It’s Halloween this week, a perfect opportunity to write the ultimate post on villains! I mean, Freddy Kruger, Jason, Saw, and their like – you can’t get any worse than that. Forgive me for inserting an emoticon at this point –> . Seriously, as far as villains go, these characters are caricatures. Not only are they totally unbelievable as biological units, they have about as much depth as a politician. Yes, there’s a place for these ‘characters’ but they are not true villains. They are really much more part of the setting than they are characters and, outside the mind of an adolescent, uninteresting.
So who really is the world’s greatest villain? For one thing, the world’s greatest villain is not fictional. I’m reminded of St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God. It goes like this:
God is that being, than which nothing greater can be conceived.
Okay, to break that down: One can conceive of all manner of wonderful things about a being, powerful, eternal, perfect, etc… but unless it actually exists, it’s nothing. So Anselm’s argument demands that God exists. The idea is that God created a universe in which the logic that is part of his universe proves his existence. (Think about it, it’ll tie your brain in knots!) Not that I’m calling God a villain, but by the same logic, the World’s greatest villain must also exist. In other words, the World’s greatest villain is a real person.
Vlad The Impaler, looking stylish.
So who is it? Hitler, some may say, or Stalin? Maybe some of the Roman emperors of the past? Vlad the Impaler – he is a pretty scary dude if you read about him, no joke. The Nazi’s in general? The Communists? Again I say, the World’s worst villain must exist and all of these folks are dead. Except for the Communists, and where they are now makes my blood run cold. But they can’t touch the guy I’m talking about no matter how hard they try. At least, not yet.
The world has plenty of bad guys, right now. Any number of African dictators or guerrilla leaders are truly horrible people. Middle Eastern dictators can be single-mindedly ghoulish as well, and I’m talking the rebel leaders as well. But for the most part, their reach is limited. The World’s worst villain should pose a threat beyond his borders. After all, if he’s not threatening us in some way, how scary is he? It would be nice if the world didn’t even have such a person, but sadly, it does. A person who is also embodied as a place.
This is pretty much the mood of the place…
Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Saw, and stuff like that is just stupid. True horror is Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption. Locked up for life for something you didn’t do. That is horror. That is terror. Flying loaded airliners into buildings. Creating mountains of skulls. Holding an entire nation hostage. Peddling hate to infants in the crib. Threatening the world with attack. All held together with an iron-fisted bureaucracy. There is such a place. A place where things like this happen every day. It’s a place we make fun of. A place where we don’t understand the people so we just write them off as crazy. It’s a long way off so we ignore the atrocities afflicted on her tortured citizens. How we can focus on Africa while the World’s worst villain goes unpunished and largely ignored is a problem I grapple with daily.
… and their fearless leader who recently has his ex-girlfriend executed for being his ex-girlfriend.
Where is this place? I wrote a novel about his Hell on Earth. It is The Killing Fields x50… years! This person, this place, is where all elements of the true villain come together in perfect harmony – much the same way, by some twist of our universe – a host of physics principles all come synergistically together, as if by design, to give life to the thing we know as the hydrogen bomb. Where is this place? This place is North Korea. This person, is Kim Jong-un. True terror. True horror. True villain. An entire people who are part of a real-life, low-budget slasher flick. A place where information is so tightly controlled that the seemingly psychotic actions of it’s beleaguered citizens make perfect sense – to them. A leader who believes his own propaganda and who has no more consideration for his subjects than a dog for its meal. A world where society is shaped by intimidation, torture, and death.
No laughing matter.
Amazingly, it is this true villain who is portrayed as a caricature while fictional caricatures are held up as villains. Maybe it’s a human defense mechanism against an evil so monstrous it is hard to hold in our head. As a species we do this from time to time. The child’s poem, Ring Around the Rosy, for instance, has an equally gruesome genesis – Black Death. Regardless, not understanding this villain, not understanding this villain’s desire and motivation, have allowed him, have allowed it, to persist for over sixty years. If you want to understand this villain better, and understand why it is not psychotic, I encourage you to learn more about it. There are a lot of non-fiction books about North Korea but surprisingly few novels: my novel, The Silla Project, and Adam Johnson’s, The Orphan Master’s Son are about it. They take very different approaches to dancing with this villain but both are good reads. And of course, his won the Pulitzer Prize and mine didn’t (even though mine has a higher rating on Goodreads, Oh YEAH!)
John C. Brewer is a novelist, physicist, rocket scientist, lifelong soccer player, motorcycle rider, husband, father, and the author of Multiplayer, an adventure for young adults, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance. Find out more about what he is doing at johncbrewer.com.
– John C. Brewer