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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?

comment

anonymous?

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 :)

Tantz_Aerine at 9:24AM, March 17, 2018

Amelius, but haven't you completely reconceived the setting in which these characters exist? And which I don't agree that evil is subjective (at least in its core elements) that has nothing to do with the premise I made. The problem arises when the characters are set up without setting up their world to be able to properly host them, that's all I was saying. I definitely don't think your creation falls in that category.

Tantz_Aerine at 9:22AM, March 17, 2018

Amelius, there's NO WAY you can look stupid.

Amelius at 8:26AM, March 17, 2018

Ah, so everything I've read in my research has been apparently misinformation then? (not just wikipedia/online I've read through a lot of books which stated these things, I wouldn't have said anything if I hadn't felt pretty assured) I'm not disagreeing, it's just something I'll have to look into more. I don't enjoy looking completely stupid and spreading incorrect information.(░◵﹏◵░)

Amelius at 8:14AM, March 17, 2018

Though largely I agree things that were considered by modern culture "true evil" to be boiled down to "hot monster boyfriend" (tumblr...) is often lame, I guess I feel a little defensive here because I do have a lot of creatures called "demons" who aren't out there eating baby guts,torturing people or tempting them to darkness and vice. Demon King Samrick and deposed Demon King Ilgram follow more the OLDER tradition of powerful, but not malevolent. Fiends are the evil entities in my cosmology-- demons have (diluted) fiend's essence,that doesn't necessarily give them a predilection for "evil". I suppose there's also the idea that "evil" can be subjective-- as evidenced in my former reply. Seducing mankind to sin is too small potatoes for what my "evil entities" want, anyway. Humans over-inflate their importance in the cosmic scale.

Tantz_Aerine at 8:01AM, March 17, 2018

Daemon is the ancient greek word Δαίμων and it literally means "he who deals what is due". Demons were NEVER gods in ancient greek culture (which came up with the term). They were sacred non-personified entities who could be good or bad or neutral. Which is why there were prefixes to determine which was which. The gods were actually called "gods" and were always personified. Daemon was always a state of being. God was the divine entity that had a personality and required worship. Just to set some things straight. Now it is true the Christianity used the word to denote evil and evil entities (as personifications of human vices very often) as they went down in western culture, but considering that this is 2000 years or so of a common consensus I'd say the analysis stands. The other stuff you mention Amelius I don't have an opinion on, as people who point and yell "DEMON!" without actually making a joke, are not people that concern me :)

Amelius at 7:24AM, March 17, 2018

I mean, look at what people have tried to call demonic and evil while the people writing these stories were growing up. Dungeons and Dragons, He-Man, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh. Video games. Heavy Metal, Rap. I knew a family that fast-forwarded past the villain scenes in Disney movies. Dancing. Cutting your hair without your husband's permission. When the harmless things you do or like are so "evil", then demons and their reported wickedness tend to lose their dangerous presence. Satan is really gonna choose Pikachu to lead my soul into sin? It is risible!

Amelius at 7:00AM, March 17, 2018

Going back to origin of "demons"(the etymology of the word) in Western culture, the idea that they're "evil" is itself a reinterpretation. Demons were divine spirits, often gods, who brought knowledge and philosophy to mankind. Demons were not considered evil in the least. The switch to meaning evil was simply Christian religion subsuming other cultures and reinterpreting rival gods as wicked. The change of opinion was successful enough that they have to distinguish them with "daemon" now.

mks_monsters at 4:50AM, March 17, 2018

I am kind of guilty of doing this myself, but I have to agree. Making bad good requires hard work and taking your time otherwise, you get a mess.

ozoneocean at 1:09AM, March 17, 2018

Well written Tantz, nice evolution of the idea germ ^_^ Love the title! Yes, I think that taking demons out of their simple, bestial, ugly form and elevating them all to pretty and intelligent smooth talking Satan/Lucifer/Succabi-incubi/demigod hybrids loses more than it gains. These particular character types had their defined roles for a reason and changing them changes the whole context of their existance, the matrix of the world they exist in. It's like saying "OK, in my world 5=234. All the other numbers still equal the same but that's what 5 equals now" Yeah... nothing else forks then, you whole world is a fudge.


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