Monday, October 26, 2009

The Best Worst Villain, EVER (Part Three: Go It Alone.)

All villains, all the time...

Read Part One Here.

Read Part Two here.

Everyone knows that one quote about the one thing about evil winning if nobody does anything, right?

I thought I knew that quote, which goes something like All that is required for evil to win is that it wins, or something, but then I was sitting here on Monday morning, having returned to "work" from my week of Adventures in Babysitting, and I couldn't remember how it went, so I did what I always do, which is Google the question.

(I'm not the only one who does that; "scientists" try -- in vain -- to prove things via Googling, too, which means that when I google things, I'm using the scientific method! And to think that Mr. Karsten, my 6th grade science teacher, thought I'd never learned anything in that class.)

In this case, I tried to search for the quote that I almost remembered, typing in "All that is required for evil," a search which will help me maintain my standing as number one on the Homeland Security watchlist.

And I was rewarded with the exact quote, exactly as I remembered it, and no doubt exactly as whoever said it actually said it. Here's the quote I got:

All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.

That was attributed, by "QuoteDB," to a guy named Edmund Burke. I didn't know anything about Edmund Burke, so I googled him, then, and got to a page of quotations by Edmund Burke. That page, I was gratified to see, had the exact same quote as the number one quote on the page. And, although it was exactly the same and there's therefore no reason for me to re-write it, I will do that, anyway. Here's the exact same Edmund Burke quote:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Wait a second... that's not the same at all!

That made me wonder -- and get sidetracked, as I so often do -- what the exact quote actually was. And where better to get good, rock-solid answers than from a bunch of anonymous people on Yahoo. After all, these are the people who correctly identified the flavor of a white jellybean as "Mystery." So you know they're authoritative. Or at least that they'd have opinions on the subject.

They didn't disappoint, either: Noted Edmund Burke-ologist "RetroRay" discoursed on the subject, saying as follows:

The eighteenth century Irish statesman, philosopher and political theorist, Edmund Burke, is credited with the remark that "evil prevails when good men do nothing". Some have said that the quote was actually "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

In either case, it means that evil will win if good people do nothing.

Of course, the vexing, unsolved problem is to determine who or what is "evil" and who or what is "good." I, for one, often fear those in the world who are sure that they are "good" and are equally sure that those who oppose them are "evil."

But that might not be the last word on the subject, because the Internet abounds with people who have opinions, most of them wrong, all of them hilarious, and a click over from Yahoo! Answers yields "WikiAnswers," where, if you search for "Who said evil will prevail when good men do nothing?" you can find this:

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)

Numerous searches by numerous people have failed to find this exact quotation in any of Burke's writings,and it is now thought to be a 20th Cen. paraphrase.

Friedrich Nietzche made the quote.

I like that: The quote is first attributed to Edmund Burke, but the author then debunks his own answer, and then, without any sources whatsoever, attributes the quote to someone else entirely.

Of course, the main reason why "[n]umerous searches" by "numerous people" (remember: Everyone proves everything by Googling it!) failed to turn up the "exact quote" might be because they weren't searching for the right quote, but let's leave that aside in the interests of accuracy. Internet-style accuracy, that is, in which the fact that someone said something makes that thing they said true.

Which is why The Best of Everything is such an authoritative reference. I say things all the time, and once said, they're true! (Of course, I stole that quote from Nietzche, who himself stole his quote about evil not from Burke, but from The Flaming Lips.)

The reason I was looking for that quote is because I wanted to use it to lead in to Part Three Of The Best Worst Villain, EVER, although in the end, I'm lucky that I got so distracted by the search for the real Quotent Quotable (as Alex Trebek might say, if he was a little drunk)(Can you picture Alex Trebek just a little drunk? I think that'd be awesome.)

I'm lucky I got distracted by the search for the real quotation because I forgot that starting an article with a quotation is among the worst of cardinal sins for writers. Starting with a quotation is superceded, in terribleosity, only by (a) starting with a dictionary definition, or (b) making your post/article/essay an "open letter" to someone famous.

(Someday, I expect I'll read an editorial that begins with a famous person's quote about the meaning of an open letter, according to Webster's, and I'll know then that the long slow death of good writing, which began with Mitch Albom, is complete.)

I was looking for that quote because it's Monday and I couldn't figure out how else to start this post (that's why it's a cardinal sin; it's lazy), in which I intend to narrow down the list of potential Best Worst Villains, EVER by weeding out those who rely too much on henchman, sidekicks, computers, or other helpers to achieve their evil. My point was going to be this:

If it's true, as The Flaming Lips and Edmund Nietzsche said, that all evil needs to win is for good men to do nothing, then why would evil villains ever need henchmen?

And that is my point, whatever the quote actually is. My point is that Villains do not need henchmen. Not great villains, anyway.

There are three kinds of villains-with-henchmen.

First is the super-competent villain whose plans are so large that he feels he must enlist help, or an army, or both, to achieve them. That type of Villain is exemplified by Dr. Impossible, in Soon I Will Be Invincible, or by Walkin' Dude from The Stand or by Hitler, from World War II.

Let's examine those archetypes a little more closely, beginning with Dr. Impossible. He's a supergenius, a mad scientist, has an IQ of 300 or something, and he's invincible and has superstrength. Using that, he tried to conquer the world 12 times (and tries for a 13th time in the book Soon I Will Be Invincible.) In the book, Dr. Impossible reveals that he robs banks and the like to get money for his superplans, and he has an island lair (as many good villains do) where there is an army, or has been an army, maybe. (I read the book a while ago, so I don't exactly remember if there is or was an army.)

Then there's Walkin' Dude, who, following the decimation of 99% of the human race, begins walking around gathering up evil humans to do battle against the good humans for the right to rule what's left of the world, with "what's left of the world" being, apparently, "Boulder, Colorado," and some grocery stores with cans of food that people can break into and steal.

And, finally, there's Hitler, who I don't mean to make light of and I'm certainly not. We all know what Hitler did, and tried to do -- and if you don't know, watch The History Channel, which presents Hitler shows 23 1/2 hours per day. (Last week, Newsweek had a chart at the back showing which television broadcasts have hit which star systems. At some point, The History Channel will hit Alpha Centauri, whose denizens will then assume that nothing happened in the 20th century other than Hitler's rise to power, kind of the way I assume, based on my US History classes, that nothing happened between 1865-1930 other than "The Gilded Age" and Upton Sinclair's writing The Jungle.)




Each of those villains failed, and they failed, in large part, because their troops let them down. As they always will, when working for a Villain. Who goes to work for a villain, after all? People who get forced to do it, or who are villainous themselves, that's who. That's not exactly a roadmap to success: I'm going to pin all my hopes for world domination on those two guys who are only doing this because they need the antidote for the poison I gave them, and that third guy who just tried to stab me in the back, literally.

Nazis, bad people who survived a plague, people who would be willing to go work on a deserted desert island to take over the world using weather satellites: These are not the type of recruits you want, and Evil, far from prevailing, will never win out if it relies on guys who wouldn't get let in the door at a job fair. The Nazis army, in particular, won all its stunning victories before anybody knew they were fighting. If I were to attack you entirely by surprise out of the blue, a la Andy Samberg:

If I were to do that, I'd almost certainly get in a good punch, like the time I fought a guy outside a teen bar when I was 19, and I hit him first and really scored a good one on him, too.

But if you then start fighting back, I'm almost certain to lose, just as I did that fight outside the teen bar, because that guy then punched me in the side of the head while I was celebrating my first-- and only -- good punch, then he tackled me, and then he kicked me while I was down.

Which is what happened to the Nazis, once the world began fighting. They began to lose, all over the place. And that's what happens to all villains who rely on an army to take over the world. Saddam Husseins' Republican Guard -- the "much vaunted" Republican Guard -- collapsed in the face of an invasion that consisted solely of George Clooney, Marky Mark, and Ice Cube. Walkin' Dude's army fared even worse: They were wiped out by a guy called "Trashcan Man," if I remember correctly.

Worse than Competent-Villains-With-Armies are Incompetent villains with armies. This includes guys like The Emperor from The Star Wars movies (I know, I said nobody else from those movies except Darth Vader, but I'm making an exception because I make the rules here), Sauron (and Saruman) from The Lord of The Rings, and Space Invaders.

I'm not even sure how these guys raised an army in the first place, but it's very apparent they are not qualified to lead one, and that their "army" barely meets the minimum criteria for a fighting force.

Space Invaders provide the best example of incompetence at the head of an army. Whatever particular Space Invader was in charge, that person was a complete nincompoop. Line the army up and have them march slowly forward? We figured out a way to stop that kind of attack back in 1776 (although that kind of attack was then tried by the South at Gettysburg, putting whoever led the Confederacy's forces there onto the short list of villains who should ride the short bus.) Even the Galaga invaders understood you've got to try to outflank people sometimes.

Then there's The Emperor, who people equate with "evil genius" but who had the "genius" notion of using an army made of clones.

Let me make the point of how bad an idea that is by looking at corn. As far back as the 1970s, scientists and farmers became concerned about preserving the genetic diversity of crops after "southern corn leaf blight" wiped out 15% or more of crops -- something that was possible because 90% of the corn hybrids shared cell cytoplasm. They weren't clones, not exactly, but they were very, very similar, genetically, and so they were easily wiped out by one common threat.

Now, can you see where that would apply to clones? One bad genetic marker, one discovery of a susceptibility to a virus, and your entire clone army is wiped out.

The only people dumber than the Emperor were the Old Republic/Rebellion, which spent billions on lasers and spaceships and X-wings and cool monitors and droids, but which could have simply funded a small lab somewhere to find a way to throw a retrovirus into the cooling system of the Death Star, kill all the clones -- and then have the Death Star for themselves.

Then there's Sauron, who might be the dumbest Villain of all. First Sauron takes all, or almost all,of his power and puts it into a ring.

Why? Why do that? Is it because the power was itchy and you just wanted to get some relief? How is a ring safer than your own body? Was there some chance that Gollum was going to kidnap you and wear you in a cave?

But then, Sauron decides to get his ring back, and take over the world, by relying on Orcs. Twisted versions of elves. That's his big plan. Beings that have all the troubles exhibited by the usual army-in-the-service of evil (that is, conscripts or villains themselves) but who also were made of "heat and slime," or, maybe created as parodies of elves and animated by evil will. (Tolkien tried it both ways.)

So they're basically Solomon Grundy, but without the muscles-and-falling-in-love-with-heroes thing going for them.

(Note: I just decided that, having remembered him, I'm going to add Solomon Grundy to the list.)

Some villains, though, don't rely on an Army of Clones or Easily Demotivated Conscripts. Some villains rely on a small group of henchmen, or just one henchman or assistant.

Villains like Dr. Evil work with a tiny group of almost-as-evil people, while villains like Plankton mostly work alone but get advice and help from one sidekick. In Plankton's case, that's his computer wife, Karen.

Either way, it's a bad idea and proves that you're not worthy of true Super Villainry. Again, not only does Evil not need help, but the help usually brings you down or points out just how inept you are.

Dr. Evil's helpers show both. There's the Will Ferrell character, who is tragically, but comically, inept at his job, and the rest of the helpers are about the same.

Except for Scott, of course. The helpers who are competent, though, are routinely ignored. Scott's suggestion that they just shoot Austin Powers is derided as no good. Number Two, in the absence of Dr. Evil, built Virtucon into a powerful, rich corporation -- and powerful, rich corporations have a far better chance of taking over, or wrecking, the world than any number of atomic bombs. Just ask Wal-Mart, which actually has its own nuclear program, but doesn't talk about it much because they don't need it.

Captain Hook is another example of a Villain with a few henchman, and look what happened to him: He lost to a kid, after repeatedly ignoring his own men's suggestions that they simply sail off somewhere where Peter Pan didn't live, and go back to pirating. Plus, he couldn't even kill Tinkerbell. Or keep her captive.

Villains with only one henchman don't fare any better. There's not many of these around, or at least not many I can think of (and Egocentric Existentialism then proves that those Villains I can't think of don't matter), so I'll go with Plankton, again. Plankton's computer wife works against him in two ways: First, she's always making suggestions that Plankton refuses to follow, to his own detriment -- his plans go awry when he doesn't listen to her. But second, she's always suggesting that he not do his evil plans.

How is a guy, even a one-celled guy, supposed to succeed when his wife is constantly telling him he shouldn't even be trying? How is a guy supposed to, for example, create the World's Best Sandwich if his wife is always telling him that he needs to put on pants and get into the office? (Not that I'm talking about anyone in particular.)(Sweetie, that last one would have been it, and we'd be rich, because, like they say, "Build a better sandwich and the world will beat a path to your door so that Evil can prevail more easily.")(Nietzsche.)

Master Control Program, too, had a henchman: Sark. But MCP was easily bested because Sark was easily bested and Jeff Bridges was able to figure out the intricacies of video games and how to drink electronic fluid and beat him in a movie that wasn't copied by The Matrix at all, really, except that it was.

No, what's necessary for success, if you have a henchman, is that your wife/henchman back you up -- like Richard Heene's wife backed him up, making his plan to rise to fame work brilliantly. At least until she confessed -- another reason not to have henchmen. If you don't rely on a 6-year-old and your wife, you can't be ratted out by a 6-year-old and your wife. If Richard Heene had done his plan himself, we'd even now be watching his reality show on which he and Kate Gosselin travel around the world battling Death Panels.

In the end, Villains work alone, as shown by the quote I almost introduced this post with, and as shown, too, by a far better quote than that. Rather than discussing what is or is not necessary for evil to triumph, one could listen to the words of the greatest philosopher known to the 20th century:

"I'm a loner, Dottie. A Rebel."

Now, I know he wasn't talking about evil, but neither was Burke Nietzsche or whatever his name was; the quote I kind-of-led into this post with was actually about Rock-and-roll. The full, actual quote is this:

All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to keep on claiming that Coldplay is rock and roll when clearly they are not. And what's so great about Radiohead, while I'm on the subject? Aside from Anyone Can Play Guitar, they've never really had a good song, have they? And that wasn't all that great, either. I mean, it was okay, but it wasn't, like a classic...

-- Friedrich Burkington III
, in Walden: Or Life In The Woods.

So, what have we learned?
That key number two to being a great Villain is: Be a loner.

Working with henchmen, groups, armies... that's for second-rate dictators and soon-to-be-imprisoned madmen.

Working alone: That's the way to go.

With that, I'll pare the list down again. The remaining candidates for Best Worst Villain, EVER are:

Solomon Grundy (New addition!)
Token Female: Reverse Wonder Woman.
The Lizard.
Marvin The Martian
"The Rake," from the Decemberists song of the same name.
The Red Baron (both the real one and the one from the Peanuts comic)
All the old guys who ran all the haunted amusement parks in all the episodes of Scooby-Doo.
Doctor Octopus
Rob Lowe in Wayne's World
The T-1000.
Mr Norrell (who I think turned out to kind of be a villain?)
Darth Vader
The Mariner (from The Mariner's Revenge Song by The Decemberists)
Lex Luthor
The Joker
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Darth Vader (and absolutely nobody else from the Star Wars univere including especially not Boba Fett, so don't nominate him.)
Toth (from Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Saddam Hussein.
The Mariner (from The Mariner's Revenge Song by The Decemberists)
Ivan Drago (suggested by The Boy)
The Anti-Monitor
The guy from Country Death Song by The Violent Femmes (Just to prove that I can think of bad guys from songs by groups other than the Decemberists)
Gorilla Grodd.

A word about why Voldemort is still on there: Voldemort had henchmen: The Death-Eaters. But Voldemort didn't appear to ever coordinate with them, so far as I could tell. He told them, at times, what to do, but he also seemed to mostly work alone when he wasn't attached to the back of a guy's head under a turban. So I'm leaving him on here, for now.

Go on to Part Four, "Sure, you're crazy... ?" by clicking here.

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