There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. (Oscar Wilde)
(I started this back in February but didn't finish it because for some reason it descended into gibberish. I'm hoping I've excised the gibberish and tacked on a decent ending in its place.)
I've been reading about misaimed fandom--which I never heard of before. I'm going to summarize it, but I'm sure I'll be inaccurate and snarky, so for someone who takes this seriously, you might want to go here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MisaimedFandom
Misaimed fandom is when fans in a significant number decide we like the badguy as much as--or more than--the good guy. We are Doing It Wrong. There are no examples given in the essay itself, but if you go to the bottom of the page, there's a list of media you can click on that gives examples. The only ones I'm truly intimate with are The Shield, Sopranos,
and Gilmore Girls.
And I don't think Gilmore Girls
really fits. Fans who sided with Vick Macky or Tony Soprano weren't getting how violent and corrupt they were. [Disclaimer: I haven't watched The Shield
since Pat died, and I didn't watch the last season of Sopranos.
Where I read about this was metafandom, in a post where the characters' sins were neither illegal nor violent. They were politically incorrect. The author was concerned about how to write such a character in a way that readers would understand that they weren't supposed to like him.
I think you now have the context I'm writing this in.
The first badguy I remember writing is Ben Horne from Twin Peaks.
There was a guy writing a zine that was a continuation of the series, and in his interpretation of the finale, Ben was killed when Doc Hayward punched him and he hit his head on the mantlepiece.
For reasons I no longer recall, I objected to this, and I ended up writing Ben back to life. The zine fizzled out shortly after that--not because of Ben, I don't think.
Now, Ben started off as a bad guy, had a breakdown of sorts, and became a good guy. I wrote him as reverting due to the hit on the head. And you know what? It was a blast writing him. There's something liberating about writing an unapologetic bad guy. I later wrote him again in my Twin Peaks
novel. Still a bad guy, still fun.
The next bad guy I wrote was Sonny Steelgrave, and I'm not over him yet. Sonny is a criminal. He kills people, he has people killed, beaten up. He corrupts the the justice system. And he's homophobic, a firm believer in the Madonna/whore binary, and an unrepentant racist.
You wouldn't think it would be hard to write him unsympathetically, but the writers of the show couldn't do it because the actor who played him was both charming and skillful enough to make an audience love Sonny in spite of his moral lapses, let them see his heart and his loneliness. (I could analyze how he did it, and how the writers failed to villain him up sufficiently, but that is for another day.)
The art of writing fan fiction, as I've said before, is getting the characters right. If I wrote Sonny as nothing more than a cold, calculating criminal, I'd be doing a terrible job as a fan writer. Trying to keep other fans from coming over to the dark side of liking people who do things society disapproves of--that's not my job. It's not anybody's job.
Somewhere today I read about skinheads taking some evil characters Pink Floyd's The Wall
(the movie) as the heroes. This is an example of misaimed fandom. (And I'd guess that the Manson family's use of the Beatles' White Album would be, too, though [tellingly] it's not mentioned.)
So are we talking about a some kind of sliding scale of misaim? My screen name comes from a Shirley Jackson character who poisoned most of her family when she was twelve years old; I adored her then (when I was twelve) and adore her now, at fifty-one. And she was neither the first nor the last. Badguys have a lot of freedom other characters don't. They don't have to follow society's rules, and by extension, neither do we. We share their freedom, so of course we find them attractive. What could be more attractive than that kind of freedom?
It's not that we long to be sociopaths. It's that we have so little control over so much of what goes on in our lives, that living vicariously through people who take control--even if that means breaking laws or social conventions--is something we need. The very fact that it's somehow considered dangerous of us to like the "wrong" characters proves that. Hell, we live in a society where people think they have the right to tell other people how they're allowed to feel about fictional characters! If we didn't expend real frustration through vicarious rule-breaking, we really would become weaponized.
(Melody, I pulled this quote for you from here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Applicability
. "Contrast with The Walrus Was Paul, where the audience tries to find meaning in a work when in fact the work isn't supposed to have a hidden meaning — the author's just fucking with them.")