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Talking about bad guys...

Andaleeb Wajid Jan 28 2018, 0:52 IST

Life was so much simpler when I was a small girl, although, to be honest, I think everyone just assumes that irrespective of how old they are. But back then, in books and movies, good people survived and the bad guys either died or were shipped off somewhere, although that wasn't always the case.

Cut to the present when literally, anything goes. I mean, anything. When I first watched Game of Thrones, (I hadn't read the books), I had just assumed that good people would somehow be saved at the end of the day, yada yada, and then there was Ned Stark's head swinging freely, detached from his body. Sorry for the spoiler, in case you haven't seen it yet.

Anyway, what began at the beginning of this year in Chennai at a school where I did a creative writing workshop is something I have continued doing, much like an experiment with all the young students I interact with. I ask them who their favourite character is. They come up with the usual suspects - Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Hermione, Katniss et al. Then, I ask them if they like bad guys. Many heads nod in the audience.

What kind of bad guys, I ask? Voldemort? More nods. I remain surprised every single time, and even more so at their reasoning. The kids in Chennai told me that they liked bad guys (they'd included Darth Vader too) because they didn't give up, even when the odds were stacked against them. "They don't stop trying," a young girl said, her eyes lighting up. I was taken aback at how much thought these kids had given to bad guys and why they liked them.

Since then, the answers I've received have been enlightening. Reasons they like Voldemort - no one knows his side of the story (to be honest, I'm not so keen for a spin-off with Voldemort, so please nobody tell this to JKR); he's misunderstood (really?); he's cool because he doesn't have a nose (not making this up), and they sympathise with him and everything he's 'been' through. I might have given this benefit of the doubt to Severus Snape, who was consistently horrible throughout the books but turned out to be something else. Or to several of the characters in TV shows today that I watch with my kids - Arrow, Flash etc - where no one bats an eyelid at the main protagonists being vigilantes, where it's actually something kids aspire to, so much that these characters are called 'heroes'.

Also, here's another guilty admission. How about those godawful vampire movies? Technically, vampires are supposed to be bad since they suck blood and kill people, but in these movies and subsequent TV shows, all this blood-sucking was completely normalised. So much that it became difficult to draw a line between good and bad. For the longest time, I actually watched a TV show called The Vampire Diaries and my favourite character was the bad guy who turned out to be so good that he got the girl at the end of the show. Yikes.

I think the whole concept of good and bad has been turned on its head for quite some time and this isn't even new. Remember Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities? Or even Heathcliff? Then again, the kids I ask this question to, have no clue who these 'bad' guys are. To them, most of the bad guys are misunderstood and yet, very cool. One of my younger participants called out from the audience once, saying, "They have powers and they're not afraid to use them!"

After each workshop I conduct, I come away with something new, an insight gained into the minds of young people today. While I'm perplexed at their inability to see good and evil in a more black-and-white form, I also feel heartened that they're willing to give the benefit of the doubt to even bad guys. Maybe there's something to learn here, an understanding of basic human nature, and perceptions of kids today. But then again, Voldemort? He's pure evil. And he doesn't even have a nose.

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