We root for the hero, in part, because they are on the side of Good. But we also get behind the hero because they tell us what we want to hear. They say and do things that affirm some of our most cherished beliefs. That justice wins in the end. That we have agency over the world and our lives. That we can overcome any obstacle and defeat the most evil of opponents.
We hate the villain for the opposite reasons. First, they are the epitome of Evil. But second, and more importantly, they say what we don’t want to hear. They embody the idea that the world rewards vice and punishes virtue. That chance makes our actions irrelevant and inconsequential. That we are shaped by our environment, not the other way around.
Consider this exchange from a scene in The Dark Knight:
“BATMAN: You’re garbage who kills for money.
From the twisted, deranged minds of villains comes something we’re ill-equipped to handle. Truth.
A villains isn’t bound by the same constraints as a hero. He doesn’t have to be liked. We don’t have to be able to relate to and support him. Which means that a villain can say things that make us uncomfortable. They can talk without filter.
Think about the stories of prophets. They share a common theme. There’s an impending disaster. A prophet arrives and foretells the coming downfall of a civilisation. The people respond by casting out the prophet. The prophet gives truth and receives hate. It’s the same with the villains we hate with such ecstasy. We hate them not only for their evilness, but for the truths and ideas they place in front of us and force us to examine.
Villains don’t have to cater to our desires and ideals. Their purpose is to offend and provoke. To say the worst things and do the worst things imaginable. And to many of us, nothing is worse than the truth.