Evils of pure evil are always boring
The attraction of evil and criminal
Who wants Tom to catch his archenemy Jerry, who eats Coyote the Road Runner or Sauron destroys some annoying Elves? Without his opponents, what would James Bond be more than a dandy with expensive high-tech toys? I am certainly not alone with these thoughts. With this book I would like to invite you on a journey into the world of villains. I want to show you why bad guys are so important. There is also the question of why many villains are more personable than the heroes.
I was born in 1978 and grew up a television junkie. I grew up with the crime series of the 70s and 80s. Later I preferred to read books. In many of these crime stories, I found the criminal or perpetrator more interesting than the hero or investigator. That hasn't changed until today.
In this text I want to explain why the antagonist is often the more interesting character in many stories.
My text mainly relates to literature. There are several reasons for this:
We can talk more freely about fictional characters than we can about real people. This is especially true if they have committed crimes. Hardly anyone can talk about Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot without disgust. If you want to find out why people develop into mass murderers or dictators, at best you will be viewed as bizarre, at worst as a disguised sympathizer. Those who want to explain the evil are often suspected of excusing the evil. This applies, for example, to people who want to analyze the documents of well-known gunmen and possibly also publish them.
Another reason why I preferred fictional material for this study is that narration is the only art form in which we know all of a person's traits relevant to the story. I like to say, every story is fantasy. In every novel there is a self-contained world. There is only what has been described. What is not described does not exist either. The writer is forced to design all the important characters to such an extent that the reader can imagine them. Radio play, theater and filmmakers do that too, but never in as much detail as literature. This allows us as readers to fully penetrate a character. With a celebrity, we wouldn't be able to do this even if we knew everything that they said or was told about them. Even if we were her her brother, her mother, or her husband, we could never get as close to her as a writer to his characters. A person can look at himself least objectively. As a rule, we see ourselves as we want others to see us.
nevertheless, at one point or another I will refer to real people. Literature doesn't just look away from reality a lot. There is a subtle interaction. We may consider “Romeo and Juliet” to be absurd today. But the piece had a major impact on what is perceived as romantic today. Our image of the Indians, the Wild West, the Mafia and many other things has been significantly shaped by books and films. And much of it, in turn, has an effect on reality. Many mafiosi have copied their behavior from Mario Puzo's “The Godfather” and Goodfellas.
You can certainly reproach me for restricting myself here mainly to entertainment literature and television. The simple reason for this is that I am not familiar with the sophisticated literature. In addition, there are seldom antagonists in my sense of the word in high literature.
Why are you writing this text? Well, first of all, because I find the topic exciting and I hope that you feel the same way. But I also believe that it makes sense to talk about such things. It's about understanding why there are supporters of Hitler in Eastern Europe or Russia. Or why multiple murderers often get fan letters, while people who sacrifice themselves every day to do good might get one more choked in.
One last word about the terms used: I am not a Germanist and therefore do not know the subject-specific terms. I use some terms synonymously. The protagonist or hero is the actual main character as intended by the author. The antagonist is the opponent of the actual protagonist. Here, too, I use the terms antagonist, enemy, opponent and villain synonymously. The terms criminal and villain have a strong negative tint. They are not meant to be judgmental in this book, they are only used for illustrative purposes.
I also don't believe that there is evil in itself. There are people who act badly, but there is neither absolutely good nor absolutely bad.
Originally I wanted to publish this text as a small book. However, since I do not have the time to further develop the ideas, this text will remain a fragment. If you are bothered by errors in spelling, it is better not to read any further. The text is not structured logically or stringently organized.
Contents [hide table of contents]
The distorted reality
I read about films and books quite a lot and they don't really reflect reality. Artur Doyle has been accused of not depicting the London of his time realistically. Above all, there was hardly any poverty in what was then England. That's not entirely true, the first Sherlock Holmes novel already depicts the city's somewhat shabby neighborhoods. Holmes also works with street boys. On the other hand, Watson and Holmes are clearly recognizable as members of the upper class. At least they can afford servants, and Watson can even buy their own doctor's office. So if it's not directly related to the story, there is no point in going into the London situation.
But many critics fail to recognize that fictional materials are fictional materials. No author is able to fully represent the reality in our world for even a minute, especially since no reader would be interested in this detail. I always say boldly: Every fictional material is fantasy, no fairies or extraterrestrial beings have to be involved.
It doesn't matter how realistic an author wants to be. It can only ever represent a section of a complex reality. In addition, it is tied to the structure of the narrative. A story inevitably has to be told according to certain patterns, because otherwise we cannot do anything with it. On the other hand, this prevents a story from being realistic, because reality is in many ways opposed to the knitting patterns of stories.
So fiction is not a mirror of reality. But it's even more complicated: Fictional materials play a key role in how we perceive certain realities. Most of us don't know about how the Wild West is really true. We don't know how the mafia works either. We took most of our knowledge from novels, films and documentaries. What is described there does not have to have much to do with reality. This also applies to novels that claim to depict reality like Gomorrah.
To finally complicate the situation: fiction changes reality. Young soldiers imitate their heroes from war films and hold their weapons wrong. Witnesses believe crimes will be solved in the courtroom. Many Mafiosi are based on Don Corleone and Toni Soprano in their behavior. Last but not least, stories like Romeo and Juliet have had a major impact on what is perceived as romantic. So it's kind of true that fiction has something to do with reality. It is a complex interaction, with cause and effect often indistinguishable.
The aestheticization of the criminal
In certain genres of rap, crime and violence are glorified. The use of “explicit lyrics” is often used as a seal of approval. In Germany we have the advantage that we do not understand a large part of the poetry anyway, since the slang used is quite far from our school English. Nevertheless, the imprint "Explicit Lyrics" is considered a seal of approval among gangster rappers. You think you've done something wrong when it's missing.
The lifestyle is further propagated in the videos. It's about getting rich as quickly as possible, often through acts of violence, robbery, drug trafficking or pimping. A show of promiscuity is a part of good manners. Women appear only as sex objects or mothers. And going to prison as well as a death at a young age are part of it, according to the motto: no risk, no fun. It was not for nothing that the rapper “50 Cent” called an album “Get rich or die trying”. Countless rappers have actually died violent deaths at a young age.
The success of this music among white young people from the middle class is astonishing. Groups like Public Enemy or NWA propagate sometimes racist stereotypes.
Among many African Americans, it is not Martin Luther King but Malcolm X that is considered the true icon of the black emancipation movement. Malcom X was born into a poor family. After initial success at school and at work, he gradually sank into criminal activities. he worked as a burglar, pimp, drug dealer and thief.
One day he was sentenced to prison for theft. In prison he met the Nation of Islam. The NoI was one of many cults in the United States. It propagated a very idiosyncratic version of Islam and was aimed primarily at African-Americans. The NoI represented a racism directed against whites. Malcom X joined the NoI and quickly became an important member of the sect after his release from prison. He expanded the organization's communication. In prison, he had expanded his rhetorical talent and quickly became a sought-after speaker and interviewee. Unlike the civil rights movement under King, Malcom X believed that African Americans and white Americans should be separated from one another.
Crucial to the popularity of Malcom X was certainly his autobiography, edited posthumously by Alex Haley. While King grew up in a middle-class family and enjoyed a good education, Malcolm X got to know the lower class. He was closer to the life of the majority of African Americans. He knew how they live, think and speak. He was one of them, while Martin Luther King was more likely to reach white students and wealthier blacks. Many African American men have had a career path similar to that of Malcolm X, having experienced discrimination, police violence, prison and drug addiction.
King and X grew closer to each other towards the end of their lives. Martin Luther King clarifies in “Why we cant wait” why more had to be done against the poverty of African Americans. Malcolm X was expelled from the NoI and distanced himself from his racist and segregationist theses after a visit to Mecca.
Their violent death at a young age contributed to the popularity of the two so different people. Both were shot. In the case of Malcom X, the perpetrators were never arrested. It is interesting that although the two have become closer to each other, in the end the old image of them remained.
Malcolm X's résumé remains typical, especially for young African-American men.
The charm of the renegade
The 1968 movement, punks, skinheads - the 20th century demanded a lot from many parents, especially in the second half. And yet only a few seem to have understood what the appeal of these so different movements consisted of.
Adolescents seem to have resistance in their blood. Maybe it's just a constant in our genes. It is often the case that young people represent exactly the opposite of what their parents think is right. Papa chooses the left, then I go to the CDU. Mom doesn't like Turks, then I'll bring home a Turkish friend. Are your parents convinced vegans? Then I really eat meat.
Sometimes the mechanisms are actually that simple. The GDR, for example, displayed openness and tolerance, at least to the outside world. It is possible that this is precisely why many citizens of the new federal states have developed into conservatives or right-wingers. The GDR was therefore the father state in the worst sense and the citizens turned to what they had to perceive as the exact opposite of communism. We see this even more strongly in the Eastern European countries, whose communist regimes represented a similar ideology. Although there are hardly any immigrants from Asia or Africa in East Germany or the East European countries, there is the greatest rejection of legal immigration and great resentment against refugees from these regions. Or maybe there is because these countries have no experience with large groups of immigrants. In addition, these countries refuse to accept refugees. This is perhaps the greatest irony, because Poland, for example, has long benefited from the fact that its citizens immigrated to the EU or other western countries.
Much of the charm of antagonistic movements simply assumes that they are provocative. Skinheads as well as punks provoke through their behavior, their demeanor and their appearance. Her whole demeanor seems to say: I reject conventional society - and therefore you personally too.
Today it is hard to believe that Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or all of jazz were considered a provocation and challenge of the establishment at the time. They are as mainstream today as Ozzy Osborne or the Sex Pistols. This shows how quickly these currents can be economically absorbed. And that every generation develops its own antagonisms. As the teens grow up, of course, they take some of their tastes with them. But it's in the nature of things: No matter how much the Sex Pistols provoke today, if the parents think it's good, the children must think it's stupid. At the moment, gangster rap seems to be the number one source of provocation. The next generation will find their own antagonisms again.
It is also in the nature of things that the provocations must always increase. With Elvis Presley, a lascivious swing of the hips was enough. The punks and rockers pretended to be devil worshipers. In metal and rap, drastic ideas of violence or crime dominate. Marilyn Manson is, so to speak, the natural enhancement of Alice Cooper or KISS. It is difficult to imagine what will come after that.
The antagonistic group is of course self-contained. It distinguishes itself from the outside through language, style and behavior. And because the group members mainly deal with each other, the group feeling is strengthened internally and the demarcation from the outside.
If you look at the structure of such antagonistic movements, you will see that they are very similar to each other. Oddly enough, the group’s greatest enemies are often not the rejected group, but rather a competing group. Skinheads don't just hate foreigners. They hate leftists even more. Punks hate the conformist rockers. The anti-German left may detest the anti-Israel left more than the skinheads. The Greens detest the FDP most, and vice versa. This may be because the groups have problems differentiating themselves from another group that is very similar in structure and content. In addition, style elements are copied from one another. The skinhead culture originally comes from punk, which is more left-wing or anarchist. This goes so far that a right-wing man can in principle look exactly like a left-wing man today. He can have long hair, wear a Metallica shirt, protect the environment and fair trade, and he can be gay. however, he can dream of throwing all foreigners out of the country. At the demos it no longer makes any sense to distinguish between left-wing violent autonomous and right-wing violent autonomous. For different reasons, they want the same thing: to shorten as much as possible as quickly as possible. There is a charismatic leader in all groups. He makes the group feel safe and right. Young people in particular often want someone who can show them what is right and wrong. It shouldn't be the parents, but anyone else with the necessary authority and charisma is acceptable. That is why sectarian movements are particularly popular among young people, including the IS movement.
Patricia Cormwell created one of the most famous criminal portraits in literature with "The Talented Mr. Ripley".
Ripley is a petty criminal at the beginning of the book. But he has a special talent. He is able to disguise himself in such a way that he is also accepted in the higher circles of society.
the rich industrialist Greenleave sends Tom to Italy. He should see to it that his bohemian son Dickie returns to the USA. Dickie lives as a painter in a small Italian town with donations from his father.
Far from fulfilling his mission, Ripley quickly takes a liking to Dickie's lifestyle and begins to befriend him.He convinces Dickie, who initially rejects him, saying that they can make a good life with the money that Ripley receives from Dickie's father. He informs Dickie's father that he still wants to convince Dickie to return. He just needs more time.
At first Tom and Dickie get along well, but after a while Dickie is tired of Tom's attachment. It is suggested that Tom may be in love with Dickie, but Highsmith does not go into detail. Dickie finally asks Tom to find other friends. During a boat trip, Tom kills Dickie and sinks his body in the lake.
Then Tom takes on the role of dickies. He dresses like Dickie, dyes his hair and copies Dickie's behavior. Tom begins a bohemian life in Rome. He writes a suicide note to Dickie's girlfriend to keep her from investigating.
Things go well for a while, until one of Dickie's friends shows up in Rome. Tom is in danger of losing his dual role. He kills Dickie's friend and hides the body in a cemetery. The police question Tom, who pretends to be Dickie, about the death of Dickie's boyfriend and the whereabouts of Tom Ripley. The network around Tom is tightening.
Check frauds are also being exposed. Finally, Dickie's girlfriend turns up. Tom is forced to give up the dual role.
The story is told from Tom's perspective. But Tom is not really sympathetic to the reader. But you manage to identify with him. He escapes from a tight corset and experiences life as a bohemian.
A number of other books related to Tom Ripley have been published. In these books, Tom appears as a confident bohemian. That is also the central weakness of these novels. Since he only kills to maintain his scams and lifestyle, you don't develop sympathy for his behavior. He also kills criminals or other unsympathetic characters. So his crimes appear justified. Highsmith made it very easy for themselves. All of the acts in these books seem objectively justified. The ambivalence from "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is gone. After all, Dickie and his friend did not commit a crime. Thus the murder of them does not seem justified. This gives rise to ambivalence towards Tom Ripley.
Sherlock Holmes is certainly the figure who has developed the greatest life of his own in the history of literature. Hundreds of stories have been published by third party authors, and new ones are added every year. There are numerous film adaptations and television series.
Many of the characters that Doyle only briefly described have taken on a life of their own. The first to be mentioned is Professor Moriati, the congenial criminal counterpart of Sherlock Holmes. He only appears bodily in the story "The Last Problem", and is only mentioned in more detail in the novel "The Valley of Fear".
Moriati is a math professor who, as Doyle writes, gets on the wrong track because of inherited inclinations. He is a criminal genius responsible for almost all major crimes in the UK.
Holmes is on his heels, but cannot get hold of him. But then Moriati makes a tiny mistake. This mistake provides Holmes with the basis to arrest Moriati and his gang of criminals. Unfortunately, Doyle did not elaborate on Moriati's crimes or the cat-and-mouse game between the two geniuses. All of this is only hinted at.
The similarities between Holmes and Moriati are striking. Both outwardly and in their properties are similar.
Both have outstanding intellects. Both are energetic when it comes to a meaningful task from their point of view.
We like to see energy as a virtue. But energy can just as well be used for good as for bad, if we want to fall back on such mundane terms. Much of what the modern mafia does is not that different from what a company does. They keep records, they hire and fire people. You open up new business areas and no longer drop old ones that are lucrative. You develop new ideas and put projects into practice. This is by no means intended to be morally justified or morally equated. I just want to point out that the methodology is quite similar after all. Today, the various mafia groups are primarily trying to get into legal business.
The character of Holmes remains rather ambivalent in all of Doyle's stories. Yes, he solves the crimes. And yet, by and large, he remains aloof. At no point can you identify with him. In some stories like "Charles Augustus Milverton" he gets emotional. But he seems more self-righteous
The few places he becomes personable are those where he makes a fatal mistake. Examples are the orange pits or the dancing men. In both cases, he underestimates the criminals and his clients are killed by the criminals.
His cocaine addiction and manic depression also make him more human and were probably only introduced to give him a little humanity. Otherwise it would just stand there as a perfect thinking machine - and be as interesting as a piece of toast.
I like to see Moriati as part of Holmes' personality, the evil unconscious so to speak. It is certainly no coincidence that Freud's thesis about the unconscious also became popular during this period. The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The ugly evil
As recently as the 19th century, many people seem to have viewed skull measurements as serious research. At Doyle, the clients are mostly good-looking gentlemen, while the criminals can be recognized by their repulsive looks. Developing believable characters was generally not one of Doyle's strengths.
In modern crime novels this is usually avoided. It would also take away a lot of the tension if you could recognize the criminal by his appearance from the very first appearance. In addition, it is now common practice to introduce the figure of the perpetrator early on. A complete stranger is dramaturgically clumsy and does not satisfy the reader's expectations. Agatha Christie had a soft spot for handsome and outwardly charming criminals. In a way, she did the opposite of Doyle.
The noire story
In the noire story, the classic role distribution is partially dissolved: the protagonists only differ from the antagonists in that they are not caught. The protagonists use their assets or their social position to gain advantages at the expense of others. But society itself is corrupted through and through.
A classic example of this are the novels about the hardboiled detectives. Its best-known authors are certainly Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
Same Spade faces corrupt, unwilling or incompetent police. Therefore, he too has to break the rules sometimes, but only to restore justice. For the good, evil must never be an end in itself. On the other hand, the end justifies the means. Unfortunately, here too the authors have rarely been consistent. A just crime is basically not a crime if it is justified. But what if the crime is worse than the actual act? What happens when the righteous man himself dares to become judges and executioners? Such situations are only actually played out with series like “Breaking Bad”.
We find a modern variant of the noire in the thrillers by Jean-Christophe Grange. At Grange, the criminals are often high dignitaries. The policemen who solve the crimes use dubious methods for their part.
The just crime
Now there are crimes that appear to us to be just. In other words, it would be against the reader's sense of justice if the criminal were punished according to the law. On the other hand, it is difficult when the one crime is to be atoned for and the same act of another person is not. Authors resort to a simple trick here.
In the Sherlock Holmes stories we deal with such acts quite often. The criminals are terminally ill anyway, sincerely repent and will not benefit from their act, or they go to Africa and thus evade justice.
With Agatha Christie, it is often suicide that protects the perpetrators from punishment. Often enough, however, the perpetrators are simply let go. Not only is the detective private, but also his view of justice.
A slightly different caliber are the stories about Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton. Brown clears up the crimes by putting himself in the role of the perpetrator. He says that with a certain mental attitude and under certain circumstances, he might have committed the crime himself. As a priest, he sees his task primarily in making the perpetrator repent. It is up to God to judge people. With a few exceptions, no earthly justice judges the perpetrators in his cases.
The mafia movie
A niche within the crime film is the mafia story. The best-known example is certainly “The Godfather” and the subsequent books by Mario Puzo.
Puzo represents the idealized life of several generations of a mafia family.
We do not know to what extent Puzo's portrayal of the Italian-American mafia corresponded to the reality of the time. But it certainly influenced the perception of the Mafia. I wouldn't be surprised if it had influenced the mafia's aesthetics and self-perception.
We find a more realistic representation in the series "The Sopranos". Tony Soprano is a family man. At the beginning of the series, he struggles with anxiety disorders, which is why he see a psychologist. At the same time he is pursuing his crimes. He betrays his wife and has problems with his children. He kills several people from other mafia clans. He also kills traitors or people who could be dangerous to him. The series ends with him killing one of the main characters, his cousin. The cousin is a choleric and his drug addiction risks putting the organization at risk. At the same time he is a good friend of his.
Soprano is a classic example of an ambivalent and broken figure: on the one hand, he is a more or less caring family man. His problems with his wife and children, as well as his psychological problems, will be familiar to all of us. On the other hand, he doesn't hesitate to kill other people if they get in his way.
Unsurprisingly, shows like “Breaking Bad” or “The Sopranos” never made it to a mass audience. It is true that they have significantly changed and upgraded the aesthetics of television. In the 70s and into the 90s, television was more of a dead end for talented actors, and storytelling was rather underdeveloped. Series like "Matlock", "Magnum", "Simon & Simon" were, as the name suggests, tailored to the protagonists. The storytelling was underdeveloped and the main focus was on the interaction of the main characters.
Today it is rather the other way round: Hollywood's blog buster are all structured according to the same scheme. Except for prominent actors, bombastic effects and large marketing budgets, they have little to offer. Hollywood, with a few exceptions, does not dare to experiment either.
The journey of the anti-hero
Anyone who has dealt with the storytelling traditions has certainly heard of the hero's journey. According to research by the mythologist Joseph Campbell, the hero's journey is a classic pattern according to which many, if not all mythical narratives are structured. Many stories from books and films are based on this scheme. Most of the fantasy epics of high fantasy such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings or Tad Williams' Osten-ARD-Saga are based on this scheme.
The hero is introduced, his life is portrayed. Often he is a young person whose personality is not yet established.
The protagonist receives a call to change his life or leave his accustomed world. However, he refuses.
But his world is destroyed or is in great danger. Reluctantly, he searches for the cause.
On his often literal, sometimes only metaphorical journey, he encounters different people and challenges. He often succeeds, sometimes he fails. But he gains new skills and gradually matures.
He gains a decisive advantage. Now he is ready to face the enemy. Alternatively it can also happen that after he has won an important battle he finds himself in a hopeless situation. He and with him everyone who is close to him, often the whole world, threatens to fall under the spell of the enemy.
The enemy is defeated against all expectations. Mostly one of the virtues that the hero has acquired in the course of his journey is decisive here.
The hero returns to his old life in maturity or he begins a new life in maturity.
There are interesting deviations from this scheme: in The Lord of the Rings Frodo hesitates last when he is supposed to throw the ring into the fire in order to break Sauron's power. In fact, it is Gollum who ultimately destroys the ring, albeit inadvertently. Frodo almost fell under the power of the ring in the end. Gollum attacked him and bit Frodo's finger off together with the ring. Delighted to have his treasure back, gollum fell into the fire and destroyed the ring. This makes Gollum, what many Lord of the Rings fans are not aware of, the savior of Middle-earth.
Gollum has also been drawn very ambiguously. While all other figures can be clearly classified according to the good-evil scheme, Gollum is always ambivalent. For example, he helps Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor. He also seems to be establishing a positive relationship with Frodo. Today one would speak of a case of schizophrenia. He wavered between old Smeagol, his old life, his addiction to the ring, and his devotion to evil.
The hero's journey scheme is not static. There can be deviations. But since it is also used to build tension, it is often used that way.
The anti-hero's journey is similar. A classic example of this is "The Count of Monte Christo" by Alexandre Dumas.
The main protagonist is the seaman Edmund Dantes. He is a young, personable man on the way to start a successful life with a beautiful woman. But he is betrayed several times and ends up in prison.
Dontess manages to get a great fortune. He returns as Count of Monte Christo and begins to take revenge on the people who betrayed him. He systematically ruins them.
But one day an accident happens. A boy who has nothing to do with betraying Dontess is poisoned by one of his ruse.
Dontess finally abandons his plans for revenge and starts a new life. We find a similar scheme in Star Wars at Annekin Skywalker.
So this is the anti-hero's journey.
The anti-hero is introduced.
His life is being destroyed by his enemies. He has to flee, goes to jail or falls into depression.
He gains new skills that enable him to take revenge on his captors. His enemies are themselves captured and ruined. Sometimes they see their misconduct and apologize to him. They are changing their lives.
The hero destroys his captors or he forgives them. He is building a new life. Alternatively, the antihero can also die. We rarely find the case that the antihero continues his criminal life as usual. That would contradict the moral feeling of the reader.
“The Lord of the Rings” has undoubtedly become one of the cult books. From today's perspective, however, it is a weak piece of literature. The main antagonist, Sauron, literally remains in the shadows. You hardly learn anything about him. Except for the hobbits, the heroes remain rather aloof. Nobody would want to have a beer with Gandalf or Aragorn. The hobbits are more personable than the people. Most people are too virtuous to be likable. Only the elves are worse.
At the same time, the hobbits remain helpless and childlike. They accept the story but never take the initiative themselves. Only at the end, when they recapture the Shire, do they develop their own initiative.
But the most interesting figure only appears as a shadow. It is noteworthy that Sauron does not speak a single time in the books. Tolkien went to little trouble drawing the enemies in detail.
Both Sauron and Saruman are fallen. Sarumman was originally a wizard like Gandalf. The council's job was to protect Middle-earth from the bad guys. But Sauron is seduced and Saruman believes he can outsmart Sauron by obtaining the mighty ring for himself.
It remains a mystery why Tolkien does not allow Sauron to have his say while Saruman is depicted at length in several dialogues.
The fascination of evil
Well-known villains also enjoy particular popularity beyond the fantasy worlds.Serial killers are often reported receiving love letters and marriage offers. Many women - and not only they - find the daring daredevil more interesting than the solid accountant.
Tension, sympathy, identification
I have identified three central aspects. They can all appear together, but they don't have to.
We can find a character exciting. We do not like to accept that a criminal commits his deeds out of sheer malice. That's too flat nowadays. Instead, we want to know more about his motives. And we expect his motives to be conclusive to us. That doesn't mean we have to find it right. Unfortunately, this is often mixed up. Finding a motif comprehensible does not mean agreeing to the motive or the action.
We can feel sympathy for both the protagonist and the antagonist. With most crime novels, we don't know who the perpetrator is. To make this clear from the start would rob the thriller of much of its attractiveness.
A character can be sympathetic to us without us finding it exciting. One example is the Spaceship Enterprise - The Next Century series. The makers made the main characters rather flat and boring. Many are personable, but at the same time totally boring. They are developed and morally charged. This makes the plot predictable, especially in the first few seasons.
Last but not least, we can identify with characters without finding them exciting or likeable. This applies to Kurt Wallander, for example, the main character of Henning Mankell Wallander is a curious, withdrawn, aging policeman. We can identify with him because we know many of his problems: loneliness, relationship and health problems, pessimism and so on. At the same time, he is at least a little unappealing to us. Maybe we don't like his eternal melancholy. Or maybe it reminds us of our own weaknesses.
It is not exciting in that sense because we know that it will solve the case, not die and also not lean towards evil. Wallander does not develop further in the course of the novels either.
We feel the same way with other, similarly positioned characters: Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti is not really popular. there is no further development in him. This also applies to Roy by Peter James or David Hunter by Simon Beckett. It is probably no coincidence that all three - Peter James, Simon Beckett, and Donna Leon - are considered bad writers. They resort to a very limited repertoire of storytelling techniques. Their characters are all flat and one-sided and therefore predictable. They seem to construct their books according to a modular principle, so that in the end you no longer remember which novel you have already read.
Allegedly, Christie should not have known who would be the culprit in some of her crime novels. If that's true, it allowed her to develop the characters the way she wanted them to be. As an author, you have the advantage that you can always adapt the narrative so that it fits any ending.
Few detective stories devote a lot of attention to the perpetrator's motive. Money, power, or sex - or all three - are sufficient motives. Mental backgrounds do not matter. The reader should despise the perpetrator as much as possible because of his low motivation.
The stories about Father Brown by Gilbert K. Chesterton are an exception. Brown is a Catholic priest. He solves criminal cases less by meticulously looking for clues, but rather by putting himself in the shoes of the perpetrator. Its aim is not to bring the perpetrator to worldly punishment. Rather, he wants the perpetrator to sincerely repent.
The gentleman criminal
The gentleman criminal commits his crimes in order to enrich himself. But the challenge attracts him more than the profit.
The gentleman does not kill or hurt any of the good guys. He only damages things where it is necessary to achieve his goal. He does not achieve his goals through violence, but through skill, a talent for speech and charm.
There are countless examples of this: Hercule Flambeua at Chesterton, Harry from Mord is her hobby, Victor Hugeney from the Three Question Marks. Remington Steele, the main character in the American series of the same name, originally wanted to steal the diamonds that his future partner Laura Hold was supposed to protect. Steele's dubious past is a constant theme in the series.
Here we also find a typical narrative topos: The transformation of the criminal into a hero. Flambeau does not become a criminal through Father Brown. They start solving crimes instead of committing them. They are helped by their skills from their criminal days.
Crime as art
The gentleman criminals view their crimes less morally. Your complex plans are more like works of art.
Robin Hood is certainly the most sympathetic criminal in Western history. Whether he actually existed is just as questionable as his true behavior. Didn't he steal from rich people and keep the profits for himself? Or even simpler: robbed the poor, he must have gotten much easier to get at them. We'll probably never know.
Through the numerous stories and film adaptations, Hood has developed a life of its own.
We find a similar figure in the works of the Turkish writer Yasar Kemal. His best-known work "Memet, mein Falke" revolves around a poor farmer's son. The big landowner exploits the peasants. Memet flees into the mountains and begins a campaign against the large landowner.
It is true that they rebel against the existing order. But, at least from our point of view, this order is deeply unfair.
The criminal genius
There are not a few films in which the perpetrator is more intelligent than his captor. In practically all James Bond films, the antagonist develops an elaborate plan to gain world domination, a great fortune, or something like that. In order to implement this plan, he must be excellent at planning. He has to invest money, manage resources and attract and control suitable employees. In other words, he does project management.
The protagonist has the comparatively simple task of thwarting these plans and arresting the perpetrator. Bond has access to the resources of the secret service as well as the developments of the tinkerer Q. All Bond has to do is decipher the plan, which is much easier than developing the plan.
In some stories, the genius' abilities are even more evident. “Othello” is less about Othello, which can be manipulated with ease. Othello is a tragic figure: instead of trusting his wife, he let himself be manipulated. He appears driven. The real main character in the play is Jago. Iago is certainly not a sympathetic show companion. Nevertheless, he is the real driver of the story.
The charm of the renegade
Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevara and even Lenin and Stalin are not only popular among the left. Mao is probably the most bloodthirsty dictator in world history. He conquered the state of Tibet. The cultural revolution and the great leap forward are said to be responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. Castro has introduced a comprehensive health system and among the Latin American countries there is hardly a people with a better education. At the same time, he has imprisoned thousands of his critics, suppressed freedom of expression and prevented the country from meaningful modernization. Lenin and Stalin removed the blossoms of democracy in their country. Stalin has become proverbial for the term totalitarianism.
Nevertheless, we will find many positive voices about these people, especially among left-wing intellectuals. It's time to do a little research into the root cause.
One important reason is actually the rhetoric of the dictators. He may be a bastard, but he's our bastard. In practice there is no difference between right and left authoritarian rule. But during the East-West conflict, many states positioned themselves on the side of the western or eastern bloc. For this they received not only verbal applause from the respective side. They also received economic aid and developed trade relations.
Most of the Latin American states were ruled by military dictatorships from the 1960s to the 1980s. The names are often little known: Pinochet, Stroessner. We know better Alliende, Peron, Daniel Ortega. It is probably no coincidence that these are all icons of the left.
We find a similar picture in Africa: Lumumba, Nkrumah. Some potentates like Robert Mugabe, Hugo Chavez and his successor Maduro still cultivate anti-imperealist rhetoric to this day. And get applause from leftists as they ruin their country. I would say that, apart from experts, hardly anyone would know the names of the heads of state in rather insignificant countries such as Bolivia, Equador or Canada if it were not for left-wing governments with anti-colonial rhetoric.
The renegades are also popular in literature and film: The aim here is to actively or passively resist society by violating conventions. Bud Spencer and Terrence Hill, for example, do nothing else in their joint films.
The renegade's charm is primarily based on the fact that he carelessly ignores all conventions. He doesn't care what is expected of him. He's the kid we all would like to be on occasion.
The mighty has no respect for the powerless. But when the powerless has no respect for the mighty, we admire it.
The doer and the thinker
A philosophy professor is not a philosopher. That's what one of my philosophy professors said in a moody moment. Nor is a revolution theorist a revolutionary. Political revolution is not brought about by thinking about it. It is not brought about by writing about it. Nor is it brought about by talking about it. A political revolution requires action.
the second reason renegades are often admired is because they act rather than just talk. For us desk people it is always fascinating to see that others don't stop at reading and writing. How many of us would actually give up our own lives to implement even the most social idea? Talking and doing nothing else is much more convenient.
Surely you have people in your circle of acquaintances who stubbornly hold on to an idea that you yourself consider stupid. Meat is healthy, refugees are criminals, there was no moon landing. But the stubbornness that annoys our friends is good for others. "Here I stand, I can't help it." This requires a high degree of idealism, self-confidence and tenacity. That is the third reason we admire the renegades.
This quality is especially admired when the vast majority disagrees. The mainstream has long fallen into disrepute. But there is undoubtedly a majority opinion. And it is precisely there that the Antis are admirable. Incidentally, we can of course also admire the resistance of people who disagree with us.
We may find this mirror image on the right side of the political spectrum. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with this spectrum.
An admirable figure is the do-not-good, who likes to violate current conventions. My favorite example of this is q from the Star Trek universe.
Q is a being that is endowed with extraordinary abilities. He can create his own realities and move people there.
While he still takes on a god-like role at the beginning of the series and wants to judge humanity, he later becomes the antagonist of the main character Jean Luc Picard. Where Picard is ascetic, strict and rational, Q is hedonistic, spontaneous and unpredictable.
Q is not a criminal or a villain in our sense of the word. He is more like a teenager who is bored and experimenting with ants or other small animals.
The criminal without qualities
Authors go to great lengths to ensure that there is no connection between reader and perpetrator. Especially in thrillers such as the "Lincoln Rhyme" series by Jeffery Deaver, the perpetrators only develop enough profile that their act is justified from their point of view. This is partly due to the genre. It is true that the act or its preparation is also described from the perspective of the perpetrator. But just enough is revealed that the tension is increased. To reveal too much information about the perpetrator or the background would destroy the thrill.
But we also find the figure of the fascinating perpetrator in Deaver. The watchmaker finds Rhyme on a complex crime. Rhyme can prevent the crime, but the perpetrator escapes. Rhyme secretly admires the perpetrator, the hit man Gerald Duncan. For his part, Duncan is intrigued by Rhyme. Duncan also plays a key or supporting role in several later books about Rhyme.
The fascination of evil
There are probably few people in world history about whom more was published than about Adolf Hitler. Books about the National Socialists could fill an entire library.
But where does the fascination with Hitler come from? Much less literature has appeared on Mao and Stalin in the German and English-speaking areas.
The best known aspect of Hitler is surely the hatred of the Jews. Anti-Semitism was firmly rooted in all states at the time. But even though Hitler's plans were more or less known, even the German Jews did not believe that he would implement them.
Another aspect is Hitler's almost effortless seizure of power. It is, of course, partly based on the weakness of the young Weimar democracy. Nevertheless: Germany was already a stable state at that time. Unlike in pro-revolutionary China or Russia, the greatest pessimist would probably not have believed that democratic institutions could be levered out so easily.
The third aspect is Hitler's ability to win over the masses almost effortlessly. The speeches, the mass marches, the propaganda were polished. Stalin and Mao ruled primarily through fear and violence. Of course, both have also relied on mass propaganda and personality cults. But nobody shaped the charismatic form of rule like Hitler, with the possible exception of Mussolini. Hitler was able to make perfect use of radio and film, which were new media at the time.
The question remains how a person with a rather low level of education and manageable talents could develop these skills. Of course, Hitler had access to people who could ideally support his projects. But the choice of employees for such crucial posts is also an important skill. You have to know whether the person is reliable, whether he is following instructions and can act independently, and so on. Without management experience, this is certainly not a trivial task.
But it seems reasonable to assume that even the almost unimaginable evil arouses a certain fascination. Hitler built what is surely the largest organizational apparatus in the world, the only task of which was the internment and murder of people. He has taken the administration, one of the oldest instruments of the state, and used its logic to collect and transport people and to lock them up in labor camps and destroy them. It is the perfection of evil, there is no other way to describe it.
Hitler's propaganda in particular is more or less unconsciously a role model to this day. The terrorist organization Islamic State has a public relations department, the professionalism of which some companies could be jealous of. Your videos and other messages are not produced on the side. Rather, there is a sophisticated strategy. It is precisely defined what, when and for whom is published. The content is created by professionals. The recruitment of new followers is also professionalized and tailored to the respective target group. Financial resources are also raised professionally. In this regard, IS does not work much differently than any company or other organization.
The appeal of fundamentalism
Two precisely opposing trends can be observed in many religions: Christianity in Western Europe is becoming more and more liberal. The Catholic Church would hardly have accepted homosexuality 30 years ago. Today it is at least tolerated.
But there is also a counter-movement: This is how the stricter evangelical churches in Germany have gained a foothold. They often come from the USA and Germany is an attractive field of activity for them. You can collect Christians who are repulsed by the liberality of the churches.
A second important group for them are people in search of meaning. Radical movements are particularly attractive for people who do not have a solid view of the world. It often seems to depend on chance whether you tend to join the autonomists, the anti-Germans, the anarchists, the skinheads or another group. Often it is groups that are rejected by their own parents. If the parents are more conservative, rebellious adolescents tend to tend to the left and vice versa. But that's not a constant.But what makes the fundamentalists so attractive?
First of all, there is the attractiveness of a group to lonely people. The village community no longer exists. The big city is anonymous and cold. Many people find it difficult to make friends. In the group you will find what you will not find anywhere else: warmth, cohesion, self-affirmation and acceptance. As long as they stick to the rules.
The seekers of meaning look for answers to their questions. The fundamentalists offer them a perhaps complex but manageable set of rules and a closed worldview. They have an answer to all questions. And this answer is always correct and unambiguous. Of course, only within the framework of this set of rules.
The group relieves the member of the responsibility to make their own decisions. Parents used to say what to work, whom to marry and where to live. Today we have so many options that we cannot make up our minds. whoever decides must take responsibility. And many of us don't want that. Nobody wants to be responsible for a wrong decision. If the group makes the decision, it is responsible. It is then something like fate. That went stupid, but I have no control over it.
Most, but not all, groups have a charismatic leader at the top. He is very attractive to his followers. It is not uncommon for a group to break up after its leader dies or disappears. His successors may have the same instruments of rule as him. But they lack the attraction so that they cannot convince the followers.
There also seems to be a certain type of person for whom strict rules are very attractive. They feel that they are in bad hands in a liberal society. The stricter the rules and the stronger the surveillance, the more comfortable they feel. Such people are often drawn to the armed forces. It is not for nothing that all armies are a prime example of discipline and order. Everything is taken care of: the order of precedence, the clothes, the hairstyle, even the way a bed is made. The day is well organized. Do what your supervisor says, no questions need to be asked.
We find something similar in many religious sects, guerrilla movements or terrorist organizations.
The attractiveness of conspiracy theories
Conspiracy theories have always existed. However, thanks to the Internet and, above all, networks such as Facebook, they have gained enormous popularity. Theorists used to sit alone at home and maybe read books. Today they exchange information millions of times over the Internet. There is a typical effect for closed groups: The birds grow more and more into their own world. They confirm each other in their worldview. This strengthens the group's sense of community. At the same time, the view narrows. Alternative views are no longer perceived or simply negated.
The attractiveness of conspiracy theories is based primarily on the fact that they greatly simplify a complex world and encapsulate it in a simple explanatory pattern. It is easier to believe that the Freemasons want to usurp world domination instead of looking at the world for what it is. This does not contradict the fact that conspiracy horias can themselves be very complex.
The boredom of the good
Sometimes the good guys are so good that you wish the bad guys won. This applies, for example, to the books for young people from the 1980s. Who would not have wished that Tarzan from TKKG would finally be beaten up properly? Or that the coyote caught the roadrunner? Or that Tomm eats up Jerry?
When characters are too perfect, they soon get on our nerves. Perfect people are something for the cover art of magazines. But just a show of righteousness quickly appears artificial and implausible. It does not provide a starting point for curiosity, interest, sympathy or identification. What should you do with someone who is always right, who never makes a mistake, and who never offers a reason to criticize them?
It's a dignified boredom that we also find in the thrillers by Tom Clancy or in Chuck Norris in Walker Texas Ranger.
We find a somewhat confusing constellation in the series “The A-Team”. The protagonists are former Vietnam veterans. They are charged with a crime that they did not commit. That is why they are being followed by the military police, but also by the local police. They act as Robin Hoods, helping people who are threatened by unscrupulous criminals.
It is precisely through their renegotiation that the four win the audience's sympathy. It is true that they constantly break the rules of the state. But they only do this to fight evil and restore justice.
We find this kind of rebellion a thousand times over in society. Jesus himself rebelled against the priesthood - a priesthood that bears fatal resemblance to today's church. Martin Luther owes his following not least to his rebellion against established structures: "Here I stand, I can't help it." Among many poorer Afro-Americans, the rhetorically skilful and recalcitrant Malcolm X is far more an icon than his more cantilevered and more cooperative counterpart Martin Luther King.
And we find this rebelliousness even today in people who could hardly be more established: All protest parties of all political directions stage themselves as rebels against the elites or against an alleged mainstream. In their opinion, if they are not opposed by the state and rejected by the mainstream media, they must have done something wrong.
From snow white to princess and back
Very often personal development is intertwined with the development of a story. That is why we often find teenagers or young adults as heroes. You are rather naive and immature at the beginning of the story. In the end, they not only saved themselves, but matured into useful members of society.
Less common, but also popular, is the story of a sinner who is converted. We find that in the film Sister Act, for example. Whoopi Gooldberg plays a worn-out singer. Through her life in the monastery, she gradually turns into a reliable person.
however, the reverse is rather rare. But we also find him, but rather in a supporting role.
Sauron and Saruman, the two villains from the Lord of the Rings, are also fallen angels.
Breaking Bad shows the case of a chemistry teacher.
The Wire is considered by critics to be one of the best series in the world. There the life of the different protagonists is presented realistically. That includes the police officers, the criminals, the drug addicts. A realistic picture of the city of Baltimore and thus also of American society is drawn. It is perhaps the only series that portrays every perspective. Other series are content to depict one side or the other. The Wire lets all sides have their say.
"A Song of Ice and Fire", better known as "Game of Thrones", works in a similar way. GOT lives from two main aspects: George Martin takes an unmistakable pleasure in letting his main characters die. The reader can never know if each character will survive. On the other hand, many characters are drawn very ambiguously. In the books, each episode is described from the perspective of a different character. As a result, the reader's view of different characters changes over the course of the story. Above all, the Lannisters appear at the beginning as unscrupulous people of power. You are ready to do anything to take power. Only later is the story told from their perspective, so that many events appear in a different light in retrospect.
An evil act can appear legitimate if it is told through the eyes of the perpetrator. The worse authors in particular shy away from examining the motifs from the perpetrator's point of view.
Predictability makes you unattractive
If something is too good to be true, it probably isn't true. Most of us feel some discomfort when dealing with people who are too perfect. They are either saints. Then they are superior to us. Or cheaters, then we have to be careful of them.
And in fact, if you take a closer look, you find that there is not so much to the myth. Gandhi, for example, was a charismatic leader. At the same time, many of his ideas were impractical.
Well, so they're not saints. But that also makes them more human.
But in this motif we also find the reason why many protagonists are not sympathetic. You are too predictable. It is clear that they will not take a bribe, commit fraud and that they will not crowd in the supermarket.
And who wouldn’t want to beat up Aragorn if he’s once again uttering some lofty nonsense? The language itself is so obscure that he apparently lacks humor.
All options for action are open to evil at any time: He can act evil because it serves his purposes or corresponds to his nature. He can do good because it serves his purposes or because he may have a conscience after all. The bad guy is always more ambivalent than the good guy. That's why it's always more exciting.
The causes of evil
Nobody cares about the motive of the good. We simply assume that a person behaves virtuously because it corresponds to his nature. However, it is different with evil. Here we want to know what the cause is. Even the worst crime writer tries to give his perpetrator a coherent motive.
It looks a little different with the bloody thrillers, which spill over to us mainly from the USA or Scandinavia. Jo Nesbo, James Patterson and Co. are the culprits naturally evil. Evil doesn't need an explanation, it's just part of those stories.
But these books leave us unsatisfied with no explanation of the causes. In Stephen King's horror novels, evil is mostly supernatural. There is therefore no need for an explanation. But in most blood thrillers, the perpetrators are people. And humans are seldom inherently bad. That is why we want to know what drives their actions.
The good needs the bad
In order for the good to define itself, it needs the bad. What would Gandalf and Aragorn be without Sauron? A couple of boring philistines without a home. Finally, it is also noticeable that Tolkien called his epic “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Lord of the rings”. That gentleman is Sauron. He created the one ring and with it all the other ring bearers except for the three elven rings. So Tolkien named the story after the arch villain and not after one of the protagonists or something similar. Although Tolkien may have had little sympathy for Sauron, he knew that Sauron was driving the story forward, in fact making it possible in the first place.
Without George W. Bush, nobody in this country would know Michael Moore. James Bond would be a boring dandy without his enemies. Without his clever contraparts, Sherlock Holmes would sink into a coke-fogged depression.
In reality, too, there is much to be said for such constellations: Nobody in this country would know Michael Moore if George W. Bush had not become president in 2001. Many potentates of any political color derive their legitimacy from an enemy image. Often it is a state, but they prefer personified enemies. They are not much more uncomfortable than a globally popular president like Obama or Bill Clinton. They are much more difficult to build up as enemy images than George W. Bush or Donald Trump, who have triggered many protests even in their own country.
The aesthetics of violence
The past 20 years have seen a glut of books and films with high blood factor. Examples include James Patterson, Jo Nesbo, Patricia Cormwell and many more. There are essentially two basic directions:
The series of murders is mostly about a single person who commits several bloody and brutal murders. The investigator (s) are trying to catch the killer using their own methods. A classic of this literature is "The Silence of the Lambs" by Thomas Harris. Since Agatha Christie at the latest, series of murders have been an integral part of crime fiction. But with Christie, the actual act, the painful death and the pleasure of the victim's death were never in the foreground. That has changed in the current thrillers. Mention should be made of Jo Nesbo, Cody McFayden, James Patterson, Patricia Cormwell and many more.
The second type of bloody spectacle is found mainly in thrillers and action films. Large numbers of people are killed, and the blood flows hectares by the hour. These massacres serve here as a stylistic element to depict the brutal reality. Here, too, we find many examples: The books by the author duo Preston / Child James Rollins,
What is astonishing here is that the books do find a mass audience. 30 years ago they might have received an FSK approval from the age of 18 or would not have even been on the market because of their brutality. Today they are on the bestseller pile in every bookstore.
This may also be due to the fact that the violence is described, but not really made explicit. Many people are violently killed. However, these many deaths are presented less drastically than the murders in many novels about serial killers. In the case of Jo Nesbo or James Patterson, fewer people are usually murdered. But their murder and the brutality of the perpetrator are shown much more vividly. With Preston / Child or James Rollins, the violence looks more like the violence from a comic.
In addition, there may have been a time when the murder itself was viewed similarly. It was only with the introduction of detective novels that murder became part of the repertoire of literature. While Sherlock Holmes often does not have murders at all, they are standard with Agatha Christie and the other authors of the golden age of crime. It is noticeable that the process of dying is seldom portrayed or described. Nowadays, more murders seem to be happening on television than in real life. No television thriller can do without a corpse.
On the one hand, the attraction lies in itself. A bank robbery, blackmail, even rape can be compensated for or the victim can learn to live with it. Murder is irreversible. It cannot be offset or reversed by anything.
In addition, of course, there is the question of whether the one murder will remain. Anyone who has murdered before could do it again at any time. In reality, most murders are committed with affect, and most murderers stick with that one act. But in this as in many points, the crime thriller has little in common with reality.
It is also important that the highly competent investigators should not be preoccupied with succinct crimes. Hercule Poirot is looking for a bank clearer? Hardly anyone can imagine that. Nothing goes under murder. And of course the murder cannot be profane. It must be an enigmatic or a burtal crime. While the puzzle structure still dominates in the Whodonit crime novels, it is more the brutality today.
The seriousness of the fact corresponds to the pressure on the investigators. The perpetrator could strike again at any time. On the one hand, of course, the act itself must be punished in order to restore justice, at least in part. On the other hand, the murderer must also be prevented from committing further acts.
But why are we fascinated by these orgies of violence?
There are several possible explanations. Violence has its own aesthetic. Anyone who enjoys watching action films will confirm that. Nothing else happens but houses, cars or other things explode. With a lot of effort, something like a plausible story can be discerned between the explosions and stunts.
In addition, there is a piece of the self-made man in all action films: a relatively normal person like you and me stand alone against the army or against injustice. It's the old David versus Goliath game.
The more brutal, the more admirable the courage that the opponents have to show in order to go into battle anyway.
The pure brutality of a pure serial killer also seems to trigger a certain fascination. Some deeds are as heavily coreographed as the fight scenes from the Chinese martial arts films. Anyone who reads this voluntarily needs above all good nerves. Or he has to find it extremely exciting.
Of course, the authors are also in an escalation spiral. The serial killers have to become more and more brutal, the murders and mutilations more and more bizarre and the motifs more and more exotic. Like every genre, at some point the limit of good taste is exceeded to such an extent that it is either no longer acceptable or it is simply unrealistic.
Have you ever wished you could look over the shoulder of a serial killer? Rather not. Such people may be fascinating in a way. But they are probably not sympathetic contemporaries, and they usually do not invite witnesses either.
But when it comes to literature, we can let our voyeurism run wild.We sit with the figures at the dining table, in front of the television or lie in bed with them.
Precisely because we are sitting in the comfortable security of our home and know that serial murders are rare, we can sit back and relax while reading these novels.
A classic element of voltage build-up is suspense, that is, delay. We know what the perpetrator did. And we're excited to see what the perpetrator will do next. And every brutal act needs to be intensified.
Last but not least, the question remains how the relatives and the investigators will react to the brutality of the perpetrator. In a series, the reader often develops a relationship with the characters after a certain amount of time. Of course, it is then exciting to see how they react to such developments and what they will do.
The ingenious criminal
The fascination of Jack the Ripper has not diminished to this day. Countless stories have recorded his story. Numerous non-fiction books speculate about identity to this day. Thanks to genetic testing, it is quite possible that we will find out his identity one day after all.
A real media phenomenon at the time was Dagobert. Dagobert blackmailed the Karstadt department store group. I still remember today how we sat intently in front of the television and wondered what coup he would be up to next.
As a reader and viewer, I have always assumed that a story is being driven forward by the protagonist. This is often the case in novels. In fact, many stories are only about the hero to a small extent. The hero is thrown from his usual path by an antagonist or an event. Without this trigger, he might have lived his life forever as before.
Therefore, the story inevitably needs to cover this trigger extensively as well. In many stories, therefore, it is not the hero but the trigger or the antagonist that is in the foreground. Only towards the end - if at all - does the hero take an active part. He acts and stops receiving treatment. The hunted becomes a hunter, the victim becomes a hero.
This is very evident in crime novels and fantasy stories. The build-up of tension requires the opponent to appear overpowering right up to the end. Has the crime been resolved in the first chapter, the villain defeated or the alcoholic illness cured, what else interesting things should happen in the next 967 pages?
The charm of the powerless
In fantasy epics in particular, the authors tend to create a David versus Goliath situation. On one side is the small, almost powerless protagonist. He is undoubtedly morally superior, but he is poor, has only very inferior troops or, more rarely, does not have the intelligence of his opponent. The enemy, for his part, has practically unlimited resources. Although or because he is morally inferior, he has superior financial resources, armed forces, or a sharper intellect. We see that in “Lord of the Rings”, “Star Wars” and a thousand other stories.
We seem to have a deep need for such situations. We like the boy who punched himself from the bottom up like Rocky in the film series of the same name. Or the beating victim who one day rebels against his captors. Or the soccer team from the regional league that defeated the Bundesliga club.
The exciting thing is that there is basically no clear trend. The stories about the rags-to-riches who become millionaires are particularly popular in the United States. However, if you take a closer look, it often turns out that there is a lot wrong with the story. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Sergei Brien studied at the best universities in the USA. Where Jobs and Gates are celebrated as shining role models, there are thousands of similarly talented people who have faced less favorable circumstances or who may simply have been less fortunate or less unscrupulous. Nobody knows their names, because historiography is only interested in the successful.
The deeper you have sunk, the more radiant the ascent appears. Some readers may remember the television duel between Gerhard Schröder and Edmund Stoiber. There was a point where they both vied about which of them had had a harder childhood. Above all, this should show people from the lower classes two things: We know how you are and you can do it if you try hard (and are as great as we are, that was the subtext). We also find this motif in the collective memory of the West. Above all, the sinner and persecutor of Christians should be mentioned here. He changed to the church father Paul. Jesus himself also paid special attention to those who have fallen or have fallen deep: thieves or prostitutes, for example.
Evil as fine art
The English essayist Thomas De Quincy is best known as the author of the "Confessions of an English Opium Eater". A lesser-known essay deals with "Mort as Fine Art". In an extensive appendix he described the murder of an English family.
Another attempt to make the incomprehensible understandable was Truman Capote's “Cold Blood”. In this report, Capote describes the murder of an entire family in book form. He not only describes the family and their environment as usual. He also went to great lengths to put himself in the shoes of the murderers. He describes their situation, their dreams and also their feelings when they are in prison. To this day, Capote is accused by critics of sympathizing with the murderers. This may also be due to the fact that “In Cold Blood” appeared only a few years after the murder. So there was no real time lag between the act and Capote's book. But it may also have played a role that Capote had an eccentric lifestyle. In addition, he is said to have been homosexual, which was not accepted in the 60s. Perhaps - that's my guess - what Capote wanted most of all was to understand how people come to commit such an act.
The problem still exists today. Anyone who deals in detail with young men running amok, and above all with their biographies, automatically falls into the role of apologist or killer understanding. It is obvious that we have to understand what is going on in these people in order to prevent such acts in the future.
But it is also clear that such biographies are attractive to certain groups of people. One could speak of a Werther effect. Goethe's “Werther” is said to have triggered a series of suicides at the time. It is still true today that the reporting and aestheticization of suicides in books and films can lead to a significant increase in the number of suicides. This is currently being hotly debated because of the film adaptation of the book “Dead Girls Don't Lie”. The author Jay Asher depicts the suicide of a young person in this book. She was bullied and raped and takes revenge on the people she blames for her suicide with her suicide and taped charges. The book and especially the series are accused of aestheticizing suicide. The drastic depiction of suicide in particular could encourage acts of imitation. Something similar is suspected of books about terrorist attacks or rampages. This is especially true when they are portrayed from the perspective of the perpetrator.
The charm of the inferior
The basic theme "David versus Goliath" keeps coming back. On one side there is a faceless, overpowering enemy. On the other side is a likable, somehow awkward and yet radiant hero. Visually, we primarily perceive size as a ratio. When I stand next to my little nephew, I look like a giant. If I stand next to a basketball player, I look like a dwarf. The smaller one often automatically appears more vulnerable and in need of help. Inferiority in this sense often leads to sympathy with the inferior.
We often find this motif in fantasy stories. As an example, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings or Star Trek are mentioned here.
We find such stories again and again in reality. The old woman whose house is being taken from the big bank. The small state that is occupied by the large state or the authority that denies the applicant an important matter. We find this scheme thousands of times in every newspaper. While “victim” is a dirty word in some schoolyards, many people, organizations, and even parties try to portray themselves as such. There is always someone who sees it that way.
Finally: the hunger for solutions
Our hunger for stories is based on finding solutions to complex problems. Every novel, every short story and every episode is a little fantasy world. It is self-contained and logical. Even if not everyone falls into each other's arms in the end, every important question is answered in the end. The circle is complete. Our hunger for solutions is satisfied.
How difficult is reality then? As I write this, former carer Niels H. is accused of being responsible for the deaths of more than 80 people. They were people who had done nothing to him. They were people to take care of. Why did he kill these people? Does he consider himself an instrument of God? Is he a pathological killer? Did he take up the job of caretaker to commit murders?
These and dozens of other questions are buzzing through my head. And I'll probably never get an answer.
In this book I switched back and forth quite freely between fictional and real events and characters. I wanted to show that there are a lot of cross-connections. But of course there are also limits. The limit begins where we can no longer solve the puzzles. The authors are kind enough to explain everything plausibly. But nobody can give us a plausible explanation for violence, hatred and aggressiveness in reality.
Perhaps we humans are designed in such a way that we always want a plausible answer to our questions. Maybe that's why we love stories that are often more brutal than reality. Because no matter how brutal something is, at the end of the story, justice is restored in one form or another. In reality, unfortunately, the opposite is often the case. Maybe we like fictional stories precisely because stories are often an attempt to order the world and to fulfill our sense of justice.
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