Do Bigots Have to Be So Predictable?

After this week’s backlash to the EURO 2020 final and The Little Mermaid remake, it feels like we’re long overdue for a better class of racist asshole.

Mickey Desruisseaux

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Sports Illustrated / The Crowned Heart

As I continue my inexorable march to the grave, something I’ve tried to grapple with is the extent to which decades of pop culture consumption has impacted my development, and trying to deprogram its more pernicious effects. Sometimes those critiques are aimed internally, such as the way that (insert-royal-flush-of-descriptors-indicating-privilege-bingo-except-I’m-Black) men are conditioned to relate to or treat women. Sometimes they’re external, like the presumptive nigh-infallibility of the police.

But recently, I’ve hit on a new one: the idea that villains tend to have some redeeming factor, or otherwise attractive quality if they don’t.

Maybe they abide by a strict code of honor despite their villainy. Maybe they have a tragic backstory, or have been radicalized by historical abuses. Maybe their good intentions have taken them a few steps too far down the road to hell, or they’re acting out of a well-justified personal grudge against the protagonists. In the absence of these, maybe the villain in question is incredibly charismatic or intelligent. Maybe they’re genuinely dedicated to their plans or think quickly on their feet, or both. Maybe they can carry a tune, or are gifted musicians in their own right. Maybe they’re great fighters. Maybe they’re funny, as much as we don’t want to laugh. Maybe they don’t quit in the face of certain defeat. If all else fails, and even if it doesn’t, maybe they’re just smoldering hot.

Hoo! Lust and Lex Luthor; Lamborghini mercy.

But if you spend enough time bouncing around this or that fictional universe, sometimes you’re in for a rude awakening when you return to reality. Because then you have to realize that in our world, much more often than not, villains aren’t brilliant or bold, daring or debonair. They aren’t playing three-dimensional chess or always thinking ten steps ahead. Sometimes, they’re just greedy, or spiteful, or cruel, and lucky to have enough money, power, or…

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Mickey Desruisseaux

Scribbling at the intersection of race, law, politics, and pop culture. A monster of many words trying to be a man of all of them.