A soft spot for villains.
All too often, I find myself watching a movie or a series for the sake of the villain, because I care more about him/her than the “good guys.” If you go on Tumblr or any other fan site, you’ll see that villains in pretty much every genre and media garner massive followings, sometimes even larger than those of their heroic counterparts.
This led me to the inevitable question—why? Are the heroes just too boring? Are the good guys too good? Is it that the villains are a means of expressing our frustrations and resentments by proxy? I’m sure there’s a psychology dissertation in that somewhere.
The double standard.
Firstly, I notice that villains get away with a lot more by virtue of being villains. If a hero abducted and poisoned children or slaughtered entire armies defending their homes, he would be condemned by the readership rather quickly. Yet the villain gets away with it because we expect that. After all, he/she is a villain and villains by their nature do villainous things, but if a hero has so much as one selfish moment and yells at the wrong character, suddenly we’re all over him/her with pitchforks and torches. (But if the protagonist is too perfect, we’re still not happy.)
When a hero monologues about traumatic events in their lives, they too quickly come off as whiny complainers. When a villain discusses past trauma, however, people are generally more sympathetic. Villains also tend to talk about past traumas less often and I wonder if that has something to do with it as well—we don’t have to listen to many sympathy-garnering speeches.
The perspective factor.
Interestingly, there seems to be more villain-centric fans in films and television series. Personally, I find heroes more relatable and easier to empathize with in books and I believe other people do too. It probably has something to do with being thrown into the hero’s psyche, sometimes exclusively, leading us to develop more attachment to him/her.
Even in multi-POV books, the hero has the most “screen time” and the villains are usually secondary or tertiary if their perspective is there at all. This means a certain amount of distance from the villain and a buffer zone of attachment, if you will.
In the end, this subject could probably span a few more blog posts plus that dissertation I mentioned. I’m just trying to tap into what makes all characters—villains, heroes, and everything in between—lovable.
But in the end, it’s still an art, not a science.