Are Villains Gloried More Than Heroes?

The Boston bombing was aired over every news station, highlighting the heroes and the villains, and while watching, I knew I needed to talk about this tragedy with my Ethics students.

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Ethics Instructor Jodie Liedke leads her class in a discussion on heroes and villains.

When a student sees that “Ethics” is offered, the first thought that usually comes to their mind is “What is this class about?” My answer, as the instructor, is ‘We are not going to just dive into what we think is right or wrong, but why people believe their acts are correct and how they make choices.’

The course is about understanding and acknowledging the values that others hold. So what values did the news coverage on the bombing conjure? Well, viewers saw some heroic stories, but most of the focus was on the bombers. Since the class was diving into the chapter on egoism, which explores how villains and heroes are created by society, I asked them why they thought the villains were shown more in media.

What we don’t understand is interesting.

My students could list many media-created villains stemming from Hitler (propaganda) to Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, and they knew their stories.  Why? Well, it is simple: “The bad guys are definitely more interesting than the people that stop them,” said Dan Welper, business administration degree student. This is true—viewers flock to “interesting.” But, what makes them interesting?

“Villains are glorified more because people are always intrigued by what we don’t understand,” said Chelsea Lee, vet tech program student. “We always try and get into the minds of the villain and figure out what they were thinking.”

This is a good point since, when we watch footage of events like the Boston bombing, the question that plays over and over in our minds until we get an answer (again usually from the media) is why—why did they do this? Where did they come from? Who are their parents? What was going through their heads? We also want answers. This can be due to closure, for only then can we move on.

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Globe University vet tech students discuss egoism in Liedke’s Ethics class.

Good is expected and evil is not.

Villains attracts our eye because not only are they prevalent on the news, but because at times we think, no, that didn’t happen; things like that only happen in the movies.

“Villains don’t get more glory; they just tend to be talked about more because of the horror they cause,” said Carla Heath, medical assistant program student. It is not necessarily the “who” but the “what” that is happening that keeps us from turning the channel.

Of course, there were some feel-good stories that arose from the Boston bombing that noted heroes who helped strangers nearby. However, viewers have a different reaction to them, for “doing the good thing is expected; therefore, heroism goes, for the most part, unnoticed,” said Jami Sonsalla, vet tech program student. “Villains seem to be the minority, and in a way, foreign, therefore, more glorified.”

One rotten apple on a tree will stick out, just like one villain amongst a crowd of heroes. There is a universal ethical code to help others in need, and because it is a rule that the majority follow, in a way, it no longer becomes a rule as far as choice but a must.

Peace won’t happen.

I asked my students what would happen if world peace came true? Many students laughed for the pageant reference, but then another vet tech program student, Sacha Hansen, said, “We would have no reason to get together.”

She is definitely on to something here. If there was no violence in the world, no proclaimed bad versus good, what common ground would we share? What would happen to the forming of communities if we didn’t need each other? This is just a small part of what ethics is all about.  Students question and discuss not to just understand but to find commonalities about how we can and cannot function as a community so we can find that common ground.

This post was written by Jodie Liedke. Liedke, a true Wisconsinite, having labored four summers in a mozzarella factory, received her BA from Lakeland College and her Masters in Fine Arts from Wichita State University in Kansas.  Liedke is the General Education and Service-Learning Coordinator, a Creative Quill and Writing Across the Curriculum lead, and the adviser/instructor for GLUWW (Globe La Crosse Writers Write). When not writing creatively, Liedke enjoys watching films, exploring the outdoors, and biking.