Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Best Worst Villain, EVER (Part Four: Sure, You're Crazy, But Just How Crazy Are You?)

Part Four in my ongoing investigatory series in which I'm whittling down all the villains, ever, into just the one Best Worst Villain, EVER.
Part One: Naming The Villains.
Part Two: Let's Lose The Chicks.
Part Three: Go It Alone.

The foundation of western Civilization is this one, central thought:

That's so crazy it just might work.

Sure, there are those who contend that the foundation of western Civilization -- the greatest civilization in the greatest hemisphere on the greatest planet ever, up top! -- can be found in different principles, say, ideas foisted off on us by such charlatans as Aristotle or the "Founding Fathers." But what ideas did they ever give us? Nothing, I say. Here's a summary of Aristotle's career:

He was an ancient Greek.

Now, that'll get you pretty far in life, it seems. In fact, for the bulk of human history, being an ancient Greek was an all-access pass to the philosophical high life, kind of like being on The Hills is now: people pay attention to you for no apparent, reason, and you have a pretty good social life. But, on close examination, being an Ancient Greek doesn't contribute anything more, really, than being on The Hills, and I can prove it using the scientific method of comparing the great thoughts of Aristotle with the great thoughts of Heidi Montag:

Representative quote from Aristotle (as located by Googling the phrase Aristotle quote*)
*for an explanation of how science has come to mean, simply, "googling things," see this article, by me.
"A friend to all is a friend to none."

Representative quote from Heidi Montag (located much the same way, but with more interference from pictures of her):

"I plan to win an Oscar. I’m very ambitious."

Let's compare those two, shall we? Aristotle's, to begin with, is dumb. It makes no sense. If I'm friends with everyone (all the people) then I'm friends... with everyone. But Aristotle claims that makes me friends with nobody (none of the people.) Maybe math hadn't been invented by then -- I'm not sure when Pythagoras came up with it -- but even if they didn't have numbers, ancient Greeks should have known that everyone isn't equal to nobody, that all is not none. Right? Who's with me, here?

So Aristotle's saying is dumb, and also unhelpful to society, because what he's really getting at is a claim that we shouldn't be friends with everyone. What kind of advice is that? Thanks, Mr. Antisocial Ancient Greek. Maybe you didn't get invited to parties and wanted to turn that into a virtue, but I'm not buying it.

Meanwhile, look at the simple homespun wisdom of Heidi Montag's inspirational quote, which I'm thinking of turning into a t-shirt -- the modern repository of all great wisdom. Heidi's quote sums up, in 9 words (I counted, and I bet you just went back and did, too), what modern America is all about: fame, and arbitrary recognition of fame. She understands that today, in America, "ambition" no longer requires backing by hard work or talent or drive or even people liking you. No, if you're trying to get ahead in modern America, if you're ambitious, all you have to do is get enough people to pay attention to you and you've made it. And then, at some point, they'll give you an Oscar to recognize that people know who you are. (Or, in some cases, they'll give you a Nobel Peace Prize.)

So if you were trying to get ahead in America, and you could only take advice from one person, and you had to choose between Aristotle and Heidi Montag, you'd be a whole lot better off choosing Heidi Montag, is what I'm saying, and that's proof -- scientific proof-- that the ancient Greeks weren't so hot after all. (Plus, they believed that the sun was driven across the sky in a chariot. Those nuts! Modern people would never believe something that defies all rational logic.)

In fact, villains could use a little dose of Heidi Montag, themselves, because Heidi's advice is a surer route to the kind of world domination they seek to establish, time and time again -- surer and more fun and less costly than, say "Fighting the Avengers" or "Sending 500 Giant Robots Into Center City To Demolish It" or "Turning the Moon Into A Kind of Super NASCAR and entering it in a race against the Legion of Superheroes" (that last one is a script I'm writing that I hope will help resurrect Will Ferrell's Ricky Bobby character.) Fame and fortune, especially fame and fortune achieved almost, seemingly, by accident, can put a person into the limelight and let them become a person of influence...


...whereas the methods villains use, like the afore-listed and like other methods (cloning, wars, digging into the bank vault using a giant drill) they've tried, fail over and over and over again.

So why do they keep trying?

Because they're crazy. That's why they're villains in the first place, remember. They're nuts. They're bonkers. They're off the ranch. They're a couple throw-rugs short of a model home**
(**That last saying brought to you by the National Realtors Association. Have you hugged a realtor today? If so, you're kind of weird.)

But their crazy isn't to be shunned and feared, like some wackos should be. No, villainous crazy should be encouraged, because, as I said, villainous crazy is building on the foundation of Western Civilization. Remember, that foundation is the phrase:

That's so crazy it just might work.

That quote is so obviously the foundation of Western Civilization that it seems pointless to provide evidence of my assertion, but I'll do it anyway, in question-and-answer form:

Q: How did Western Civilization find the West, in which it formed a civilization?
A: By crazily opting to sail West and risking falling off the edge of the world.

Q: What was the world's understanding of the American and French Revolutions?
A: That they were crazy to try to defeat royalty and then-established world powers.

Q: How crazy were the major accomplishments of Western civilization so far?
A: Seriously crazy: We drilled through mountains to build a railroad, dug through Central America for the heck of it, and even pretended to land a man on the moon in the 1960s. More recently, we have sent roller blades to Mars for no apparent reason, we gave a second TV show to Jenna Elfman, and we came up with pizzas that cost only $5!

I rest my case. Western Civilization wouldn't exist without the crazy ideas to sail off the edge of the world, to set up a new country with no money and no experience, to claim that all people are created equal when some of them are clearly Madonna, and other crazy notions. Forget "democracy" or "capitalism" or "swine flu vaccines at Walgreens:" Western Civilization is founded on craziness.

So. Villains and crazy: We love us some villains, and they love them some crazy, and that's good because it helps advance civilization, right? Right. Without crazy villains, we wouldn't have the technology to invent Death Rays (now being used by Wal-Mart against shoplifters), or single-use Rocket Submarines (commuters in Tokyo have these already) and, more importantly, without crazy villains, we would have no reason to have bank security guards to stand vigilant against constant break-ins, road construction crews to repair damage caused by RoboTanks marching on Metropolis, architects to design fancy headquarters for the superhero groups necessary to guard against these villains, or satellite TV. (It's a little known fact that the Justice League's satellite HQ, when not used for their meetings, is sublet to DirecTV.) Villains, and their crazy schemes, are propping up our economy, and thank God for that, or I'd have to get a real job.

Just like civilization wouldn't exist without crazy, villains wouldn't either. Being a villain means being crazy. It doesn't matter how you get there -- whether you were born nuts, whether you went crazy because Superboy interrupted your experiment and caused you to lose your hair, or whether you went crazy because you realized that you were a zombielike creation made up of vegetative matter found in sewers and therefore will never be with the woman you love...

...Oprah..., I mean, Solomon Grundy...

(Boy, I bet everyone gets those two confused)

However you got to crazy, you've got to get there because otherwise you wouldn't be a villain. Supersmart or superstrong sane people do not move to tropical islands and create MegaViruses. They do not launch rockets at the moon (unless they work for NASA and have some old rockets lying around and need to distract people from the constant failures by making up some story about ice on the moon). Sane SuperPeople with SuperAbilities go play for the Yankees and make $150 million dollars a second, or they make a bunch of hit movies and then become Scientologists and brainwash a wife, or they star as "Arnold" on the hit 80's TV series Diff'rent Strokes, but they do not try to take over the world or kill people. You've got to be nuts to do that.

And you've got to be really nuts to be a great villain. Because crazy, like cool, is not a straight line; it's a circle. Crazy starts out just to the side of sane, but then, the crazier it gets, the further it gets from sanity.. but then, just as the great scientists in Modest Mouse pointed out will happen with the universe, crazy comes back around until it becomes so crazy it's sane.

The Best Worst Villain, EVER, then, will be someone who's crazy -- because he's a villain -- but who is so crazy, so demented, so far beyond the pale that he's almost sane again. His schemes will be so crazy they just might work. Because regular crazy never works -- Al Davis' Raiders never win anything that counts. Hardees' doesn't sell any good food.

But super-duper-mega crazy? That stuff works: Samuel L. Jackson's entire career is premised on it. So is Rachael Ray's. Internal Combustion Engines: super-duper crazy -- "let's power our transportation via a series of explosions!" is the thought behind that.

So our list of remaining Villain Candidates can be pared down by eliminating the crazy-but-not-too crazy. The current list:

Solomon Grundy (New addition!)
Token Female: Reverse Wonder Woman.
The Lizard.
Marvin The Martian
Doctor Octopus
Lex Luthor
The Joker
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Ivan Drago (suggested by The Boy)
The Anti-Monitor
Gorilla Grodd.

From that list, we can cut out:

The T-1000 -- because he's a robot, and robots by definition aren't crazy. They have logic circuits, as everyone knows, and if the logic circuits break down we know it because they just walk in circles.
"The Rake," from the Decemberists song of the same name, and the guy from Country Death Song by The Violent Femmes. Both these guys killed their kids, and while that's crazy and despicable, it's also commonplace and not too smart.

The Red Baron (both the real one and the one from the Peanuts comic): He was a flying Ace. An evil one, but crazy people don't fly airplanes well; they invent wings and use those.

All the old guys who ran all the haunted amusement parks in all the episodes of Scooby-Doo, and Rob Lowe in Wayne's World. Rob Lowe liked Tia Carrere, which is proof of sanity. True, he lost to a bunch of idiots from Illinois, but that's not insane, it's just lame. The old guys? If I recall correctly, the haunted amusement parks were always covers for a secret mining operation to find the lost gold that Grandma had buried there years before. That's a crazy level of effort to go to, but in the end, it's still a desire for gold, which isn't crazy enough. Not with the price of gold these days. (More proof that villains are crazy? Sane people don't invent a haunted amusement park to get gold; they invent a company that tells people to mail their gold in and then trust they'll get money back.)

Mr Norrell (who I think turned out to kind of be a villain?): I'm actually cutting him out because in retrospect I don't think he's a villain.

Darth Vader: Was he crazy? I don't think so. Darth was the one who didn't believe in giant battle stations, remember, but trusted ancient religions, which would've been a really smart move had the Emperor listened to him. Darth headed off Han Solo in Bespin, and always sent in the stormtroopers first. I think Darth Vader wasn't hardly crazy at all; he had only the minimal level of craziness required to make him a villain -- probably brought on by being called Annie all the time -- and further proof of his minimal craziness is that it took almost nothing to turn him good again; Luke just threw him a Father's Day card or something.

Saddam Hussein and The Mariner (from The Mariner's Revenge Song by The Decemberists): I think we agree, just not crazy enough.

Toth (from Raiders of the Lost Ark:) He was nuts -- he used his scarred hand to recreate that one thing to find the Lost Ark -- but, in the end, was just a regular kind of nut.

The remaining candidates,

Solomon Grundy (New addition!) Token Female: Reverse Wonder Woman. The Lizard. Marvin The Martian Doctor Octopus Mangog Lex Luthor The Joker Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Voldemort Ivan Drago (suggested by The Boy) Galactus The Anti-Monitor Gorilla Grodd. [SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE OR READ THE COMIC BOOK THIS'LL KIND OF WRECK IT FOR YOU] Ozymandias, from The Watchmen,

I think we can agree, all display the requisite minimal level of supercraziness to keep on going. Whether they want to destroy everything that ever existed, or exist as a piece of skull grafted onto the Dark Arts' teacher's turban, or use their mental powers as the King of Gorillas solely to fight Wonder Woman and The Flash, these villains are nuts, but really, really nuts -- they invent healing potions, they break their soul into pieces to make themselves immortal, they alone know the power of the Umonium P-38 Explosive Space Modulator and intend to use it to get a better view of the planets by destroying those worlds that are in their way... they're nuts, and nuts enough to almost be sane.
Next up -- I'll cut the list down further by looking at what our Modern Philosopher Queen, Heidi Montag, suggested is the key to existence: Ambition!

Go on to Part Five, "What's Your Plan, Man?" by clicking here.

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