ABC Article Glamorizes Media Villains, Ignores Price to Society

“Who doesn't love a good villain?”  So begins writer Sona Charaipotra's article, “Worthy Adversaries: Villains Take Center Stage.”

Charaipotra investigates the thrill and excitement of villains in entertainment, suggesting that they just make better characters.  She never investigates the social ramifications of Hollywood's obsession with evil characters.

She first quotes Tim Kring, creator and executive producer of the TV show Heroes, which promises to be all about villains in its new season.  He says, “The bottom line is, it's fun to be bad on screen.”  He continues, “There's a kind of deliciousness to playing a character who is not bound by the same rules that the rest of us have to live with.  It's fun to play—and it's certainly fun to write.”

She also quotes The Hollywood Reporter's Steve Zeitchik, who says that the old “tried-and-true superhero” is just “boring.”  Villains are taking on a whole new conception these days, he says, which is making them more entertaining.  No longer do movies depict a distinct divide between the hero and the villain, today they portray an absent hero and villains who are morally “gray,” which according to Zeitchik makes them much more exciting.  He says that they are “more interesting characters” because they are “more complex and nuanced than ever before.”

Kring agrees with Zeitchik, saying that villains today reflect the “morally gray” culture we live in.  Thus, he concludes, villains are more real and relatable.  He says that villains today are “a lot more gray.  In fact, they're sometimes more relatable than the heroes, because everyone's flawed, really.  We live in a morally gray time. . . . So the whole idea of who's good and who's corrupt is really blending.  We can no longer see things as black and white.”

Daniel Dubiecki, producer of a new film due for the spring about an evil cheerleader who murders, reiterates the new villains' appeal:  “It's not black and white anymore. . . . This movie flips the script—instead of the pretty cheerleader being the victim, she's the unexpected villain.  There's more depth, more layers.  And that's exciting.”

For TV guide's senior writer Damian Holbrook, reality TV villains are even better:  “Reality villains just pop.”  He continues, “They really know how to milk it.”

Are these “exciting” and “interesting” villains harmless to the movie or TV viewer?  Charaipotra's article ignores the countless studies that document that they are not. 

In July 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics and five other medical groups reported on the influence of media on children.  According to the Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children, “Television, movies, music, and interactive games are powerful learning tools, and highly influential media.  The average American child spends as much as 28 hours a week watching television, and typically at least an hour a day playing video games or surfing the Internet.  Several more hours each week are spent watching movies and videos, and listening to music.  These media can, and often are, used to instruct, encourage, and even inspire.  But when these entertainment media showcase violence—particularly in a context which glamorizes or trivializes it—the lessons learned can be destructive.”

The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence describes the impact of media on impressionable children:  “Children begin to notice and react to television very early.  By the age of three, children will willingly watch a show designed for them 95% of the time and will imitate someone on television as readily as they will imitate a live person (Parke and Kavanaugh, 1977).  The average time children spend watching television rises from about 2½ hours per day at the age of five to about four hours a day at age twelve. . . . Young children do not process information in the same way as adults.  Nor do they have the experience or the judgment to evaluate what they see.  For example, children between the ages of 6 and 10 may believe that most of what they see on TV is true to life.  Since they watch a lot of TV, this makes them particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of television.”

Dr. Michael Rich, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, writes that “media function as a 'superpeer,' replacing the role once played by a social circle of friends and family, modeling and encouraging ways of thinking and behaving.”

For more evidence of the impact of media on thoughts and behavior, see this previous article on violence in the entertainment media.

Julia Seward is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.