Lessons in Chaotic Evil.With the swearing in of Agent Orange, America’s Post-Empirical era has begun in earnest. A lot of people are trying to make sense of it all. Since TV gave us Trump, it seems only fitting to look at the tropes of television villains to better understand what we’re facing and what to expect.
Villains in television (and in many books, movies, etc) can be divided into two main categories: Lawful Evil and Chaotic Evil. Though Trump is allied with Lawful Evil characters, he himself falls into the Chaotic Evil category.
The following definitions of common Chaotic Evil characters and traits come from the website TV Tropes (in some cases edited for brevity). Trump himself appears to be an amalgamation of these, particularly The Caligula.
We can expect Trump and the people in his administration to have these traits to varying degrees. Maybe in the future, we’ll even be able to play a match game pairing these names with individuals in his cabinet:
These characters are usually the most aggressive of the Evil alignments, more often than not being possessed of an impulsively violent nature and a total disregard for people, laws, or even the world around them. In short, Chaotic Evil represents the destruction of not only life and goodness, but also the order upon which they depend.
Most Chaotic Evil characters don’t constantly break the law, but they don’t place much value in laws (or do not see the value in laws that do not function solely to their depraved objectives or increase their own personal freedom).
Characters that are particularly prone to being Chaotic Evil include:
A trickster-philosopher who lives by pandering to people’s greed and gullibility. Not only does he never feel guilty about it, but he will be offended by suggestions that he stop. If people want to be tricked, who is he to say no? Furthermore, if he’s exposed, he’ll shrug while admitting it and use his backup pitch about the con with equal fervor. The true mark of the Barnum is how serene and happy he usually is, despite what he does every day. He’s reached a cynic’s nirvana.
This is the Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up in his heyday. A bully is simply defined on wiktionary as “A person who is cruel to others, especially those who are weaker or have less power.” This sums this character up in a nutshell. They will target anyone who is less popular than they are, those who are unable to fight back, or anyone who won’t fight back.
The downside of any hereditary monarchy is that every so often the throne is inherited by someone completely out of his gourd… Whatever the cause, the sovereign is still given the full power and support of the state despite their obvious insanity, with inevitably disastrous consequences.
The Caligula will be wildly irrational, violently moody, extremely debauched, will never tolerate being told anything he doesn’t want to hear, and probably afflicted with a god complex. In short he will be a Psychopathic Manchild with the power of life or death over everyone whom he can reach. He may be a sexual deviant, or he might take pleasure in the pain and suffering he causes. He may indulge in renaming cities or even the entire country after himself or throwing out increasingly ridiculous decrees with brutal punishments in store for anyone who breaks them. Whatever form his madness takes, one thing is certain: to do anything the Caligula finds displeasing is to inevitably be dragged off to a grisly death or worse. Of course, any number of things might trigger his rage, and he might even decide on a whim to punish those who have not done anything at all. And while all of this is going on, the land over which the Caligula rules is rapidly going down the drain due to his neglect. Here in particular, he has a decided advantage over most other crackpots when it comes to messing things up: he can start wars. Be it for the perceived personal glory or his obsession with perceived enemies, the Caligula’s country will probably be in a constant state of war.
A person, often an officer in military settings, who is out to win glory in war, regardless of the cost. Sometimes the cost is to himself, but usually it’s only to his men. (Sometimes just the foot soldiers, when he regards only officers as important, sometimes all subordinates, when he subordinates them all to his quest for glory.)
May lead the troops himself, often long after it’s clear the attack is futile, but the more odious examples may also be the Armchair Military. In either case, count on his laying claim to his men’s, or other officers’, work and ideas and sloughing off all the blame.
The Heartless are monsters born out of people’s negative emotions, like a poltergeist… This part of the soul may be all the animalistic desires without any of the compunctions ala Jekyll and Hyde or all the feelings of suffering, sadness and anger concentrated in one.
They come sweeping down from the mountains like an avalanche, or surging from the deep forest like a tide of vermin. They come from across the sea in their dragon-prowed ships, or storming from the forsaken wastes that no other men can dwell in. They come to Rape, Pillage, and Burn, howling like death itself, and leave only destruction and despair in their wake. They waylay travelers, ransack peasant villages, and even lay siege to the bastions of civilization. They take only what plunder and slaves they can carry, and torch and butcher the rest.
The third standard fantasy government alongside The Empire and The Kingdom, The Horde is a large group of barbaric or beastly warriors bound solely through either tribal ties (if disorganized) or the will of the Evil Overlord (if organized). Like the Proud Warrior Race Guy, they value strength above all else, but are usually not as honorable.
Person of Mass Destruction
A Person of Mass Destruction is a character with powers, abilities, or skills capable of causing damage on the level of a Weapon of Mass Destruction. As a Speculative Fiction trope, it is frequently used as a metaphor for real-world technology—often nuclear weapons.
Their chances of being either a Hero or a Villain are about the same, and depend on whether they believe With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility or Might Makes Right. A person of mass destruction is more likely than normal to undergo Superpower Meltdown at some point, channeling the fear of losing control of a conventional weapon of mass destruction.
A dangerous villain or a brutal Anti-Hero, either a teenager or an adult, with a childlike nature, which creates a dissonance between innocence and savagery. Such characters can become rich sources of Nightmare Fuel, especially if their childishness is never explained. Contrary to the term, many examples are not necessarily psychopaths in the clinical sense.
What makes this character stand out is that he is The Sociopath in that he is mostly incapable of feeling empathy, shame or remorse but unlike other sociopaths, his mental immaturity prevents him from imitating emotions or indeed even realizing why he should. He takes his desires for granted and fails to even superficially consider why others would disagree or why he isn’t entitled to everything.
The Sociopath is far from your ordinary criminal or villain. Combine a willingness to cross the Moral Event Horizon without a shred of guilt, a keen sense of other people’s mental and emotional fault lines, and a Lack of Empathy, and you have the consummate evildoer.
The Sociopath displays these following qualities:
- Lack of Empathy and Devoid of Conscience: Utterly ruthless doesn’t begin to describe them: except for when trying to appear normal, they will disregard any social norms and semblance of morality in pursuit of their own selfish desires. The Sociopath will do whatever it takes: lie, cheat, steal, extort, manipulate, or use outright violence without the slightest hesitation, disgust or remorse, and for as little as Pleasure or The Evulz. Murder and violence have no more emotional weight than eating Chinese takeout or some other mundane activity, and they have no concern for the direct or collateral damage they do to other people, being unable to understand why anyone should. Likewise, they never truly understand the feelings of others on anything more than an intellectual level, and may even believe that everybody else is faking it too. As many Real Life criminal psychologists put it: “They know the words but not the music.”Techniques for learning moral behaviour, such as reason, therapy, rehabilitation and behavioral reward/punishment, will not work on them or tend to only make their behavior even worse by making it easier for them to fake it.
- Consummate Liar and Manipulator: In the event they are ever targets of suspicion in crime dramas and thrillers, sociopaths are able to fool any Living Lie Detectors in the cast, pass polygraphs effortlessly, and fool even you, the audience, into believing they are genuinely kind and caring people who are victims of a “big misunderstanding” (assuming they are not so smugly confident of their own invincibility that they feel no need to hide their unsavory personality). Moreover, despite their lack of empathy, sociopaths are capable of using their knowledge of others’ desires, emotions and insecurities to manipulate them for their own personal gain. Because of this, many of them are Faux Affably Evil. This is related to their lack of empathy and shame – they don’t feel the slightest discomfort about lying or exploiting others so they do so with the same ease in which normal people perform mundane activities.
- Pathological Need for Stimulation: The Sociopath’s raison d’etre (i.e.: an overriding goal which serves as one’s “reason for existence”). Due to their inability to empathize or even care for those around them, sociopaths largely view their existence as boring and/or meaningless and therefore feel compelled to engage in “thrill-seeking” activities to alleviate their restlessness. How this manifests depends largely on the sociopath’s personality. It can be as relatively benign as binging on video games, compulsively gambling, or leading highly promiscuous lifestyles. Far more dangerous examples are prone to satiate their lust for thrills by partaking in criminal enterprises, becoming serial rapists and/or killers, or (with regards to unusually high-functioning cases) accumulating vast wealth and/or influence for the sole purpose of dominating as many people as they can for their own amusement. By the same token, sociopaths have a very low tolerance for inconvenience or irritation, which they often display through a pronounced lack of impulse control. Because of that, many of them are Ax-Crazy, have a Hair-Trigger Temper, and/or are Mood Swingers.
- Grandiose Sense of Self-Worth: If there’s a skill that exists, you can bet they believe they can master it in no time at all. From their perspective, they are the most handsome, intelligent and powerful individual that is and ever will be. Unlike the Narcissist whose self-esteem is vulnerable to others’ perceptions, a sociopath’s grandiosity about their self-worth remains constant regardless of how people view him/her. Even when their actions result in crushing failure, a sociopath feels no need to conform their conduct with others’ views or standards. Conversely, in pursuit of their insatiable desire for stimulation, they will continue to push the envelope as much as they can do so without suffering the consequences (a self-destructive lifestyle which endangers not only themselves but everyone around them). Likewise, sociopaths are incapable of acknowledging personal responsibility for any of the failures or disappointments they encounter (i.e: events which they automatically attribute to those out to “keep them down” or unfortunate twists of fate entirely beyond their control).
- Shallow Affect and Complete Lack of Emotional Reciprocity: A Sociopath is physiologically incapable of experiencing a deep emotional attachment towards others but – being a Consummate Liar – learns early in life how to fake them. This shallow emotional life means that the Sociopath is unable to form sincere long-term relationships with anything or anyone, but will feign feelings of love and affection if they feel it serves their purposes. Most of the true feelings a sociopath harbors towards others, positive or negative, are rooted in an insatiable desire to dominate or control them. While narcissists would prefer to be loved or at least respected by those around them, sociopaths don’t care whether others view them positively as long as they don’t stand in the way of their own self-centered gratification. In the rare event that a Sociopath actually does form an “attachment” to another person, it rises no further than that between an owner and a possession and/or a valuable resource for advancing their goals. Thus, once such “friends” cease to be a source of entertainment or otherwise outlive their usefulness, they abandon or kill them without any hesitation or regret unless (in the case of more high-functioning examples) they feel doing so would potentially jeopardize their own self-interest.
Many of these traits are shared with other disorders, but it’s the combination of them all that creates the Sociopath. And, like many other disorders, sociopathy falls on a spectrum. Some sociopaths are just unusually self-absorbed. On the other end of the scale are the ruthless, remorseless monsters. Sociopaths also have varying personalities, levels of intelligence, and interests, which influences how their disorder manifests in everyday life.
If the Sociopath happens to be a ruler, and is automatically above the law, then expect them to be The Caligula.
The Smug Snake is a type of character (usually cast as a villain) who tends to treat friends and enemies alike with equal disdain. They almost constantly speak in a sarcastic tone and punctuate most of their sentences with a smirk. While they aspire to be a formidable and awe-inspiring adversary, they often end up just being a Big Bad Wannabe, failing in the face of more cunning villains or ending up as their servants. Others that fall under this trope are simply in it to bug the good guys and take advantage of their moral insecurity.
A key character trait common to Smug Snakes is overconfidence. The Smug Snake is usually too arrogant to be rattled. Most often, they will think themselves to be the Magnificent Bastard. While they may believe that they have the situation under control (whether they do so through blackmail, coercion, or simply being in a position of authority), there will usually be a hole in that plan that they failed to consider.
A Know-Nothing Know-It-All is a character who insists he or she knows everything; is always right; that they were the ”actual” original creator of an idea; and who generally has an extremely high opinion of themselves and their abilities.
Nothing could be further from the truth. They are grossly misinformed, or just lying, about everything they talk about with authority. They create nothing new, and are Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance. Their abilities could best be described as “scarce”. Such people are, in fact, the living definition of the word charlatan.
Those Who Aim to Create a Playground for Evil
Omnicidal Maniacs want to destroy the world, but these villains want to change the world. Rather than blow it up or kill everyone on it, they are much more content to simply turn it into the most horrible and messed up place possible — their own personal playground, in other words.
Villain with Good Publicity
A Villain with Good Publicity is one of the most frustrating opponents a hero can ever face. On the surface, this villain works within the system and commands a great deal of respect from the average citizen, but behind the scenes, they conduct all manners of nastiness. Even the heroes (or the audience!) may be fooled until The Reveal, unaware that The Man Behind the Man is someone so publicly trusted.
Should the heroes know the truth, they’re still stymied by the fact that no one else does. Attempts to bust the villain will be met with harassment lawsuits, breaking & entering or assault charges, or bad press. The heroes may even be falsely painted as villains in the public eye. (Some heroes embrace this image and become the Lovable Rogue or the Anti-Hero.) Should the heroes turn up actual evidence that something is up, it’ll probably be ripped up by the villain’s crack legal team (which Villains With Good Publicity always have), or spun to look like honest behavior.
If the heroes are really unlucky, they’re up against the entire government (or church, depending on the setting). The villain might also be a single person within the government, a corporation or other public figure with a good PR department, or a religion engineered for this purpose. There’s also a good chance that he/she is using copious amounts of bribery to keep his/her image clean. If things get even worse, the people whom the hero tries to protect will actively assist the villain against the heroes.
This villain’s favored weapon is the Propaganda Machine. Or Bread and Circuses.
This villain may be portrayed as a hero (or the hero), and may even think of himself as the hero. His villainous acts might even be portrayed as heroic.
Small Name, Big Ego
A character with a comically over-inflated image of himself. He thinks he’s smarter than everyone else, thinks he’s a real ladies’ man, thinks he’s cool, thinks it’s all about him, but both his fellow characters and the audience know that it’s all in his mind.
Expect this guy to be a victim of Pride. Said characters often insult or look down on those who have far more to be proud of and who generally flaunt it less. When they are faced with such characters, whether in a competition or in a comparison of abilities, it tends to be humiliating, and might even be a much needed reality check. Also, don’t expect these characters to handle criticism (either of them or of the abilities that they’re egotistical about) very well.