The bad guy
Take this line from the opening to the classic Transformers cartoon: “Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons!” Now, nowhere in the opening does it say what the Decepticons do, other than calling them ‘evil’. The Autobots, on the other hand, well the opening clearly establishes that they’re the ones doing the destroying. And these are the good guys?
The idea that it’s okay to destroy (kill) your enemies simply because you brand them enemies or ‘evil’ strikes me as being both naive and quite possibly dangerous.
Not all cartoons or shows these days go in for the destroying of course but the idea that the primary requirement for being ‘good’ is beating the living crap out of those you perceive as enemies is still all over television beyond the preschool years, especially in shows aimed at boys.
I can’t help thinking it contributes to fear, paranoia and says that violence is the acceptable response. Actually… not just acceptable. It’s what makes YOU the good guy.
Of course it doesn’t end at children’s entertainment.
Most screenwriting books will tell you that for any script to work, you must have visible conflict and that means a visible antagonist, preferably with as much screen time as possible. Seemingly, that is usually interpreted in a very basic way: your story needs a bad guy.
Well, to counter that idea, I present one of the most successful entries in the Star Trek series – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which has… (drum roll)… no bad guy. It’s fun, adventurous and, yes, there is conflict. But there’s no bad guy. No evil genius that needs to be destroyed. The good guys don’t have to destroy anyone. The one major threat in the movie is removed not through conflict, not through violence, but through communication. One polite chat with a couple of whales and it turns around and goes home. No bad guy.
And it’s a great movie.
So a story, as it happens, does not need a bad guy.