The Fascinating Villain

Besides yet another answer to the question Why Khan? I also have a new MIS page up, mainly to provide an index of my drabbles from the Empty Shell challenge.

Today’s answer is Ayn Rand’s. In “What is Romanticism?” from The Romantic Manifesto, she observes that the best (in the sense of most interesting and well-drawn) characters in Hugo, Dostoevsky and other Romantic authors’ works are the bad guys, while the heroes are cardboard figures:

This phenomenon—the fascinating villain or colorful rogue, who steals the story and the drama from the anemic hero—is prevalent in the history of Romantic literature, serious or popular, from top to bottom. It is as if, under the dead crust of the altrust code officially adopted by mankind, an illicit, subterranean fire were boiling chaotically, and erupting once in a while; forbidden to the hero, the fire of self-assertiveness burst forth from the apologetic ashes of a “villain.”

Now this is even truer for Khan than for the characters about whom Ayn Rand was writing. Altruism is ingrained in our culture despite all her attempts to root it out. It’s easier for us to look at the Prime Directive and say that’s the dead crust of a self-defeating moral code—and that maybe Khan is right to try to bring order to chaotic humanity. Ordem e Progresso (order and progress, the motto on the flag of Brazil) was a more popular motto in the 60’s than it is today.

So the attractive villain is the villain who might be right, who is somehow a challenge to the morality of the hero (anemic or not). We see this in “Space Seed” when Spock is shocked at Kirk’s admiration for Khan Noonien Singh; part of what makes Kirk an anemic hero is that he feels no need to defend his own culture. He calls Khan a tyrant without ever praising freedom, and so there is no conflict of ideas, only the brightness of Khan against the drab Federation background.

I do love a colorful Khan.

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