began to occur. A fascination with the antagonist, his motives and even his own victimization became the nucleus of the discussion.
A message began to emerge that we should seek to understand people’s stories. We were told to give consideration to those accountable for their actions. We were told to see the situation as a full picture and to have a thoughtful analysis toward all parties involved.
And it is true that in this imperfect world no one is perfect. In the Christian worldview, this world is fallen and we are offered redemption. Grace is our only hope in the midst of the judgement we deserve.
However, it is being taken a step further than merely having compassion, understanding or grace for the guilty. The roles are in some twisted way reversed, and the victims have become, in part, responsible for their own massacres.
In essence, the gunman who shoots innocent victims is only reacting to what society has done to him. For he has felt excluded, perhaps even made fun of. His natural reaction would, in fact, be to lash out, and if he had only been loved a little more, treated a little better, had a bit of a better life, this would never have happened.
Yet, contrary to all of this, there have been many people who have endured similar, painful pasts. They have been homeless, mistreated and poor. These same people have not gone into movie theaters or schools shooting others at random. In fact, they have lived upright, commendable lives in the face of much opposition.
Yet, somehow, while the funerals were still going on, the antagonist—the perpetrator—stole the stage from his victims.
In his book, Orthodoxy, G.K Chesterton writes about the difference between the hero in the modern psychological novel and the hero in the fairy tale:
“…ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining about the dullness of life. This is also why the new novels die so quickly, and why the fairy tales endure forever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the center is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.”
And this change can be seen in the media coverage of every school shooting, terrorist attack and even in popular crime dramas. The ideas of personal responsibility and consequences for evil actions are overridden by compassion and understanding for those answerable. In fact, an allowance seems to be made at times, as if their circumstances were so hellish that their only choice was to act in such a way. Suddenly it is not their fault.
The murderer’s story has taken precedence over those killed. For it is always our leaning to favor the “underdog.” Maybe some of those killed were rich. Maybe some came from good families. If we are astute, we will perceive that the antagonist wants to punish his victims for being good. Every super hero’s nemesis is motivated by envy. Instead of asking what he can give to society, he is after what he can take. Instead of rejoicing in other’s accomplishments, he is wallowing in self-pity for his own middle-of-the road life. Instead of being thankful and reaping the benefits of the other’s knowledge and skills, he is quick to look for ways of bringing the hero to ruin.
It used to be that we would support this hero. Just like the everyday, hard-working citizens who were thankful for his protection.
But the focus has been switched. While the hero—an upright and commendable character—is saving the princess from the dragon, we have become focused on the dragon who would not hesitate to kill thousands with fire from his breath. For the modern story tells us the dragon was never loved.
Folk artist Antje Duvekot’s song “Judas” illustrates this shift in frame of mind.
Jesus, he was the schoolyard martyr/
Was every mother’s perfect son/
Not like Judas In the back of the schoolbus/
Invisible to everyone
Well, there was lots of love in between
Joseph and Mary/
Joseph was the head coach at the high school/
And they were living down on Judas’ street/
They’d be pitching Sundays in the grass/
And usually Judas’ father would be drunk…
The song goes on to say that Judas gets a gun and bullets and walks into the school, making it clear why in the chorus, Jesus is considered the “schoolyard martyr.”
Without even getting into the song’s shocking exclusion of society’s reaction to Jesus (which included mockery, anger, resentment, hatred and his being crucified), the ideas here are disturbing at best.
Judas has taken center stage. He is the main character, and our fascination with something different moves our focus onto him, his problems and his motives. It seems it was not his fault to act in the way that he did. In fact, his envy is justified.
Yet, even more alarming than Judas’s move to prominence is this: Jesus—the one who sacrificed his life for those who hated him—is no longer the hero.
The dragon has become the hero.
And Jesus—the rescuer of the world—has become the villain.