A Likable Villain?

Authors sometimes seek villains that their audience can identify with because they want the readers invested in the villain. This helps to propel a person to finish a book if they really don’t know what is going to happen to the antagonist in the end. The unprincipled conformist is a character popular among his fictional cohorts. This antagonist pushes the boundary of right until he veers onto the side of wrong. What makes this character so villainous? Conformity requires that a person at least appear to follow a set of rules. A required similarity can mask the truth about a person who actually harms other people, especially those within the group.

The nature of this harm can express itself in a number of ways. One of the most common is the exclusion of people for insignificant reasons. In order to create a strong camaraderie a common enemy needs to be found. There are two reasons that people do this: one is the ancient reason that wars exist–so one group can take something of value from other people. Exclusion allows this group to justify their gains at the expense of others. The second reason is to shift the blame for any problems onto an outsider who becomes the scapegoat.

In the end both of these actions destroy the group. Whether the exclusion is used as an excuse to take away wealth or credit or influence from the other person, or simply a social snub, it results in physical pain. This person who hurt will not sit there and take the abuse. The excluded people will avoid interacting with those people, even if they would prefer to fit in.[1] When this targeted person leaves the town, the group must seek out a fresh scapegoat. The villain continues to lead them in this process until his guile is uncovered, or the apparently cohesive group crumbles from the inside out. The unprincipled conformist harms others by squelching individuality. In the end people tire of being controlled and turn against the villain.

Exactly how is the unprincipled conformist brought to a demise? This job falls on the rebel with a cause, also known as the principled nonconformist. This protagonist persuades the followers who have been tricked into supporting the villain to pull out their support. The reader becomes sympathetic to the people that really do not want to follow this leader who will use and destroy them. At that point the villain becomes very unlikeable. So readers cheer at the stirring speech of revelation about the villain’s true intent. The physical fight between protagonist and antagonist may not be necessary because former followers bring down the unprincipled conformist.

[1] Eisenberger, N. I.  (2012)  Broken hearts and broken bones: A neural perspective on the similarities between social and physical pain.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, 42-47,
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