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Villain by Default
...And there's this Nazi, who's a bad guy! Why is it that Nazis are always the bad guys?
Close relatives of Always Chaotic Evil
, these characters are defined morally and narratively by what
they are, rather than who
they are. Inevitably, the Villain by Default is a member of an organization or class that society as a whole has agreed is evil. For this reason, they require little to no additional characterization to cement their position in the story or motives, and in fact, most Villain by Default characters receive none.
Essentially, this is a way to supply ready-made antagonists and Evil Minions
without sacrificing screen time. Evil Minions
, and members of the Quirky Miniboss Squad
are more dependent on this trope than the Big Bad
, since the Big Bad
usually has enough screen time to more clearly establish their motives.
Nazis and neo-Nazis are possibly the ultimate example of modern cinematic Villain by Default characters, since these need no additional characterization - most of society agrees Nazis were evil simply by being Nazis
, and neo-Nazis are even more evil because they're the really dedicated ones (as opposed to the occasional Nazi that was conscripted).
Other common examples of Villain by Default types:
- Serial killers
- Drug dealers
- Some drug users might also count (see "People who are psychotic" below)
- Bullies (especially in school-related or Slice of Life works)
- Racial supremacists (unless they have a really good Freudian Excuse)
- Slavers and slave-owners (unless in a society in which slavery is deeply ingrained and are shown to treat their slaves well.)
- Tobacco company executives
- Communists (especially for works written in the Western countries during the Cold War)
- Even more so if they are actual KGB agents
- People who are psychotic
- Anyone or anything in a Sci-Fi show that claims to be a deity, even (or especially) if they have a good case.
- Goblins, orcs, and various other monsters. See Always Chaotic Evil.
- Especially if the hero is poor or common-born, there is a tendency that Aristocrats Are Evil and the rich are often this way
- Religious Fanatics
- Debt collectors
- Soldiers, who are often portrayed as either as explicitly this or as a Noble Profession, depending on setting and often on the author's politics. When the former, they will either be Ax-Crazy or Faceless Mooks. Of course, what side they are on will also be a huge factor. In the majority of post-Vietnam media, soldiers on either side who participate in combat missions are portrayed as an example of Grey and Grey Morality.
- Teachers, bosses, and other authority figures in a school or office setting.
- Type 1 Pirates.
- Political "advisors" from other countries in a Banana Republic settings, who are more interested in creating their own little fiefdom than actually helping the people
- And of course, the Nazis
If the protagonist of the story is an Anti-Hero
, such as a vigilante or mob boss, or is wrongly accused
, then any form of law enforcement will be the villains. Whether this is because they are ineffective, corrupt, well-meaning-but-misinformed
, or just in the protagonist's way depends on the specific story.
Naturally, whenever a group is cast as Villains By Default without additional justification, there will be a part of the audience that's going to disagree with the assessment
. This is particularly true of works that are subtly or unsubtly pandering to one "fashionable" prejudice or another
, or that are aimed at very specific audiences. This is where Values Dissonance
will kick in: a work created by a fundamentalist Christian might have a "sinful" person (stripper, alcoholic, what-have-you) as an irredeemable villain, whereas a work by someone who despises Christians will want his/her audience to assume that Christians
are the evil ones.
See also Acceptable Targets
and Designated Hero
. Compare Sympathetic P.O.V.
and Designated Villain
Contrast with Noble Profession
, where a character is stereotypically good
because of their career path.
Anime and Manga
- Significant aversion: One episode of Kinos Journey involves slavers who had eaten their "cargo" to survive in a snowstorm. However, the episode is devoted to showing that despite how wicked their profession, actions, and plan seem once revealed, they're people as well, with loved ones, hopes, and dreams. Which only goes to show that ordinary people, too, are capable of acts of astonishing callousness — and conversely, that no matter how callous a person is, they're still a person.
- The Abh from Crest of the Stars subvert this trope (though they seem to embrace it at first). They have an interstellar empire acquired through conquest and they ban space travel for everyone but the Abh, claiming it's all for good reason; i.e., trying to prevent a vast and destructive conflict.
- Subverted only to a degree as the world of CotS is bit grey.
- Subverted to hell and back again on JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (Part II: Battle Tendency) with Those Wacky Nazis! No, really! Have we already mentioned that this manga is bizarre? To elaborate: At first, the Nazis are seem trying to revive an ancient race of fossilized Mesoamerican vampires, most likely for the sake of harnessing their power. However, later on it's revealed that they were investigating them, from the very beginning, for the sake of finding a way to eliminate them, as their resurrection would mean the end of the human race. In the end, they come up as heroic and badass. They even give the hero, Joseph Joestar, a cool mechanical hand as a thanks gift after he lost it in the final battle.
- In Holyland, Yuu is repeatedly opposed by delinquents and gangsters. As time goes on, though, you see exceptions with formerly hostile characters who are at least honourable if not outright pull a Heel-Face Turn. Yuu also wonders at times how similar he is to them.
- The Anti Heroes of Sin City have taken on many a Villain by Default in their stories.
- Marv has fought hitmen, a police death squad, a corrupt cardinal and a silent and deadly cannibal whose proclivities the cardinal shared.
- Dwight took on a vicious abuser who turned out to be a hero cop, a team of Irish "rented terrorists", and a syndicate bent on enslaving the girls of Old Town.
- Hartigan's primary nemeses were a pedophilic rapist/Serial Killer and his corrupt US Senator father.
- Intentionally averted in V for Vendetta, at least the comic book. Alan Moore initially intended to write his Nazi antagonists as straight-up cardboard villains, as per typical views of Nazis, before reflecting that Fascists are people, too, who usually have reasons for their actions a little more complex than evil for evil's sake. Usually that they're pathetic losers who have become control freaks to hide their issues. Adam Susan is sexually frustrated and gets off on his Master Computer, for example. Inspector Finch is a Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist because his experiences in the riots that preceded the fascist government persuaded him that tyranny was better than chaos - so he helped them hunt down minorities because that was what they demanded in exchange for a stable government. The result is lots of Grey and Gray Morality. The movie, however, plays the trope dead straight - except for Finch, who not only abandons fascism, but in the end permits V's final act of terrorism out of disgust for the government.
- The Nazis in the Indiana Jones series, naturally.
- Interestingly, at least in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the common grunt soldiers were shown as simply Punchclock Villains, with Indy sharing a smile with one - right before punching his lights out - and even engaging in an honorable one-on-one duel.
- They were still Punchclocks in The Last Crusade. It's just that the Big Bad used locals (that he hired of course), so for the most part you didn't see it as much.
- In another Last Crusade scene, Indy's father tells the Big Bad that he is slimy and evil not strictly because he is a Nazi sympathizer, but because he is an American Nazi sympathizer (i.e., he is betraying his country). Unlike the German soldiers, he had a choice in the matter.
- In Star Wars, any military officer of the Galactic Empire is treated as thoroughly evil, even in situations where it's clear they are only doing their jobs. Note that in A New Hope, one Imperial officer racially abuses Chewie. (Though honestly, once your bosses have not only built but used something like the Death Star, and then started building another one, you gotta start considering yourself complicit.)
- Another Star Wars example: The bounty hunters in The Empire Strikes Back, including Boba Fett, are portrayed (however briefly) as an unsavory bunch. It was only in the Expanded Universe and, later, Attack Of The Clones that Fett attained any real characterization.
- GrandViziers on Discworld. Arguably, grand viziers everywhere, but it's lampshaded every time one shows up in Discworld, sometimes by the Vizier himself. To the point where a new emperor chose a Wrong Genre Savvy Cloudcuckoolander tourist to be his Grand Vizier on the rationale that someone who didn't know anything about the job would be good.
- When the Unseen University hires a necromancer as a professor he is contractually obligated to do small evil things on a regular basis since necromancy is considered evil magic. He is actually a pretty nice guy.
- Used and then deconstructed in The Immortals with the Stormwings. Their very nature is to desecrate bodies on the battlefield, and they feed on human fear, so they are universally hated by nearly all humans, and most other creatures. To ensure that they have a ready supply of "food," they actively attack people. However, when Daine meets Rikash she learns that not all Stormwings agree with waging war and have their own set of honor and values—plus their natures were decided by the human mage who created them.
- In Dungeons & Dragons and most fantasy media, Necromancers (Or Necromantics) invariably abuse their powers for fun and profit. Even though it's a player accessible subclass of the Wizard, it's rare to see a "good" necromancer.
- The problem with this particular example of D&D (in 3rd and 3.5 editions) is that a necromancer who can't or won't cast spells with the [evil] subtype loses a good portion of the spells available from it, mostly the ones that you'd want to be a necromancer for, anyway.
- Likewise in the Warcraft universe, at least until the new World of Warcraft expansion pack, which will let players play renegade death knights (necromancer-warriors).
- In a similar vein, The Elder Scrolls game Oblivion has Necromancy as the one sort of magic that the player cannot use, and Necromancers are pretty much the Designated Villains for a good portion of the Mage's Guild quests.
- Its predecessor Morrowind was a bit more reasonable with it. Necromancy was a widely shunned and regionally illegal (for religious reasons) on pain of death branch of magic that was practiced by a few minor NPCs, few of which really qualifies as "evil" (the ones that were tended to be bandits). Oh, and practically every tomb has a few skeletons guarding it, and nobody cares. Of course the undead were members of the family (that the tomb belongs too) who were people not looked upon favorably by their family in life bound to this duty in the afterlife (for the purposes of Morrowind law, Dunmer ancestral magic doesn't count as necromancy).
- In Skyrim, while you'll still find evil necromancers summoning undead for various purposes, necromancy is no longer outlawed, but still heavily frowned upon.
- Eberron averts it partially, the main elven religion, the undying court, is based on necromancy and yet it's main alignment is Neutral Goodnote .
- Averted in Diablo. Necromancers there are innately Neutral, and, in Diablo II, are on the side of the heroes and a PC option because the demons have no respect for the Balance of Life and Death, indiscriminately killing people and animating the dead. It's also implied that all magic except necromancy is innately corruptive and risks turning its user evil if they aren't cautious.
- Also averted in The Venture Bros.; Doctor Orpheus, a necromancer, is one of the least evil characters on the show.
- Quite simply everyone in Warhammer 40,000. When every major race in a setting is listed in Scary Dogmatic Aliens, you know you're not looking at a happy galaxy.
- And it's not only human POV. For example, Eldars consider humans childish and ignorant at best while sharing humanity's views on other aliens.
- You can pretty much count that any non-human robot in the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero series are down-and-out Mavericks, no exceptions; they're always either infected by The Virus, criminally insane, or just plain fed up with humanity and aren't going to take it, anymore. Of course, this could also be considered a case of demonization; several Mavericks have called out the main characters as hunting them with little provocation, simply because the humans are paranoid and don't need a reason to point at a robot not doing what they think they should be doing and calling them "Maverick". And then they die at the protagonists' hands, anyway.
- Although, the animal Reploids of Zero were evil, they weren't considered Mavericks. You're playing on the side of the Mavericks, the bosses are fighting for humanity.
- In Mirrors Edge you've got the police which you're more than welcome to beat up, steal their weapons and if the need arises push off the side of a 110 storey building. Fair enough you might think in an "evil" government setting but the main character's sister is also a cop.
- Templars in Deus Ex: Invisible War are neo-luddites with some legitimate concerns (especially those involving the technocratic conspiracies). Their modus operandi is quite simplistic however.
- Two of the bosses in The Suffering: Ties That Bind are the spirits of a slave hunter (Copperfield) and a misogynistic serial-murdering pimp (The Creeper).
Oftentimes a character's occupation is not inherently evil, but has been demonized by Hollywood. Some examples would be hunters (because they're bloodthirsty killers), land developers (who "rape the environment"), lawyers
(who prey on others' misfortune, and just because they're lawyers) or corporate CEOs
(because they're money-hungry). And don't forget scientists (especially those dealing with anything nuclear or genetic), who're often depicted as Mad Scientists
. Once demonized in the story, these ones are treated just as evil as a Nazi, terrorist, etc. For positions of Gods, the ones involving the Dead and Death almost inevitably get this treatment
. Note that this has a postmodern effect, in that many people may now actually see such professions as wicked in and of themselves; on the other hand (and in all fairness), these tend to be professions that annoy people in the first place.
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park movie featured a Corrupt Corporate Executive, although their big game hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite!) was rather sympathetic, and if a deleted scene had been left in, (3:16 in), he would have been a full out subversion. The novel had someone who wanted to do animal testing, and considered that dinosaurs would be the perfect test subject - they already went extinct, so who's going to argue?
- By way of contrast, the original movie had a good hunter (technically a game warden), who died in a Heroic Sacrifice, as well as a kindly grandpa CEO - although he was, admittedly, The Millstone, and in the original book he was a standard Villain by Default instead, who outright states that he would never run any business that helps people, as people tend to get upset when you charge them high prices for something they really need. That's why he is building a theme park, because he can charge any amount he wants to. He makes a whole speech about how helping people is bad. He also ripped off the computer programmer, which gives the programmer another reason to betray him, which leads to the disaster. He also represents someone who is an intentional fool, someone who refuses to deal with inconvenient facts. He's much more sympathetic in the movie.
- Of course, once we saw a lawyer appear in the first movie we knew he was going to get eaten; having him sitting on a toilet at the time was just lagniappe. Whereas in the book, the lawyer was a bit more of a Jerk Ass, but a severe Bad Ass who punched out a raptor in one scene in contrast to his Dirty Cowardice in the movie.
- The Big Game Hunter game warden in the first book also survives, and is much more useful. He actually kills a couple of the velociraptors, and indirectly helps Dr. Grant and the kids out when he shoots the T-Rex with a tranquilizer dart, which causes it to fall asleep long enough for them to get on a boat and escape downriver.
- Victor Quartermaine from The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is depicted as an evil hunter; even though his stated goal is the acquisition of the leading lady's fortune, it doesn't explain his pathological need to shoot bunnies.
- That's explained by the fact that Victor's a broad parody of the British pukka sahib stereotype. That is, his passion for hunting is a symptom of his particular brand of upper-class twittedness - more so since this type is usually all about bagging the 'big game'. He's actually named after the classic Great White Hunter of Victorian literature, Allan Quatermain.
- The titular monsters from Bats were genetically engineered by a "mad" scientist. When asked why he would create such a creature, his response basically sums up the premise of this trope: "Because I'm a scientist! That's what we do!"
- In lighthearted works set in American high schools or similar adolescent environments, it's The Beautiful Elite (the Alpha Bitch, the Jerk Jock, etc.) who are usually automatically evil. This stereotype is so pervasive that even when a pretty girl or boy is not supposed to be a villain, or might even be The Hero, they will still tend to be depicted as deeply flawed.
- Most episodes of The A-Team start with a villain beating up shopkeepers or generally being a gigantic jerk. One memorable episode begins with the villains threatening to kill orphans if another character doesn't sign over an orphanage. Additionally, since The A-Team are fleeing from the military, and they're the heroes, the military is often portrayed as villainous for being after them.
- Federal officers of any kind on the various Law & Order shows. One exception was a cameo by the woman from In Plain Sight.
- Being a comic book universe with a lot of Black and White Morality (as most comic book universes have), the heroes of the Global Guardians PBEM Universe have faced off against a metric buttload of bad guys who were villains by default. Corrupt lawyers, gangsters, bikers, hitmen, big game hunters, neo-nazis, evil businessmen, white supremacists, satanists, various other cultists, voracious aliens, terrorists of every stripe and creed. And of course your average supervillain is in it for the greed and the breaking things. The number of villains that introduced shades of gray could be counted on one hand.
- Elmer Fudd from Looney Tunes is usually a classic "evil" hunter, albeit a stupid one. Often subverted when he thinks he successfully bagged Bugs, since he's always upset about having "killed the wabbit" afterwards.
- Many of the villains on Captain Planet and the Planeteers are industrialists, whose sole motivation seems to be to produce as much pollution as possible. The exception is Looten Plunder, who is of course in it for the money.
- Hoggish Greedly was also in it for the buck, though he wasn't a billionaire like Plunder, but a less wealthy pioneer in dirty industry. However, their motives didn't remain consistent, and oftentimes, they would harm the environment out of sheer malice.
- Makes sense, really. If you were just trying to make it rich, and a bunch of eco-terrorists summoned a ridiculous nature avatar who trashed all your shit and threw you face-first into toxic waste with a smile on his face, eight or nine times, you'd probably invest in a factory that only produces plastic soda rings and immediately dumps them into the ocean, too.
- Of course, since said powder-blue be-mulleted superhero then inevitably proceeds to clean up all your pollution with seemingly very little effort and no lasting consequence, one might be forgiven for wondering: why NOT pollute?