Tags:
  1. R-e-n-n-a-t
    Offline

    R-e-n-n-a-t Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2010
    Messages:
    265
    Likes Received:
    2

    The "evil genius" stigma

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by R-e-n-n-a-t, Dec 17, 2010.

    I've seen a few pieces of scripture where the excuse for why the antag is evil is just "Well, he's really smart..." and then they go on to list various fake-sounding ideas about why that makes the antag evil.

    To be clear, being smart doesn't make people evil, it modifies their perception of evil, to the realization that there is no evil. There are merely conflicting views, and some insane people who have lost rational thought. There are many different views, usually relating to what people believe they need to protect. Synonymous with evil would be narcissism, which is pretty much what Stalin subscribed to. He thought that his views were more important than those of other people, and punished them brutally to remain in power. This is a minor facet of insanity. Hitler, on the other hand, was delusional, believing that he was helping more than he was hurting. in Mein Kampf, he even references himself as doing "god's work". Ultimately, definitions of right and wrong can be whittled down to personal beliefs in a functioning society.

    An evil anatgonist is likely either consumed with the belief of their importance, possibly without even realizing it, or they merely have an opposite goal to the protagonist. For example; in WWI (not WWII) neither Germany nor Britain was right or wrong. They were both defending their interests.
     
  2. FrankABlissett
    Offline

    FrankABlissett Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2008
    Messages:
    422
    Likes Received:
    22
    Location:
    Sault, Michigan
    Agreed regarding intelligence not creating evil.

    I would say that it's often a matter of greed (either for money or power). The genius archetype can, the idea would be, use their smarts to be successful in their schemes where lesser men would flounder.

    It can be countered that a smart man would also note the risks of failure and could come to philosophical truths about the nature of success and happiness, thereby avoiding becoming evil.

    Matters are complicated when super-smart people come to power, make much needed changes, then over-stay their welcome. While I don't know how smart he is, Robert Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, comes to mind.

    "...An evil anatgonist is likely either consumed with the belief of their importance, possibly without even realizing it..."
    Spot on here. It's one thing to be smart, but it's nearly impossible to recognize the limits of one's intelligence.

    -Frank
     
  3. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    However if they are evil genius as opposed to protagonist - it does imply they are intelligent and evil.
     
  4. Evelyanin
    Offline

    Evelyanin Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2009
    Messages:
    160
    Likes Received:
    10
    The whole idea of genius=evil does have some truth to it. After all, it didn't just pop out of nowhere.

    You are right in saying that being smart doesn't make someone evil. That's like saying that having a lot of money makes you evil. Rather, its the obsession of money that can lead people to do some pretty evil things.

    If someone is blessed with an extremely high IQ, it tends to go to their head a little. They might get arrogant, and start feeling all high and mighty. This happens to the best of us.

    Perhaps your best friend is stuck in the parking lot and can't figure out why the vehicle won't move. You kindly take off the parking brake, and chide them with a, "Come on, you should have known how to do that! How on earth did you get your drivers licence?" Your friend turns red with embarrassment, and you snicker softly to yourself, smiling at your friend's stupidity.

    Now say you were so kind as to be really nice about it. You would still feel pretty good about yourself, knowing that you knew something your friend didn't.

    This is in itself not evil. You are allowed to know more than your friend. However, arrogance can quickly lead to evil. The idea that you are better than the rest of the world can make you do some pretty mean things.

    Now about this "realization that there is no evil" thing. If there is no evil, there is no good. After all, evil is the lack of good. Being so "smart" to the point where you believe there is no evil is cutting it dangerously close to becoming a jerk. It's going to be really hard to do good when you don't believe in it.

    The "smart" people who do believe in evil, are capable of doing good. They see evil, do the opposite, and turn out to be the kind of people you want as your friend.

    Just a reminder to those who don't know yet, but I am the kind of person who believes that there is no gray, just black and white, so feel free to disagree with anything I said. :)
     
  5. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    what do you mean by 'scripture' which usually refers to the bible?

    are you referring to 'scripts' as in screenplays?... or what?
     
  6. TokyoVigilante
    Offline

    TokyoVigilante Member

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2010
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Canada
    People with high IQs aren't nessecarily full of themselves, it's just that they have trouble socialising with people of more average intelligence; and unless there are already shared interests, it's not much different then a high school teacher having to be best friends with a fourth grader. The experience and intelligence just leaves such a gap that it's hard to relate.
     
  7. Allegro Van Kiddo
    Offline

    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2010
    Messages:
    566
    Likes Received:
    20
    I'm not religious but always been interested in the subject, just to clarify. In the Bible Jesus notes that having a mind of a child is the best wat to be. Thus being an intelligent and skeptical person is not the way to be. Maybe that's where the evil genius stems from.

    But in real life I can see some truth. For instance, there's the term "sheeple" which is a combo of sheep and people. That's use contemptuously by people who believe they see reality and trickery much better than average people. If the smart person observed correctly, there's two ways to go. The first is to feel sorry for the sheeple and the second is to feel contempt.

    If one had power to wield it might be easy to smack aside those you believe don't understand and that would be most of humanity.
     
  8. Evelyanin
    Offline

    Evelyanin Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2009
    Messages:
    160
    Likes Received:
    10
    True, saying that anyone with a high IQ is destined to be evil would be nothing less than placing people in a box. Everyone is different, and there are will always be someone who breaks the "rule".

    Look at it this way. A dumb criminal isn't going to last very long in the outside world. There are a lot of smart police officers out there that make sure of that. If you google the subject, you'll find that there are lots of stories about 'dumb' criminals.

    Now look at the major criminals out in the world today. The reason they are so successful is because they are smart. So is a good villain going to be a smart villain? Definitely. Of course, if you tend to write humorous stories, a dumb villain can be more fun (Home Alone anyone?).


    I also wanted to expand a bit on what Allegro said. The reason Jesus wants us to be like children is because children are dependent and trusting. He wants us to trust him, and depend on him like a child. Many people come to a point in their lives where they feel that they are in control. They think they are smart enough to handle their own lives. They think they don't need God. So after they erase God from the picture, who is left? Themselves. Though they may not do it mentally, they now put themselves where God is supposed to be.

    There is a good reason why humans aren't gods. We'd make a big mess of things. Don't deny it. Even the gods in the myths we've made up can't get it right. After someone puts themselves in the god position, they are not responsible to any higher authority. They are now in control of their own moral code. And that's where our villains come from.

    Not every "smart" person turns out evil though. Far from it. Some have such low self esteems that they stay where they are. Others let God keep control. Still others don't let it get to their heads. They consider others more important than themselves. The reasons why can be as numerous as the people themselves.

    So just to sum it all up: A villain is going to be smart, and if he isn't, you're probably writing a comedy. :)
     
  9. JeffS65
    Offline

    JeffS65 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2009
    Messages:
    297
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    Chicagoland
    Evil exists not because of one thing but a number of circumstances. If you read about serial killers, you find that there are commonalities of broken homes, higher IQ (not genius), abused as a child, familial psychiatric history and a number of other things. These things create an evil narcissism as a result and narcissism is itself not a cause.

    So, it is a group of circumstances. Those things may or may not produce an evil person but it appears those common items often exist. Granted, the reference to serial killers has more to define it, such as more often it is white males too, but it give a sense of what can create evil and that evil comes from a fairly complex situation.

    I think this is important for writers to know the depth of what creates an evil character. If you focus on one aspect, then you end up creating a cardboard cut-out of a character and not an authentic, viable antagonist.
     
  10. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    I don't think that's exactly what he met. :rolleyes:

    Intelligence doesn't equal evil, and it doesn't mean that you can see that evil doesn't exist. All intelligence is in the scheme of evilness is another factor that can be abused. It's no different than wealth or power; it can and often does corrupt. But being smart and being rich are not something that MAKE you evil.

    And I'd argue as smart as an evil genius is, if they were really smart, they'd be good. :p
     
  11. Newfable
    Offline

    Newfable Senior Member

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2010
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    California
    Good points all, save for this. Narcissism isn’t synonymous with evil, it’s synonymous with pride, being boastful, vanity, and such. Narcissism has absolutely nothing to do with the concept of evil, save for that it’s a fairly common trait amongst classical antagonists.
     
  12. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,723
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    Here's another way to look at it.

    In America, at least, we have a tradition that says all men are created equal, and this leads us to celebrate heroes who come from humble roots, heroes without the advantages of high intelligence or education or noble birth or anything of the sort. We like the Horatio Alger stories - young people pulling themselves out of poverty to success by dint of hard work, pluck, and courage. We want to believe that heroes can arise from people just like us, without the benefit of higher education (which, for much of the history of America, hasn't been readily available to most) or even high intelligence.

    This celebration of the "common man" as hero has a flipside, and that is the distrust, even denigration, of the "elite man". The elite man in the popular mind is the man of privilege, and we conflate that with education, and high intelligence.

    Carrying this a little further, we note that the common man earns his living by physical labor; he gets dirty and sweaty and exhausted and feels, at the end of a working day, that he's earned an honest day's wages. He doesn't trust those elite men in the offices who never mine a single pound of ore and never lay a single brick and get their hands dirty. The common man's muscles are his meal ticket, and he celebrates physical strength over mental acuity.

    This carries over into American higher education. Americans celebrate sports to the degree that even universities seem to be more like football teams with academic requirements than academic institutions that happen to have football teams. The captain of the football team has far higher status than the student with excellent grades. The football coach gets paid as much as fifty professors or more.

    This has manifested itself in comic books, where the heroes are muscular and super-strong, but have normal intelligence (or even sub-normal, in cases like the Hulk). Their foils, naturally, are the geniuses. Superman defeats Lex Luthor or Brainiac as a comic-book projection of the way the football players have greater status than the academic stars at the universities.

    In America, we celebrate muscle and spit on brains. That seems democratic. To us, celebrating brains is elitist. So in American pop culture, if someone's a genius, he's very likely evil, and exists to be defeated by the brawny-but-uneducated good guy.
     
  13. R-e-n-n-a-t
    Offline

    R-e-n-n-a-t Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2010
    Messages:
    265
    Likes Received:
    2
    For example, just because I don't believe in an absolute good or evil with no gray areas, doesn't mean that I'm going to start randomly being a jerk. I have a moral code; the only difference between us, Evelyanin, is that you believe that one moral code is true, and I believe that no single moral code is correct in all cases.

    Back to the subject, I created this thread merely to state that if an antagonist is very intelligent, it's not so simple as him turning evil because of an IQ. Some people have thought that.

    And when I said scripture, I wasn't referencing the bible directly; I just meant anything that had been written. Perhaps my definition is incorrect...

    EDIT: Minstrel, that's as good of an explanation as I've ever heard. That seems very likely.
    Newfable, I agree with you upon reflection. Narcissism isn't evil, and I more specifically meant that when people often think someone is evil, it may be narcissism at work.
     
  14. Allegro Van Kiddo
    Offline

    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2010
    Messages:
    566
    Likes Received:
    20
    Don't roll your eyes at me young man ;)

    I think if you read the portion of the Bible where Jesus says that, you'll see what I mean.

    It's not uncommon in religions to say that one's ego can get in the way of the extreme faith needed to believe supernatural material. Thus, a person who thinks "scientifically" (observation only) would have trouble with faith, whereas a childlike mentality has no problem believing fantastic stories.
     
  15. R-e-n-n-a-t
    Offline

    R-e-n-n-a-t Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2010
    Messages:
    265
    Likes Received:
    2
    Can we please let this thread die now? It kind of overshot the intended mark. Now it has bible stuff, and definitions of morality... I was just clarifying that most antags should have a deeper reason for being the antagonist. I wasn't trying to start a morality debate.
     
  16. Allegro Van Kiddo
    Offline

    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2010
    Messages:
    566
    Likes Received:
    20
    As I pointed out, I was speaking about "The Bible" as a cultural referrence point. There's been countless aspects of the "messiah" concept used in many stories such as Dune and the Matrix series. So, it's a valid subject of discussion, in my opinion.

    Sorry it made you uncomfortable.
     
  17. cmcpress
    Offline

    cmcpress Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2010
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    London, England
    "There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so" - Shakespeare.

    Would be quite hard to discuss why genius' are portrayed as evil without discussing what evil actually is.

    Back to the Original Post:

    There are plenty of examples of intelligent people who live moral or humane lives - The Dalai Lama springs to mind - just that these kinds of people don't often make great characters. It's better from a dramatic context to portray these types as conflicted.

    I think it's more a question of drama (drama is conflict after all), if the evil antagonist is stupid then he would be easily overcome. Create a super evil genius then not only does it mean that the hero is tested, but that he has overcome immeasurable odds and it makes it a more satisfying conclusion.

    There are quite a few genius level people who are portrayed as heroes - Doc Savage, Professor Xavier, Fox Mulder, Shine, John Forbes Nash...
     
  18. cmcpress
    Offline

    cmcpress Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2010
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    London, England
    I agree with you in part - but i think that the idea of the normal hero is found in all cultures other than American. Remember American culture is not the only culture in the world :p

    Arguably Superman has above average intelligence - he is a reporter and a straight A student.

    I think the idea of the normal character - the everyman - is so that the reader can identify with them. The reader lives vicariously through the everyman, and in the way the everyman overcomes insurmountable odds, so too can the reader.
     
  19. Allegro Van Kiddo
    Offline

    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2010
    Messages:
    566
    Likes Received:
    20
    In real life, someone like the scientist Tesla was very much a genius and missed many opportunities to get rich from his inventions but was not focused on gain. He even said that he avoided marriage to help humanity with his ideas.

    Superman is a great example as is Batman, where genius is arguably a superpower of his.
     
  20. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    I know what portion of the Bible you're talking about and again, I don't think that's quite what he was getting at. And yes, I will roll my eyes. :p :rolleyes:

    But we'll save the theological discussions for later. :p
     
  21. J_Jammer
    Offline

    J_Jammer Banned

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2010
    Messages:
    323
    Likes Received:
    4
    Geniuses can be evil because some think they know it all.

    No one knows it all. Hence, pride cometh before the fall. Which is why evil geniuses never win.
     

Share This Page