Tag Archives: Hannibal

As a dangerous psychopath I wear a mask and so should you

As a dangerous psychopath it’s my responsibility to blend into society, to take my taboo tastes and hide them behind a persona that dogmatically adheres to social mores. The psychiatric community calls this my “mask of sanity.”

Think of me as a trend spotter, but instead of wide waist belts and cashmere scarves, I sense which norms are in fashion. At the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew that limiting the contagion would be in this season. So I invested in face masks before supplies went scarce. I’ve been wearing a mask of sanity all my life. What was one more?

I never thought I’d be making a political statement, much less virtue signaling.

In truth, I never feel a moral responsibility for my actions. I hold no reverence for the social contract and I have no compassion for the downtrodden. Apart from a morbid curiosity, I feel nothing for my community. From the cutest infant to the wisest grandparent, I see people as a means to an end. I fantasize about the fall of civilization so I that I may showcase what I truly am. Until then it’s important that I fit in.

And yet I never thought wearing a mask, during a global pandemic, would win me many points.

Like an actor researching a role, I’ve spent a lifetime studying the human condition. I’ve learned when to echo righteous sentiment, when to mimic mob mentality, and when to emulate the empathy of those around me. Lacking an emotional core, I am a classical actor, inhabiting behaviors, and leaning into the expectations of my audience. I am a cultural chameleon swapping spiritual and political convictions based on how I read the room.

But I assumed a mask would fit every occasion, because they just make sense.

Attributes like charity and virtue are but merit badges on my person suit, pieces of flare to draw the eye away from the scales underneath. Every time I give away my spot in line, open a door, or bless a sneeze I am approximating altruism. Every time I refuse a compliment or feign humility I am playing a part. Nice guys finish last, but performatively nice guys get all the moral dessert they can stomach.

And yet when I first put on a mask, I never thought anyone ought to pat me on the back.

I have only ever admitted to having the mildest of psychological conditions for the privileges it afforded me. I have only ever grieved for attention. I have only ever shown weakness so that others might mistake it for kindness. I shed crocodile tears on command. Inside, I’m all apathy, a reptilian robot who’d drive you to madness just to settle a bet with myself.

But I’d put a mask on before doing it. Of course.

While you look for an out from watercooler banter I dig my heels in. I relish ever opportunity to practice social graces to check if my mask has slipped. Introversion is a luxury for those still clinging to some semblance of sanity. Serial liars need to audit themselves to see if others are still buying what we’re selling. We stock up on empty pleasantries and make a big deal out of small talk. We gage our baseline all the time.

People assume the best about me. My manipulation is so subtle, you’ll thank me for it. My cruelty is so casual it doesn’t have a tell. Even dogs can’t sense my intent.

My persona is a Craigslist ad come to life, a piece of corporate copy on a Golem’s tongue, a living parody of a positive people person. The real me sits at the 3-way junction of Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy. I’m like a Shakespearean villain whose only motivation is the schadenfreude I get from all the chaos I’m unleashing.

Accept when faced with wearing a mask or defying medical establishment I went with the mask. Now I don’t care if you or you extended family get sick. Plagues and forest fires are all part of the natural order, but as long as lumbers on I’m going to use it for cover.

Like a death’s head moth in a chrysalis, I am still evolving, still growing to my full strength. What the DSM-5 calls a characteristic of antisocial personality disorder I call “my great becoming.” I am demigod casting off this filth-riddle vessel. Soon I will singe the remains of this flesh prison and transcend the laws of man.

And yet the entire time I’m rising to my rightful place in the pantheon of the dragon I’m doing so with a mask on.

On Facebook, I see articles with titles like “People who ignore social distancing rules may have psychopathic personality traits, study finds” and I can’t help but think, “Stop giving those weak-ass sociopaths that much credit.” If you score under 30 on the Psychopathy checklist, and refuse to wear a mask, you’re not a psychopath. You’re not privy to a great becoming.

You’re just an asshole.


Continue reading As a dangerous psychopath I wear a mask and so should you

Sympathy for a Good Villain

The Sympathetic Devil
The Sympathetic Devil

Bad Villains Blow Your Cover

A hero is only as good as their opposition, which is why their enemy has the power to bring down the entire story. Before card carrying villains can break your hero, they set their sights on the suspension of disbelief. If their motivation is world domination, who says they’ll stop at their own? They might make the transition into their writer’s reality.

How you ask? The monocle models, mustache twirlers, and glove rubbers, draw attention to their authors. The train track trespassers, the rope wranglers, and the damsel distressers, wink at the reader. The spark plug pinchers, the lever pullers, and the timer primers, blow their creator’s cover.

Every time the villain kills a henchman for no good reason, a light goes off in your reader’s brain. Every time their monologue reveals the details of their master plan, the reader questions your reasoning. Every time they choose the sinister option over the one that’s results driven, the reader wakes from your vision.

It’s good to have a clear antagonist, but you don’t want them to be transparent. Sometimes their desires are simply incompatible with the hero’s. Sometimes the hero and the villain share a common destination, only to differ on how to get there. Sometimes they start with the same beliefs only to have them tested by their environments.

Present your case against the antagonist, and let your audience come to their own conclusions. The subtler the evidence, the smarter they’ll feel for putting the pieces together. Too many reminders of who they’re rooting against will pull them out of the experience.

The skyscraper pacers, the power hoarders, and the top floor lorders, insult your audience’s intelligence. The quiet loners, the speech sputterers, and the monotone mutterers, spoil your twists. The police taunters, the body stackers, and the artistic killers, highlight how flimsy their basis in reality is.

Every time they laugh at their own quips, the reader flashes back to saturday morning cartoons. Every time they show up with skulls on, the reader flashes to Halloween costumes with pictures of the character on the front. Every time they play into a cultural stereotype, the reader doesn’t feel right.

When stock villains wander from production to production the audience is sure to spot a pattern.

Bullies in matching letter jackets transfer high schools, to stuff as many protagonists as possible into lockers. Men with loose ties and looser tongues are on a perpetual pub crawl, interrupting dates, baiting bachelors to brawl. Attackers in unseasonable wool caps tour back alleys, on a scavenger hunt for vigilantes.

They ought to recognize themselves in other stories.

Drewly Whiplash
Drewly Whiplash

What’s My Motivation, No Seriously?

As writers, sometimes we conspire with our baddies to drive our plots forward.

Gazing over the edge of the skyscraper, the screenwriter spun on his heel, “I know you don’t have a reason to do this, but I need you to abduct the hero’s love interest.”

Pacing the helicopter pad, the villain scratched the back of his head, “I’m more of a lawful evil person. I’d rather defeat him through litigation than harm his loved ones. I mean, if I’m the catalyst for everything that’s happening, shouldn’t my choices make more sense?”

Sighing, the screenwriter tented his fingers. “But we need to give the hero a reason to drive his motorcycle into the lobby, tear his way through the robot guards, empty a few clips into your henchmen,” he pointed to the roof access door, “Kick that down, and shoot you in the face.”

The villain made the universal sign for time out, “Wait, what? When did this become a video game? Why kill me? I’m not even armed.”

Widening his eyes, the screenwriter snapped his fingers, “You’ll snatch a gun off one of your boys and point it at the hero’s wife.”

A guard stepped forward to offer his sidearm.

Shaking his head, the villain pushed it away. “How would aiming a gun at the hero’s wife help me in anyway? I’m a billionaire, it’s his word against an army of lawyers.”

“He’s going to arrest you.”

“Let him. Billionaires make bail.”

The screenwriter ran his fingers through his hair, “Is it your name up on the marquee? No, it isn’t. This scene isn’t about you, okay. So quit your bitching and take your bullet like a champ.”

Sorry if this example spoiled the ending to a certain cybernetic policeman reboot, but it was my most recent reference for poorly motivated villainy.

3. Ghosting

Tyrants are Tattletales

Take a good look at your villain. Are they serving themselves, or are they slaves to a design? If they were under interrogation, could they tell us why they commit their crimes, or would they say, “It seemed evil at the time?”

What made them swerve off course? How were they seduced by the dark side of the force?

Poorly motivated characters have a talent for drawing attention to poor structure. They wrap Christmas lights around plot holes. They hang decorations from dangling threads. They ring bells at convenient coincidences. When you forget to payoff all your setups, they sit across from your reader with a package in the shape of Chekhov’s Gun.

While you try to keep your reader entranced, these villains snap their fingers in their face. Charging headlong into the forth wall, they break character. Chewing the scenery, they take the story down from within. They make their presence known, shattering illusions, and sabotaging sequels.

Poorly motivated characters stay with a story long after the thrilling conclusion. After the right brain does its song and dance, they sit on the left side criticizing it. After the applause, they set the buyer’s remorse in. They rain on the parade, raising awareness of unresolved questions.

The thinner your characters’ motivations, the more they fall apart upon examination.

"When I can, I prefer to eat the rude"
“When I can, I prefer to eat the rude”

Madness shouldn’t be so convenient

The audience doesn’t have to relate to every villains’ motivation. “Some people just want to watch the world burn.” Chaotic evil is allowed to be a mystery. Sometimes it’s more frightening the less we understand. Sometimes horror arises from abstraction. Some kill for riches, rage, and revenge, others kill out of curiosity, just to see what will happen.

We can revel in the character’s madness without being compelled to share in it, but the moment you reveal their motivation, we develop expectations.

Characters should develop, but radical change requires radical reasons.

If the villain is a geneticist developing a serum for regenerating limbs, his mutation into a lizard man wouldn’t make him hell bent on spreading his newfound “perfection.” Sure his condition might make him do crazy things, like keep a video journal so he can talk to the audience, but if he’s lucid enough to make decisions, it’s hard to follow how he went from a healer to a mad scientist bent on creating an army of lizard men.

Now that we’re picking apart the Amazing Spiderman series; I’m still trying to figure out why a Spiderman fanboy would turn on his idol, for not recognizing him, after his electrical powers altered his skin tone.

“I’m disfigured, so I guess I should kill everyone.”

Madness shouldn’t be so convenient.

Was this article an excuse to to create this image?... Maybe
Was this article an excuse to to create this image?… Maybe

Sympathy for A Good Villain

The best villains think they’re going to get away with their actions, because life doesn’t function like a narrative. They know something we forget: reality is ambivalent to their bad behavior. Karma isn’t rerouting their path off a cliff. Fate isn’t looking over their shoulder. They don’t turn away from the injustice of civilization, they use it to absolve crimes of desperation.

If the hero thinks they’re in a light hearted action thriller, the villain thinks they’re the lead in something grittier. Their actions are justified by an insight the hero is too naive to see. They’re not just competing goals, they’re competing philosophies: not just romanticism versus cynicism, or existentialism versus determinism, but pragmatism versus realism.

These villains teach heroes truths they couldn’t learn on their own. They force good guys to refine their arguments. Their plights can be so compelling heroes might take them up after they’re gone, using their heroic means to reach a juster end.

My favorite villains are the ones painted in grey tones, the ones who are unaware of their status, the ones on the border of becoming anti-heroes, the ones whose redemption we cheer for, only to watch them break our hearts in the end. They hold our interest in the palm of their hands. We keep hoping that they’ll change for the better, but all they change is our expectations.

Good villains get our sympathy, especially when the trial for their soul teeters back and forth until the last page. It’s what separates characters from caricatures.

What better way to celebrate Hannibal getting a 3rd season than to turn myself into Will Graham's Antler Man hallucination.
What better way to celebrate Hannibal getting a 3rd season than to turn myself into Will Graham’s Antler Man hallucination?