darkness isn't cool // why i usually squint at grey morality

9:43 AM


Look out, it's me, the buzzkill who's tired of flailing over villains.


(This is a post that's obviously coming from a Christian worldview, but I think it applies to most people anyway. *shrugs*)

We really, really like to make darkness cool. We like to make it edgy. We like to romanticize Kylo Ren and scream over Loki and make Pinterest aesthetic board upon Pinterest aesthetic board full of blood and cigarettes and depressing quotes and obviously make that the norm. We measure the grit and truth and awesomeness of a story based on how many people die, or just how gory it gets, or whether or not it mixes up morals and "shows all sides of the story" and makes a case for why bad can be good, sometimes, or can it, or does it even matter? We're very fond of our villain stories and our antiheroes.

And I'm getting really tired of it.

Of course, I should really be the last person to complain about this, since the sorts of things I write and prefer aren't fluffy or happy or light in most senses of the word. They're...yeah, gritty is the word I would use. I've jumped into some twisted, dark, intense things. I've written about the motivations behind serial murderers and attempts to justify human experimentation and fights to the death and war and the line between right and wrong and I've killed more characters than I can keep track of. My favorite shows are dark, intense, explore the line between wrong and right. (One of my favorite Marvel characters is Frank Castle/The Punisher, whose entire philosophy lies in the brutal killings of all criminals without real justice or nuance.)

Maybe it's just me, but I feel like there's a difference between showing darkness and reveling in it, making it normal. And maybe I feel like that's a line we need to walk very carefully.

Maybe I'm getting really, really tired of how cool and edgy it is to write about grey morality.

We're big fans of this grey morality thing: essentially, exploring characters and sides that aren't good or bad, but that hover between the two. We're also big fans of antiheroes: "a protagonist who lacks heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, or morality", according to Wikipedia. (I just sourced wikipedia. come at me, bro.) It's become fascinating and cool to portray stories, sides, and main characters that don't ascribe to any particular morality or who could even be "villains" from a moral standpoint. We like getting deep into that (we get movies like Maleficent, then, which blames others/society on the way she turned out) and then we like praising that darkness, that "complexity", that new way of looking at things. And then we really like turning those villains and antiheroes and edgy characters into cool characters we can fangirl over because omg, they're so complicated and broken and misunderstood. Again, maybe it's just me, but I kind of feel like this is a slippery slope.

I'm not opposed to grey morality. I'm not opposed to showing and exploring darkness, or even writing a story that focuses on the villain or someone who's morally grey and not exactly hero material. I'm opposed to the idea that it doesn't matter how we do it. I'm opposed to the idea that heroism and goodness isn't cool or complex also. I'm opposed to the idea that it doesn't matter how we portray this, that it doesn't matter if we're also showing right alongside it.

I'm opposed to showing darkness and grey morality as anything but the truth of what it is: a dangerous, slippery thing, a not right thing, a broken thing, something that twists and corrupts and never lands you anywhere good. 

a great moment from jessica jones, a show that didn't quite nail this whole thing but made a valiant effort.
Forgive me if I'm ranting (actually i have no regrets) but I'm sick of this being cool. I'm sick of darkness and villains being cool. I'm sick of blurring the lines between "this is a bad, confused person with a fascinating story arc and well-written character development" with "this poor baby needs all the hugs". I'm sick of the idea that true heroism and good for the sack of good and goodness in general doesn't matter, or it's boring or flat or can't be as complicated and interesting. Grey morality should be a storytelling tool, not the new norm. We need a clear sense of what's wrong and right. You can jump into all kinds of dark things as long as you have that clear moral absolute, that starting point to keep you grounded.

Morality is important. Right and wrong, good and bad, is important. That clear line is important. Exploring people who blur that line, or figuring out the line itself, is a good and sometimes necessary thing, but we have to make that line clear sooner or later. Morality is not a truly grey, nebulous thing, and that's not okay. And, in fact, there's something good and true and God-honoring about taking evil and grey morality to its natural conclusion, to the harm and self-destruction that comes out of it sooner or later.


This is my problem with stories about antiheroes and grey morality. Not that they exist, but the way they show them, and the way they treat the issue. The way we make darkness gritty and cool instead of pathetic and self-destroying and warped.

Write darkness. (I certainly do, and I can only hope I'm doing it right sometimes.)

Write about the evil people in the world, or the people who try to straddle both sides of the line at once.

Don't be afraid to write about it.

But write about them honestly, for what they are. Write about good and heroes and how that always always always always always wins. Write about the dark, but make sure people aren't confusing that with the light in the end.

And let's just all mutually agree not to make villains and darkness "cool" anymore. This matters.

how do you feel about stories about villains/antiheroes? 


51 comments

  1. I AGREE!! Beautiful post, Aimee!!

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    1. Thank you! I could write about this for ages.

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  2. You hit the nail on the head again. This is perfection!!!

    I had what I was going to respond to just about all figured out whilst reading your fantastic post, then you said it better than I ever could: "This is my problem with stories about antiheroes and grey morality. Not that they exist, but the way they show them, and the way they treat the issue." YES YES YES YES YESSSS. Did I mention YES??

    I think we SHOULD write about the dark and gritty. But NOT in a romanticized, this is how it should be way. Noooo. As you said, we should show it as it is: Wrong. We should put it in its place, show the consequences when one turns to darkness, and, most importantly, show the light that can vanquish it.

    Stories these days do tend to be all about grey morality, but without any conclusion or hope at the end. It's one thing for a villain, but lately our very HEROES of the stories are delving without regret into the grey areas. And that is not okay. Sure, have them trip up now and again, but don't have them just welcome the grey and not feel sorry about it in the end. What happened to having heroes to look up to? To being inspired by them, encouraged? Now we just have dark people doing dark things with no sense of light to be seen. And in this world, we need the light more than anything.

    I 100% agree we SHOULD write the dark things. That's important. But it's important so we can show what DEFEATS the darkness. Not to become it. Again, you put it perfectly: "Write about the dark, but make sure people aren't confusing that with the light in the end." Precisely!

    Thank you for speaking out about this. It's something that desperately needs to be said! In fact, I'm bookmarking this post it's so perfect.

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    1. *pokes head back in*

      I realize I probably sound contradictory because I'm actually constantly flailing over my love for antiheroes. I LOVE antiheroes. They're my top, top favorite type of character. BUT. I love the antiheroes who, in the end, turn to good. Who have a dark past, yes, but deep down have a heart of gold inside them, or end up having an amazing redemptive story. I can't stand this trend of loving the "bad boys". Ugh, no. But I do love the ones who may not be good at first, but come around. Again though, this goes along with everything you're saying. Portraying darkness is necessary, but as long as there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Such as an antihero with a redemptive arc. *nods*

      Okay, I'm hushing now, I promise. I just love this post and have so many thoughts!

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    2. I like your point about loving an antihero, who in the end, turns out good. Reminds me of Severus Snape....oh he's amazing.

      ~Musicgirl121

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    3. I can totally relate! Some of my favorite characters are antiheroes, not because I think they're good, but because they're *layered* and interesting, y'know? I love the exploration of people who get into grey morality, of people who are confused, especially if they find redemption and the good of things. I really feel like these are the important characters and storylines to write about and explore, y'know? We need to know that it exists, and that it's messy, and that there's hope.

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  3. Oh my goodness Aimee. I love this post so much, and I completely agree with you. I feel like people are so afraid to talk about the darkness in the world -- and at the same time, others glorify it. I'll stop now because you say it so much better than this comment. XD

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    1. Right? There's a fine line between writing about darkness and making that darkness cool, and it's up to us to make that line clear and solid. In some cases, it's very good and noble to show darkness and the consequences of that dark.

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  4. I like this post, and you make some really good points. *hugs this post* I haven't seen Deadpool, but I think this post is a good reason NOT to see it because I've heard that Deadpool very much revels in "killing without reason" and "glorifying the antihero". So all in all, I think I agree with you. :)

    P.S. Here you deserve cake *hands you cake* for citing Wikipedia. I'm both horrified and amazed at the same time.

    ~Musicgirl121

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    1. Yeah, there's a reason why I haven't seen Deadpool or Suicide Squad or anything like that, and don't intend to. Things like that blur the lines of goodness and make darkness and bad guys cool and funny, and I'm not okay with that. We do have to be careful about what we get ourselves into and support, because in the end, it's not just fiction. If we're constantly enjoying those kinds of things, we're going to start thinking that way.

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  5. This is all so true! People always feel that the nice characters are the most boring people. Nice people are pretty interesting and complex, okay?

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    1. *chants loudly* more nice characters more nice characters more nice characters more nice characters

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  6. I needed this. Thanks Aimee for this awesome post! Heroes can be just as complex as villains if you know how to do it right and now I'm inspired to write better heroes because to be honest I tend to romanticize bad and darkness in my own writing and almost all my favorite characters are the big bad guys. So thanks for the reminder! :)

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    1. We totally need more awesome, good heroes. Always and forever.

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  7. Thank you! I had been noticing this lately in a lot of media, but I figured it was just me being the grumpy young adult-old lady that I am. I feel like swing between glorifying the darkness and saying that heroes can't possibly have flaws, where, really, we ought to be somewhere in between those two.

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    1. No, we're definitely headed into trends that blur morality and make that greyness cool, and that's not okay. Taking that stand is important.

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  8. Wow. This. This is really good to think about. And you're totally right. Anti-villains really have become the norm, and it makes us feel like since they have good intentions, the actions are excused, and even honorable.

    Thank you for this. It really reminded me of what I want to show with my stories (I, too, tend to write dark) and to be aware of that line we all come across.

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    1. We like to say "it's just a story!" and enjoy those things anyway, but really, media is SUCH a reflection of real life, and blurring moral lines can and does affect us. Taking a stand is very important.

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  9. THIS IS GOLDEN, AIMEE. I agree, I'm sick of grey morality being so popular. Like you said, we need to talk about and explore that line, which isn't always clear cut, but it matters how we do that.

    Really excellent food for thought here. It's encouraging to remember that there are more people who think this way, that I'm not the only one--that there are people who appreciate heroes and goodness and consequences for right and wrong. Thank you.

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    1. I really, really wish we could glorify heroes more, and that's always what I try to do. (Which is, really, why I love Rogue One so much, but I've already posted about that recently. Oops.)

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  10. I think I find myself agreeing with you on this. There are so many examples I think of that can be used for portraying darkness as a cool thing that people revel in. This is one of the many problems in the popular media, and I think you hit the target well.

    But I also think that there's something good and human in villains and dark character that we tend to notice because it rings true with ourselves ... but not EVERY villain, of course. Maybe this doesn't really have anything to do with the main point of your post, but for example, take Darth Vader. He is a bad guy, but there's something else that draws us to him: not just the epic theme song and cool lightsaber and sparkly entrances, but the redemptive side of him that we see in Return of the Jedi. At least for me, I see the good guy that he's trying to suppress and finally lets go in the end, and that makes him a wholly interesting character. Is Vader one of the dark characters on your list? Or is he one of those unique villains that are genuinely cool?


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    1. Definitely agreed -- we need the antiheroes, the bad guys, the dark characters, and we need to show those people and be honest about them, especially when they come to good and become *good*. I would definitely count Darth Vader as an important and awesome character! It's a story of redemption and choosing good in the end and we need more of it.

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  11. Hiya! I'm a newbie to your blog, so hopefully I'll be welcomed! :)
    I'm on the fence about this one. I absolutely hate it when people romanticise this crap because... Ew. I see a lot of Kylo/Rey shipping on my Pinterest, which actually disgusts me, not going to lie. Kylo tortured Rey and pretty much wanted her dead, and you want them making out? Pass the bucket.
    BUT. If the character is given a well nuanced backstory, a proper reason as to why they act the way they do, I can get on board. Take Six of Crows for example (sorry if you haven't read it, but if you haven't ASDFGHJKL GO GET YOURSELF A COPY MILADY. BEST BOOK OF THE CENTURY :>) Kaz Brekker is an antihero. He kills people, he beats them up, and way worse. But we are shown his backstory, we are shown how badly his PTSD is, and it is never romanticized.
    As with the whole Christian post, per se, I'm not really sure I'm entitled to comment on that as I'm an atheist. But I think you did a brilliant job, so give yourself a pat on the back! And again, brilliant post.
    Trisha ~ autumnof2003.wordpress.com

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    1. Welcome to the blog! <3

      Dude, I'm so so so here for layered dark characters. I think it's important to show them, in fact.

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  12. And this, people.This is why we blog. BECAUSE WE CAN CITE WIKIPEDIA.

    But seriously: YES. Why is good no longer "good" anymore...while bad is the new "good"?

    Give me a good villain...but don't make the villain the one who triumphs in the end.

    Thanks for writing this. ;)

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    1. YESSS Wikipedia!!! Lol!

      ~Musicgirl121

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  13. Wow, I think you really nailed it with this. Honestly portraying darkness is different from reveling in it for the sake of being 'cool' or 'edgy'. There's nothing wrong with liking villainous characters, but we do need to be careful about why we like them. Denying or ignoring the bad things a character has done isn't appreciating that character fully, and is pretty harmful and a bit stupid. There's a difference between seeing the good in someone and pretending they've never done anything wrong. Embracing the bad things a character has done is just as bad, honestly. Star Wars provides several good examples (plus it's all I've thought about for weeks). Both Anakin and Kylo are interesting characters and excellent villains. We know Anakin redeemed himself and did the right thing in the end, and I definitely see the good in Kylo Ren, too, but they've both done horrible, terrible things. People sometimes forget that (looking at you, most Reylo shippers).
    The 'coolness' of grey morality these days drives me crazy. It's been especially pervasive in the superhero world lately. Even Superman has to be Dark n' Edgy. Making a character realistic and human is one thing. Making them angsty and dark just because it's "cooler" is another. Anyway, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

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    1. Ugh, right? It's not cool. It's brutal and confusing and dark, and we need to show it as such, instead of making the problem worse.

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  14. This is a thoroughly excellent post, Aimee. Darkness isn't cool or funny or any shade of glamorous, and I appreciate you saying so. :)

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and that so many people agree, honestly.

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  15. Aimee,
    I agree with you. My most recent project features my first protagonist that is a complete creep and jerk. This story has some dark, twisted stuff in it. But the story isn't about that. It's a story about redemption, forgiveness, and love. It showcases how the horrible things the character has done is destroying him and it shows the only way out of that: redemption by grace and love. It's okay to write darkness, just not glorify it.
    As a side note, people who adore Loki annoy the heck out of me. Yes, I get his issues, but that doesn't make his crimes any less horrible.

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    1. We so, so need more stories like that, honestly. It's just as important to show darkness and the harm in it than it is to show darkness as being defeated.

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  16. This is so freaking accurate. We need to show evil and dark things, but that doesn't mean that we need to glorify them. It's such a fine line, but it's so important. You explained all of this SO well, Aimee.

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    1. *chants* more heroes more heroes more heroes more heroes

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  17. Okay yes I agree. I was actually just thinking of this the other day. and I love the way you said its okay to write about darkness, but do it well. because thats important. I feel like too many people pick one side (writing all about darkness and glorifying it or completely denying its existence altogether.) but its a balance. and I appreciate that.

    I could go on but I'll stop here because you said it well enough without me having to add my opinion.

    YOU GO GIRL

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    1. I would be a total hypocrite if I condemned writing darkness, let's be real. We have to be honest about it, and sometimes that honesty means going into dark and brutal places, but I think there's good in that, too.

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  18. WOOH. This post. I agree with you so much on a lot of this. Like... there is darkness and writing about is good, and definitely at times necessary. Fluffy light stuff is cute but not always...lol, real. (FOR SOME REASON I ALWAYS THINK OF LIKE FROSTING WHEN BOOKS/ETC. ARE LIKE THAT. Fluffy and cute and frosting-like xD)
    But I think there's a line for that too, in a sense. Like Isaiah 5:20 says "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness..." and I think that's why gray morality is really iffy. There is right and wrong, and when a person can clearly show that and still write about what's real and hard and REAL, that's gold.

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    1. Sigh, I'm not a fluffy writer by any means, so I kind of find myself stuck in the middle. :P We definitely have to make the line clear.

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  19. I really appreciate you writing this. It's really insightful and so true. I guess when the world's decided there's no objective standard for good and bad, what follows in the portrayal of morality is a confused blur.

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  20. FAVORITE SENTENCE ---->> "And, in fact, there's something good and true and God-honoring about taking evil and grey morality to its natural conclusion, to the harm and self-destruction that comes out of it sooner or later." <<---- This is such a good point.

    I agree that the antihero, "bad is the new good," and grey morality have all become a fad of the age. (But seriously look at our country, is it a surprise?) The stories that show the antihero coming face to face with the reality of his/her own self-destruction and either being broken or turning around are my favorite!!

    In such a broken world, don't glorify brokenness! Move past it. I speculate that people can't move past it without God, and that is why fallen man has turned to glorify it instead.

    AMAZING POST, AIMEE <3 <3 <3 I'm going to be linking and rereading this one for a while. Thanks for sharing :)

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  21. This is SO true. All of it. You totally nailed this. We write to glorify God - that can include talking about darkness (probably should), but also how wrong it is and how the darkness gets defeated.

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    1. We really, really need to make the line clear, that's so important. And obviously I feel very strong about it. :P

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  22. Truth bomb and a brilliant reminder we often need. I mean, I love dark characters, I truly, deeply do. However, there is a clear line and we have to continuously reevaluate why we love these characters, so that we can make sure not to cross it.

    Awesome post!


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbosityreviews.com

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    1. I'm glad you liked it! *chocolate for you*

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  23. Yes, yes, yes! This topic is very near and dear to my heart because, well, I'm writing a book with almost exclusively antiheroes??? Actually, all my novels are kinda that way... You might consider it a trademark of my writing. :)

    The point is, it's all about how we do it, like you said. Like it's not okay to make it look good, or cool, or romantic, or whatever. We can't make exciuses for bad behaviors.

    Still, that doesn't mean we don't write those characters.

    Great post, Aimee!

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  24. Oh my GOODNESS. I found this from Lisa Pickle's blog and I just want to say THANK YOU for this post!! I'm so tired of the villains being "cool" and everyone acting like darkness is more interesting than good. I don't mind having an antihero of sorts as long as they find redemption, but that's the POINT -- let's have some goodness again! Anyways, this post, I love it and thank you. <3

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hey. hey. talk to me. i'm a fan of comments and flailing with you. go for it.