You know him (because it’s always a him). He’s the antagonist of a show or movie. He’s white, young, good-looking, and has a sob story. He’s also ruthless, a murderer, and sometimes a fascist or even full on Nazi. They’re meant to show that evil isn’t always apparent on the outside; they’re a warning of how even the most charming person can be dangerous.
Yet unfortunately, not a lot of people seem to get this message. Instead, the villain is often adored by fandom, his bad deeds glossed over or even made to look not bad, and in some cases, the main hero gets the scorn instead.
While there is nothing wrong with liking a villain, it is a serious problem when the villain is made to look better than they actually are. This is especially grim in the cases of the villain being a full on fascist. A lot of the time, people look at a character who is very clearly a bigot and mirrors a legitimate real life threat and go “but he’s not THAT bad!”
This isn’t necessarily the case ALL the time, but it occurs more often than it should. And I think the biggest reason why this occurs, beyond the good looks, is the sob story. I remember, very clearly, a lot of people were quick to put King Candy (from Wreck-It Ralph) on a high pedestal, excuse or downplay his bad deeds, and in some extreme cases, make Vanellope look like the real villain. A similar thing happened with Hans from Frozen, who a lot of people were quick to gush over (apparently some people wanted him to punch Anna at the end instead of the other way around). This sort of died with Callaghan from Big Hero 6 (who is probably less popular because he killed the fandom darling, Tadashi), but there are a still a few people who think he wasn’t entirely to blame, even though he goes on about how precious his daughter is and how bad it was that she got ‘taken’ from him but has no qualms telling the brother of a man he indirectly killed that it was ‘his mistake’.
The worst offender, in my opinion (and from what I’ve seen, apparently there are worse), is Kylo Ren from the latest Star Wars film. He killed his father, tortured people, and was responsible for the death of millions, yet people still think he’s wonderful and should get together with Rey (even though he abused her physically, mentally, and emotionally).
If I were perfectly honest, I kind of want the case of the charming/sympathetic villain to go away because right now people clearly aren’t getting the message. You don’t need to give the villain a tragic backstory all the time, and you especially don’t need to make him attractive. Give me a villain (especially a fascist/murderer) who is absolutely disgusting. Give me someone with no redeeming qualities, who has no likable characteristics, and would actively repel audiences. Because until we reach an age when everyone realizes backstories and good looks don’t excuse your bad behaviour, we’re going to have to reinforce the idea that evil really is ugly (though I wouldn’t want to reinforce tropes on how fat, non-white/Semitic, and disabled people are inherently evil and ugly, of course). It’s upsetting, but unfortunately, that’s probably the only way we’ll be able to prevent people from latching onto dangerous ideas and characters.