By Derrick Jean-Baptiste
Our collective media has a problem that has been with us since it’s inception, and that problem is its reliance of Objective Evil.
In order to discuss Objective Evil in relation to our popular entertainment, you must first have a working definition to work off of. According to Dr. Charles Mathewes, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, an action is defined as objectively evil if it does the following two things.
One the object or aim of the action is evil under any circumstances and Two, the badness of the action is independent of the attitude of the one taking the action.
Or if you want a simpler way to understand the concept of Objective Evil one can make note of the notion of a Black and White world view. In these types of worlds, there is an obvious moral route with an easily defined good and evil.
Some of the most popular things in media that the masses consume utilize this ultimately simplistic world view.
Lord of the Rings, perhaps the father of most of our modern fantasy tropes feeds off of this idea of Objective evil and this black and white worldview it exists within.
Not even touching on the subject of Sauron and his general level of Evilness or the various other beings that would like to enslave the entirety of middle earth. Let’s instead look at the orcs that are native to the Lord of the Rings universe. Are these conscious beings just evil or do they have a bad rap?
Overall signs seem to point to “Evil by design.” Presumably, of course, an Orc that was raised by kind, loving people in a good environment that encouraged peace and gentility would grow up to be a good person, but there is something about Orcs which simply doesn’t foster that kind of environment. They are almost all bullies, cowards, treacherous and craven, who fight each other even when there is no reason to fight. They are even portrayed as cannibals, who will gladly descend on each other if the oppottunity presents itself.
You could claim it was the influence of Sauron on them but even a set of orcs of the Misty Mountains acted in this manner and they answered to no one but themselves. While we are never given a “good” orc that would honestly be pretty satisfying to see.
I like to think there’s at least one orc out there who is overcome by a powerful sense of absolute goodness. Who kills, smashes and burn down cities, but his heart isn’t really in it. I’d like to think he’d probably want to be an artist of some kind.
Despite that, even the widely popular Harry Potter series utilizes this idea. According to Harry Potter lore, dark wizards such as ol’ Voldemort himself and his cohorts can not utilize the Patronus spell, because the spell must be used by someone with a “pure” heart. If the user of this spell doesn’t have a good heart instead of a spell maggots will leap from their wand and consume the flesh of the castor.
Well okay, okay, enough of the examples. Where does this come from? Why does our popular media rely on these black and white depictions of a world? Well….there’s no simple answer for this. There is a multitude of different factors that influence the use of Objective evil as well as Objective good.
One factor that could be the cause of this is religion. In a lot of the more widely known religions, this is the base backdrop. An ultimate “good” versus an adversarial evil. Religions that utilize this idea that, something that people around the world have grown up with and it colors the way they both consume and produce media.
Another reason is that the use of this world view is simpler. Picture this you making a piece of fiction whether it’s a book, a game, or a movie what’s simpler: Creating a vast lore where each character and their motivations are clearly fleshed out to the point where instead of having two shades of either objectively good or objective evil you have cascade of different shades of morality. A rainbow morality worldview if you will.
Or you could easily utilize a black and white worldview. A simple worldview where the audience knows who the good guys and who the bad guys are, just at a glance.
Our entertainment reflects the type of society that it is created within. What does this fixation on the Objective evil and Objective Good say about our society? In reality, good and evil are complex more often than not in any given factor neither is the good or bad guy it’s simply the culmination of a set of circumstances that eventually led to a conflict.
Maybe the focus on Objective evil and Objective good is continuously reinforcing the black and white view of the world. Making us see certain groups as evil and willing to ostracize them as just that.
If anything this is an important point we must all eventually thing about.