Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Rise of the Supervillain and the Fall of the Jesus Christ Superstars

It’s a perverse quirk of human nature that the more we perceive someone to be immoral, a reject or an underdog, the more intensely we are drawn to them. Movie reviews talk about the bad guys, like the Joker, in Batman films way more than Batman. We obsess over a vampire or serial killer in a horror film, but we rarely remember the hero. And we see the same phenomenon mirrored in real life. The pop star who treats women like animals but tops the charts every week. The corrupt, bad boy footballer that all the kids idolise. The pantomime villain in the reality TV show who wins the viewer vote. But why do we root for these people when society tells us we should find them repulsive? 

Those of us who are sensitive to the faults of our humanity realise that when we are instructed to dislike someone or something and this instruction is vehemently enforced, particularly by someone who we consider to be superior to ourselves, then we are inclined to rebel and do the complete opposite (think girls from strict homes who grow up to be lap dancers, Catholics who grow up to be Satanists) or the taboo object/person becomes forbidden fruit that is attractive to us and we develop an overwhelming desire for it (think celibate priests who become paedophiles, how we desire fresh cream cakes even though we know they will make us fat). Right now the media is feeding us a daily diet of evil ‘supervillains’ and we are repeatedly instructed to disagree with them and find them repulsive - think Trump, Milo and Farage for starters. We obsess daily over these forbidden fruit supervillains to such an extent that repeated exposure is highly likely to trigger the attraction effect in some of those who are exposed to it (by fostering sympathy and generating an underdog that the public begins to rally behind) or we are likely to see a rebellious reaction, or a combination of the two. And we have already seen these responses play out in public forums. The more that the BBC pushed the remain vote, the more I suspected we would have a Brexit vote. The more that social media humiliated Trump, the more I suspected he would win the presidency. Humans are predictably rebellious creatures, we don’t like being told what to do. So is it any surprise that the supervillains are seeing a surge in popularity?

Those who were appalled to see the public rallying behind ‘the abhorrent’ should be quietly taken aside and made aware that these events and the changing public sentiment may have arisen as a direct response to their own actions. I wonder whether the popularity of these supervillains would have grown to such heights had they not been nurtured by the media spotlight, had we not been bombarded with constant outcry, outrage and protest through news reports and social media. I experienced the U-turn effect of this bombardment for myself a couple of weeks ago when I spotted a planned protest on Twitter and audibly uttered the words ‘oh FFS, not another protest’. The protest itself didn’t aggravate me and I generally agreed with the purpose of the march, but it was one of several taking place that week so I was becoming numb to them and, to be honest, a little irritated by the constant, exhausting barrage of outrage. Then I saw a news report on TV in which an incensed protester grabbed a reporter’s microphone and started preaching into it “people MUST ___, everyone MUST ___, if you don’t support ___ then you are EVIL!!”. Whoah, wait a second my dear. I wholeheartedly agree with you, but who the hell are you to dictate to me what I should and shouldn’t think? My hackles were raised and I viewed the protest in an entirely different light. These people were dictating to me what I should and shouldn’t believe and what I can and can’t say and I was annoyed by the tone of their aggressive, self-righteous preaching. When they started ranting about the evils of fascism, I burst out laughing. Pot and kettle? The next night I switched on the news and saw something that I knew would piss that female protestor off and I smiled to myself. For the first time I sided with the supposed 'enemy’ against someone who I was supposed to sympathise with, simply because my brain went ‘no, fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me to’. I was rooting for the supervillain.

Now this was just one ranting woman in a sea of protestors that made me feel this way, but I wonder whether this isolated incident is playing out on a grand scale amongst the general public who are exposed to the media’s constant ridicule and condemnation of the supervillains. Take Hollywood and the Jesus Christ Superstars, for example. We love celebrities when they prance around on screen or knock out a decent album because that’s what we are paying them to do. Katy Perry makes great music, J. K. Rowling writes great books and Meryl Streep makes great movies, but when they start evangelising at award ceremonies about how other people should live their lives, what they should and shouldn’t say, and, even worse, passing judgement on what they can and can’t think like some kind of award-clutching, superstar embodiment of Jesus Christ, then things quickly turn sour. I’m interested to hear their thoughts on how the lowly populace should live their lives and they are perfectly entitled to voice them (who knows, they might even identify solutions to endemic social problems that could revolutionise how we all live) however I suspect that they know fuck all about what it’s like to live on an inner-city council estate - to worry about housing, job security, who you are living amongst and the safety of those you love - and once I get the faintest whiff that they are looking down their noses at these people and telling them, with complete ignorance of the challenges that they face on a day-to-day basis, that their concerns are misguided or offensive whereas, on the contrary, they are more entitled to make a moral judgement since they are socially mobile, richer, younger or more highly educated than the average council-house dweller, then they morph into the ranting woman in the protest and my hackles are raised again. J. K. Rowling, for instance, preaches in such a nauseatingly self-righteous ‘pissing on the peasants from my ivory tower’ way and with such painful disregard for how the real world functions that I struggle at times to separate her from the trolls that she dismissively bats away…

And I know I’m not the only person starting to feel like this. There is an increasing groundswell of anti-Jesus Christ Superstar sentiment on social media directed towards big stars who have stopped being the jaunty puppets that we pay them to be and taken on the role of political mouthpiece. Please, now more than ever, we need you to be jesters to make us smile, singers to cheer us up, writers to take us away from reality, not a dictatorial moral thought police. Even the BAFTA audience this year looked like the residents from the Capitol in The Hunger Games, nodding sympathetically in unison in a collective moral masturbationary exercise in the hope that their unblemished souls will endear them to their peers, fans, ticket sales, book sales….The gulf between these Jesus Christ Superstars and ‘the ordinary people’ is widening at a rapid rate of knots and this rate it will swallow entire careers whole… 

Perry, Rowling, Streep, ranting protest woman - you are entitled to voice your opinions and I will defend your right to do so to the death, but please, please wake up and realise that you are feeding the very monsters that you are aiming to defeat. Each time you cast yourself as morally superior and speak down to the ordinary people beneath you in an arrogant tone, dismissing their concerns and casting out judgements, you alienate increasing numbers of ordinary people and drive them away from you and towards those who oppose you, regardless, I believe, of whether they consider your opinions to be more or less ethically sound than those of the supervillains that they gravitate towards. This is how conversions of loyalty are forced and oppositions gain power, for instance I agreed with the ethics of the ranty protestor but I cheered on the supervillain in order to see her defeated (never underestimate the fragility of a woman’s principles when faced with someone that she takes an instant dislike to). And the louder that you vilify and humiliate those that you oppose, the greater you risk creating a rejected underdog towards whom the people will express empathy since they perceive the underdog to be suffering the same humiliation and rejection that you heap upon them too. 

These are the underlying mechanics that are driving the rise of the supervillains and they will continue to gain popularity under the media spotlight and the barrage of your constant outrage and condemnation. After all, we’re only human and we can’t help how we respond to instruction, unlike your divine, virtuous selves…

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