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Danny's Reading: Heroes and Villains

Average: 3.7 (7 votes)

The good guys wear white, and the bad guys dress in black. That's the way it goes, and that's how you know who's who...

I remember watching Saturday morning television with my brother when we were kids, safe in the knowledge that no matter how bad it got, no matter how nefariously elaborate and despairingly foolproof the villain's master-plan was (and let's face it...no villain worth his salt would ever stoop so low as to conceive a plan consisting solely of 'aim gun, pull trigger')...the hero would win in the end. Usually as a result of a highly improbable, and - more often than not, completely impossible - series of events and coincidences, but we didn't care. We were kids, and if the good guy had to somehow inexplicably return from the dead after being shot forty times in the head, run over by an army of tanks and eaten by wolves, we saw no point in wasting time and spoiling it all by wondering how he had managed to pull that one off. Obviously, the good guy was in possession of a headshot-proof, tank-resistant, wolf-repelling magic hat that the script-writers had not bothered to mention at any point during the series.


After all, he wears white, for goodness' sake.

All we cared about was the ending - the glorious triumph of good over evil, with the hero being applauded by grateful citizens and being given the keys to the city by the mayor, before riding off into the sunset with an appropriately exciting theme song reaching a dramatic crescendo as the credits rolled. And, just when we thought it was all over, the final shot would show the villain behind bars, muttering to himself and twirling his moustache, before promising to be back and throwing his head back in order to cackle in a dastardly fashion for way longer than is normal...and fade to black.

That's the way it goes.

But that's television for kids. As I grew up, I realised that television for adults had a completely different set of heroes and villains. Adults have a firmer grasp on reality, and the reality is that the good guys don't always win, and the bad guys don't always lose. In a list of the top one hundred heroes and villains of all time, the number one hero was Atticus Finch, the fictional character from Harper Lee's novel 'To Kill A Mockingbird'. A lawyer and a widowed father, Atticus Finch has integrity, nobility, great parenting skills, and is willing to put everything on the line for his principles. Atticus Finch describes courage as "when you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what". Atticus Finch teaches his young daughter that "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it". The man is an inspiration to all, and...

Atticus Finch loses the court case in spite of overwhelming evidence of his client's innocence. He is insulted and spat on, and his children are taunted and bullied and attacked by certain nasty types who resent their father's involvement in the case. There is no dramatic soundtrack, no cheering crowd, no key to the city.

Because in real life, that's the way it goes.

Meanwhile, from the same list, the number one all-time villain was Hannibal Lecter from Silence Of The Lambs. Suave and sophisticated, highly intelligent and a brilliant psychiatrist. A perfect role-model, in fact, if it wasn't the whole 'cannibalistic serial-murderer' thing. A small detail, but a valid one nonetheless.

There is no twirling of the moustache from behind bars for Hannibal. No moronic cackling. At the end of this film, Hannibal the Cannibal has escaped by ripping some poor prison guard's face off and using it as a mask, as you do. And he's still a free man by the end of the sequel too.

And today, the world has changed again. Today, the heroes and villains are no longer colour-coded for ease of recognition. The rules have tangled, the line has blurred, and black and white lie at opposite ends of a great big wasteland of a million shades of grey. Today, we rarely know who's who until the final twist in the tale.

And there's always a twist in the tale.

For example...you probably think that this article is about television series and films. Or about fictional heroes and villains.

But no. This is about me. You see, I'm the good guy...and I'm the villain. There's an angel on my right shoulder, a devil on my left... and me in the middle - a million shades of grey. Sometimes I go with the angel, and sometimes I listen to the devil.

Overly dramatic? Of course it is! What's the point of droning on about heroes and villains without a little bit of 'ka-pow!' Without some 'up, up and away!'? Without a little 'mwahahahahaaaaaa!'?

Sometimes I go with the angel, and sometimes I listen to the devil. But it's always my choice. It's always my decision.

Every morning I wake up, check that the person in the mirror is me, and wonder what the day will bring. And every night, I lie in bed and think about what the day brought - about what I said and what I did - and whether, today, the angel got the upper hand or the devil wiped the floor with him.

Why listen to the devil? Well, because it's easy, that's why. Being the villain means claiming no responsibility. It means doing whatever you want to do. It means caring for no one and nothing but yourself. It means breaking the rules to serve yourself. And, let's face it - black is cool, and you're still free for the sequel.

So, after all that, why pay any attention to the angel at all?

Well...for the same reasons, I suppose. Because easy is rarely as rewarding as difficult, and because having no responsibility means having nothing worth fighting for. Because doing whatever you want to do is never as worthwhile as doing what needs to be done. And caring for no one and nothing but yourself means that yourself is all you'll ever have. And because courage is knowing that you're licked before you begin, but beginning anyway and seeing it through no matter what.

You can wear black if you like.

But most of all, it's because it's those nights where the angel gets the upper hand that I sleep best, and when I wake up in the morning, the person in the mirror is me. And I know who's who.


And that's the way it goes...

By Danny, teacher at EC Malta English school