For Halloween, here’s a little ponder on the dark side.
What media taught me about bad guys is that they often rely on their brains instead of their physical prowess; they trust the wrong people and get burnt by it; they have spiky trauma and other mental health issues which they fail to deal with gracefully; they feel huge emotions not easily contained—their love will claw its way from the grave, their rage will topple nations; if you hurt the people they care about they will have their revenge; they’re sharp dressers; they’re camp or arch, and in other ways their gender and sexuality is unstable, non-standard; physically, they’re sometimes trapped between two states; they rail against social and moral hypocrisy; they’re kinky as hell; they’re often British, or at least European; some of them can’t breathe without a respirator. In short, these are my people.
I don’t know at what age I started rooting for the bad guys. Maybe it was Star Wars, bastion of kink and asthmatic villains, that tipped me over to the dark side. Maybe I gave into my anger because someone blew up my home planet and dropped a house on my sister. Maybe it was the villagers with pitchforks. I just know that increasingly, as I got older, the monsters and villains appealed to me.
Maybe all those subtle little hints that anyone who wasn’t Mr Macho Apple Pie White Guy was not the right kind of people wormed their way into my sense of self. And I stopped rooting for the right kind of people, because I wanted to fight for my side.
I’m not sorry that happened. It’s who I am, woven into my identity as much as any other aspect of my experience. When I see diversity of representation growing in mainstream media, it makes me happy. It’s fantastic that more kids can now see themselves being the heroes (though there’s plenty of room for growth there, clearly). But, while it makes me glad on a logical level, I don’t feel the connection I did with those twisted fuck ups I grew up watching and reading about. The world still feels like a dark and messed up place, and I’m not always sure it’s worth fighting for. With those new heroes, I feel no transgressive thrill as when a villain tips over the pillars of society with gay abandon, while chewing on some scenery and looking darkly fabulous. There’s no edge to it, no danger, no challenge to the status quo. Because, perversely, there’s power in knowing you’re someone’s worst nightmare. Maybe, at heart, I don’t want my people to be the good guys, I just want the bad guys to win.