Okay, so I’m currently in the midst of yet another weird crush in my long list of weird crushes.
The Joker should NOT be attractive to me in the slightest. And throughout the movie, I didn’t even romantically think about Arthur Fleck. It wasn’t until the character destroyed everything/everyone close to him and donned the now-famous makeup and suit that I found myself questioning something.
Why do I always find the villain attractive?
No really. Joker is now on the same list as Kylo Ren, Lestat, Dracula, and Nick Cage in Face Off. Okay, so the last one I KNOW is weird. But why do so many of us find the villain attractive?
There are three kinds of villains: absolute evil, redeemable evil, and accidental evil. The first is someone like The Devil. He’s attractive only because he represents a kind of abandon we sometimes wish we could get away with.
The third, accidental evil, is the character that is a villain just because of who they are, or the position they happen to hold. Maybe they’re the CEO of a company that’s killing honeybees. These characters aren’t often bad people, just in a position to do harm, and as such, they aren’t particularly attractive or compelling beyond our need to stop them.
The second, redeemable evil, is the most attractive. This is the character who we feel connected to, even though they may do terrible things because we see in them our own flaws, or the potential for their redemption under the right circumstances, or both. The connection we feel to this character makes them the most attractive and compelling of villains.
Whether the villain redeems themselves (Snape) or doesn’t (Thanos), we feel the connection all the same. Many of these characters are extremely powerful people who are using their power inappropriately, so we feel the draw of the absolute evil character, and yet we can relate. As a writer, I’m prone to prefer these kinds of villains in my fiction.
Adam Cole, Author & Jazz Musician.
I think, for me, it’s the redemption that so many villains face (in this case, Adam’s note on the 2nd type of villain). They’re usually teetering on the edge of true evil, or risking it all to come back to reality. We see it so often with the likes of Anne Rice’s vampires, the vampires in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and even Kylo Ren. There HAS to be a reasoning behind the love we have for these characters, after all, Reylo exists for a reason, right?
Shadow Confrontation is a concept coined by psychiatrist Carl Jung, who believed that we all have a “shadow self”, an aspect of our personality that we push away and hide from others.
“Healthy confrontation with our shadow selves can unearth new strengths (e.g., Bruce Wayne creating his Dark Knight persona to fight crime), whereas unhealthy attempts at confrontation may involve dwelling on or unleashing the worst parts of ourselves (as the Joker tries to get Batman and Harvey Dent to do in The Dark Knight)”
Could it be that our shadow selves relate to the villain? It would make sense that we can’t put a finger on why we find them attractive and highlights that in some way we relate to the aspects of the villain’s personality, no matter how deep those aspects are within ourselves…
Our attraction to the villain could also include an aspect of wish fulfilment. Sigmund Freud once noted that human nature is inherently anti-social and undisciplined, which is driven by the id’s pleasure principle. Once we develop our ego and therefore self-control, we push the id’s demand for pleasure further and further away. Once we’re greeted by something (or someone) that represents that pleasure, we become confused at why we root for them and even fall for them. Again, this could explain why we can’t “put a finger” on the attraction of our favourite villains.
Based on my experiences in the field, I believe that we are drawn to the villains in novels and movies because we identify with some of the dark parts of their character on either a conscious or subconscious level. Every single person is complex and multi-faceted- we all have good and bad qualities-, but most of us choose to behave in a socially appropriate way.
Most of us would rather shove down feelings of jealousy or rage because we believe that they are “bad” feelings and we judge ourselves when we act on them.
Damia December, Registered Behavior Technician & founder/ owner of healme.nyc.
On the flip side of this, behaviourist B.F.Skinner would probably argue that the villain represents desire in it’s most carnal form. Usually, we’re unsure as to why the villain acts the way they do, or what their motives are. It’s a way of saying that the villain rewards himself for rewarding sake, something we’ve all wanted to do at one point or another…
After speaking to Aimee Daramus, Psy.D, a licensed clinical psychologist, she brought up this interesting point about our attraction to villains:
It’s about playing with our own dark side. Who would you be if you were a villain? What if there was someone with basically the same personality that you have, but taken to dark extremes? That’s the dynamic between Batman and the Joker, Harry and Voldemort, or Sherlock and Moriarty. We revel in them because they are us, but without social restraints.
It’s also about the relationship between fear and pleasure… A lot of the things we most enjoy also make us nervous. Being scared is, surprisingly, more than just a survival instinct. From a first date to a roller coaster ride, a lot of our joys in life involve a little fear. A villain who is attractive, fun, and also a bit scary, is compelling because of that dynamic between fear and fun. Fear involves some powerful brain chemicals, such as adrenaline and endorphins. Adrenaline is a stimulant, and endorphins are opiates produced in the brain.
It’s also about power. A lot of people have had experiences in which they felt helpless. It feels good to play with what we might do if we had the power to change that situation, or if we knew a villain who did! Clarice Starling, in Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, found that Hannibal Lecter, one of the scariest villains ever, defended her when she needed it.
Finally, villains and monsters are often outsiders. If you’ve ever felt like an outsider, you might be drawn to others who are, especially when they make that look good.
Villains who are outsiders, like vampires and other classic movie monsters, might be lonely and tragic figures who understand your pain, but it doesn’t stop them from being powerful, funny, and maybe a little sexy.
I loved her take on this topic, and for me what stood out is her idea that we revel in both the hero and the villain. After all, how can there be a villain without an avenging opposite? It makes sense that these characters hold for us different aspects of our personalities, whether they’re dormant or not. I guess it also doesn’t help that a lot of actors who play villains are just beautiful…