It’s time to end your “villain arc”

Enya Eettickal, Staff Writer

There is no one who can catch my attention faster than a good villain. Whether it’s the Joker, Darth Vader, Shigaraki or Pain, I find myself periodically rooting for these villains, even when the chaos they cause is a constant detriment to the hero’s goals. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one. There are so many of us who adore the villains from our favorite stories and pieces of media. But while I understand why we love these characters so much, I’ve noticed a recent trend that I understand a bit less: people adapting a ‘villainous’ outlook into their own life. At first, I thought this was an internet phenomena, and limited my worries as such. But once I saw people begin to internalize the concept of becoming a villain in real life, I’ve found it to be a bit problematic. We shouldn’t over-romanticize villains in people’s daily lives. I think it’s time we break down why it’s happening, why it’s a problem and what changes should be made. 

I think it’s important we start by defining what exactly a villain is. The general definition of a villain is someone in media who defies societal norms and acts in their own interest and in line with their own, often skewed, moral compass. There is also an assumed criminality to villainy, but that isn’t always the case. However, I think the truest and simplest definition of a villain is someone who acts in opposition to the protagonist, or “the hero,” of the story. That’s it. While this is a simple and effective definition, I think it is particularly important to also consider the public interpretation of what “villains” look like, as the term has several connotations. Both definitions will be referred to throughout my article. 

Truthfully, it has never been surprising to me how much people adore villains. Audiences find themselves empathizing with villains, particularly with the qualities of having been deeply harmed or cast out by others. Rather than suffering in silence at the hands of society, these villains act out on their pain and seek retribution or individual justice. In the real world, people cannot seek this type of retributive justice for themselves, so they enjoy it vicariously through villains. That impulse in a vacuum is fine. However, things go too far when people try to become the villains they enjoy. 

When people do so, they usually disregard the nuance and diversity among villains in media when it comes to trying to “be one” in real life. While some fictional villains have troubling and heart-wrenching origin stories, some villains are just selfish for the sake of it. Not all villains have a good backstory, and not all villains have swagger and style in the ways they perform their villainy. As I previously stated, a villain is simply someone who opposes the hero. The strength and individuality that people associate with villains and try to emulate are not exclusive to them. At the same time, being villainous—when one is in opposition to order and societal standards—does not inherently make someone cool. 

Furthermore, being a villain is just not viable or practical in day-to-day life. The reason why villains are so loved in many stories is because we get an in-depth view of the villain’s backstory, giving them time to develop a relatable rapport with the audience. This storytelling does not exist in real life. People do not have these sort of clear motivations in real life, and even if they did, their criminal actions will not be accepted by society at large. This is why villains are not as adored in real life as they are in fiction—the context in which they exist is important to why we can excuse their actions. 

The other major issue with trying to be “villainous” in real life is the way that it manifests. Villains in the media are often overtaking cities or engaging in dramatic battles to gain power or achieve their goals. That is not feasible for most everyday people, and so “acts of villainy” end up being scaled down. While some acts may actually be rebellious or defiant of government rules or expectations, most acts of everyday “villainy” are instances where people will rebel or defy social systems they are a part of, whether in friend groups, academic settings or even professional settings. It’s important to remember here that people love villains for their defiance of the status quo and want to emulate them to seek justice for the pain they’ve endured. So often when I hear people say they “have entered their villain arc” or have “become the villain” in the context of their social systems, it just means that they are drawing boundaries or cutting ties from unhealthy relationships. This is a wonderful thing to do, but the issue comes with tying it to an act of “villainy.” This creates a false dichotomy. People who want to draw healthy boundaries shouldn’t be forced into the image of a “villain.”

There was a period of time last year when life got pretty tough, and on top of that, I felt particularly scorned by people in my social circle. For a bit, I too had thought about “my villain arc” as a means of bouncing back from the struggle. But after assessing it for a little bit, I realized how ridiculous it sounded. 

I didn’t need to be a villain to develop the tenacity to advocate for myself or to reject social expectations on my personality—I just had to be myself. No one else should’ve been able to convince me that I was a villain for reevaluating my inner circle or drawing boundaries, so I certainly should not have been tying myself to that descriptor either. And that’s probably the best solution to this issue. We just need to accept that there are rarely ever villains in real life, and the ones that do appear are certainly far from likable. So for all the “aspiring villains” out there, take some time to reassess what it is exactly about villains you want to adapt into your own lives. I’m sure you will find that there is a huge opportunity for growth.