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Making Evil Good is Blunt Fudge

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, March 17, 2018
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Earlier today Ozoneocean made a pretty interesting post at Facebook, regarding how demons are depicted in modern culture as opposed to how they were earlier, and especially what they symbolized in western culture: they are now generally depicted as sexy, good, glittering, or misunderstood. If they are doing negative things it's mostly on the level of a self centered, spoiled child that just needs to be taught manners or ‘find love’ that will showcase how good they really are.

It's a kind of retcon, of turning old symbols of vices and evil, scourges of the human condition that had to be dealt with into something that is to be tolerated at worst and lived with and loved at best. That's why vampires now glitter and marry their food, Maleficent is the one that kissed Sleeping Beauty awake and broke her own curse and zombies make for good boyfriends.

Sometimes, this suversion works, creating staple works of narrative art, such as Wicked which deals with the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz, showing her to be a completely different (and sympathetic, and good) character as opposed to how the character had been originally conceived (brutish and villainous).


Most usually though, it doesn't. And the reason for it is that evil entities of the common western culture held the audiences' interest for eons exactly because they symbolize things that we struggle with within us and around us. They were relevant exactly because they tapped upon this common struggle that transcends cultures. When a narrative takes away these elements to make the characters more sympathetic, it also takes away this visceral connection with the audience. The stakes are never going to be as high, and thus the end result is blunt, and often murky- because when the nature of a creature is undermined it stops making sense within the story.

Mind you- a character that is trying to go against their nature as an evil creature isn't fudged or blunt. The same struggle mentioned earlier still exists, but this time it's just regarding the individual vs. his/her own self, rather than individual vs. villain.

Also, reimagining a creature like that with different rules can be pretty successful- provided there's a reason, a narrative reason behind the reimagining and a rebuilding of the world around the creature accordingly to make sense. If a vampire is conceived to be different than the classic human hunter after blood, then society shouldn't fear that vampire for that reason. Something else has to be what society fears that kind of vampire for- OR a reason for the misconception enduring has to be given, good enough that it is convincing in context with the time frame, technology and prevalence of the creature.

But to simply bend a time-old concept out of shape without any narrative purpose that will make sense is just bad writing. And it shows.

What's your opinion? Did I forget any important aspects for or against this premise?

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usedbooks at 2:47PM, March 18, 2018

I just watched that movie. XD

ghostrunner at 12:33PM, March 18, 2018

i tend to think humanity needs recognizable enemies - [Lawrence Woolsey describes his movie-making philosophy] Lawrence Woolsey : A zillion years ago, a guy's living in a cave. He goes out one day, Bam! He gets chased by a mammoth. Now he's scared to death, but he gets away. And when it's all over with, he feels great. Gene Loomis : Well yeah, 'cause he's still living. Lawrence Woolsey : Yeah, but he knows he is. And he feels it. So he goes home, back to the cave, the first thing he does, [Waving his hand on a brick wall to show cave-drawing of Woolly Mammoth] Lawrence Woolsey : ... he does a drawing of the mammoth. And he thinks, "People are coming to see this. Let's make it good. Let's make the teeth real long, and the eyes real mean." [Animated sequence of roaring Woolly Mammoth, squashed at end by Woolsey's hand] Lawrence Woolsey : Boom! The first monster movie. That's probably why I still do it. You make the teeth as big as you want, then you kill it off, everything's ok

Amelius at 11:34AM, March 18, 2018

Aaah I should not post when I'm depressed, sorry about all that! Though I should clarify what I meant with "The idea that evil can be subjective", I meant in the context of between differing beliefs. People have a justification for everything, and disagreements on what truly defines "evil", whether we are using it in a dogmatic sense or not. There's also a lot of things people perceive as old "truths" that have modern, political origins.

mks_monsters at 8:56AM, March 18, 2018

That, usedbooks, and at the end of the day, every person (human or not) has the ability to choose. Who's to say that they have to be in complete submission to their culture or upbringing? Why not have an elf/dwarf/troll/orc/harpy/zombie/etc. who questions their people's traditions, starts social revolutions or converts? Human characters do it all the time! And personally, I find the best stories are about the free thinkers. What's the point of making someone an individual if they have no sense of individuality? Or a reason behind that which makes them good, evil or just plain deep?

KAM at 5:33AM, March 18, 2018

Look up a recent anime called High School DxD. A series filled with hot demon babes who aren't very evil. The Japanese take the Christian idea of demons and look at it through their culture, which produce some different takes on the old roles. Years ago I watched an anime about a nice guy who was destined to become the demon king and in the final episode he fights God... Well, not THE god, more like A god. I was a bit baffled at first, then realized that the Japanese have a different way of looking at these things as opposed to someone raised as a Christian.

KAM at 5:26AM, March 18, 2018

I think there are several factors at work. 1. A thing is considered "Always Chaotic Evil!" and someone says, "Always?" and writes something that looks at it from a different POV. 2. People who had problems with the religion they were raised in, write something that twists what they were taught. 3. I think specifically for the whole recent good demons thing, a large chunk of the blame falls on Japanese manga/anime. ;-)

ozoneocean at 3:02PM, March 17, 2018

Yeah, the Greek Daemons were a different thing... Demons owe their name origin to them but not their form, 2000 years of culture counts. They're as Tantz describes. But that doesn't matter for your work (as Tantz also says) because you've redefined the context they exist in. You don't say "Hey, listen up people! All demons are good now, kay?, rather you have specifically designed a world where intelligent, thoughtful, self determining demons make sense and fit. You are doing things the right way! ^_^

usedbooks at 12:23PM, March 17, 2018

Also, one thing I do enjoy in terms of "monster" stories is one of fantasy realism. It turns the fantasy into an unexplained science fiction. A wormhole opens and very strange things are within. It's not "Hell" but it's another plane of existence, so the rules/morals will be different. Or a virus is spreading that makes the infected need to consume blood and are allergic to sunlight. Or maybe it's the side-effect of a new antidepressant. It's fantasy/horror but resting on the edge of sci-fi.

usedbooks at 12:16PM, March 17, 2018

Yeah, I don't go for the good-evil thing either or any kind of determinism. I do enjoy stories (usually sci-fi) with beings who have an entirely different set of morals and ethics, but they are not evil for it. If a race of beings view humans as pest insects with no value or even self-awareness, which should be either enslaved or exterminated, that's not evil. It's interesting. The point of view is valid. Look at that destructive invasive species.

mks_monsters at 10:46AM, March 17, 2018

Between you and me, usedbooks, I never liked the idea of someone being automatically anything let alone good or bad simply by their race. While I kind of make the exception with angels, gods, devils and demons for the most part because of religious reasons (hence why I also leave them out of my writing), for everything else, I prefer the route of everyone chooses who they want to be in EVERY way.

usedbooks at 10:06AM, March 17, 2018

I like the reformed vampires of Disc World. They are in a version of AA, and most of them have had to replace their blood obsession with a different obsession (coffee, photography, etc.).

Banes at 9:36AM, March 17, 2018

The greasers who were scary in older fiction, and in the 50's, eventually morphed into the cuddly Fonz in Happy Days. And the scary Universal Monsters in the old movies eventually became The Munsters. I still like a scary beast in fiction - fascinating article!

Banes at 9:34AM, March 17, 2018

I wanted to write a movie along these lines, called "I was a teenage The Blob".

Tantz_Aerine at 9:31AM, March 17, 2018

On the Daemon thing: There are a lot of books and versions on what it means, what it represents and how far back it goes. What I said is simply what it was in the ancient greek religion (which wasn't scripture based) and how the etymology goes. That was the original take. Afterwards though, even before christianity, pretty much everyone poached. OR, if you want to put it in better terms 'reiterations' of the original concepts happened way before christianity, romans being big on that, and others too. So I wouldn't be so bold as to negate the books you've read. What I am very confident in, is that the origin of the word daemon is as I described. It's how we were taught it in ancient greek class and in classics class too :)


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