The Changing Face of Fear
Today's evil doesn't kill for a cause, but for destruction itself
By Mark Russell, Newser Staff
Posted Jul 22, 2012 9:13 AM CDT
This undated film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Tom Hardy as Bane in a scene from the action thriller "The Dark Knight Rises."   (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Ron Phillips)

(Newser) – America's great enemies of the past—Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or Mao's China—were evil, but at least they were evil with a point (however twisted). But these days, evil has changed, and from Timothy McVeigh to 9/11, the anthrax killer, and now James Holmes, the "world-burners, meticulous madmen, terrorists without a cause" are more like villains straight out of one of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, writes Ross Douthat in the New York Times. The "contemporary iconography of evil" is now much more about "destruction for destruction’s sake," writes Douthat, "more anti-civilizational than political."

In Nolan's films, the villains are "inscrutable, protean, appearing from nowhere to terrorize." Similarly, the heroes no longer fight, Superman-style, for truth, justice, and the American way, but rather for civilization itself—society, whether Gotham or America, is "decadent and corrupt in many ways, but he also knows that the alternatives are almost infinitely worse." But unlike an action movie, real heroes are not costume-clad vigilantes that save the day, but ordinary people "who carry one another through the valley of the shadow of death, and by their conduct ensure that the Jokers and James Holmeses of the world win only temporary victories," writes Douthat. Click for his full column.

More From Newser
My Take on This Story
To report an error on this story,
notify our editors.
The Changing Face of Fear is...
Show results without voting
You Might Like
Showing 3 of 31 comments
Jul 23, 2012 12:13 AM CDT
Hitchcock made Psycho 52yrs ago. Butchers without a cause have been on film since film was invented.
Jul 22, 2012 2:37 PM CDT
The USA isn't exactly a peaceful regime, founded on treason,genocide,slavery and imperialism..the only nation to target and murder civilians with Nuclear Weapons..having said that i think PEOPLE are evil no matter what artificial boundary and name you call them
Jul 22, 2012 12:47 PM CDT
It is not true that the cited villains had no agenda, we just don't try very hard to understand them. It is uncomfortable to realize that people we want to reject as completely unlike us are often motivated by the same things that drive our most noble acts: feelings of marginalization, oppression and rejection of a corrupt structure. We are also hindered by our ignorance in another way: in a very contentious and superficial society, we conflate an attempt at understanding with approval. There is nothing wrong with trying to understand the most offensive acts and dangerous people: it is a fundamental step in countering them and preventing them from accumulating power. While it is more comfortable to distance ourselves with claims that they are incomprehensible, this actually infuses them with more power than they deserve. Nazis, terrorists, drug gangs, and pedophiles are human beings, not zombies. Like facile movies that rewrite the Third Reich as mystically efficient and incorruptible, giving a cartoonishly inaccurate picture of things that real people did to other real people is not only disrespectful and inaccurate but diminishes the gravity of the inefficiencies and corruptions we see within our own society. Elevating the things we fear to supernatural status just enables opportunists to sell us snake-oil solutions like IED dowsing rods, "proprietary" Al Qaida video decoders and unscalable walls stretching the length of the US-Mexico border; when these frauds come to light, they are considered just as aberrant as the bogeymen they are supposed to protect us against. In truth, corruption and greed are woven into the fabric of society just as deeply as violence is embedded in the human character. Funnily enough, the Nazis used to demonize people they did not accept as nihilists too. We criticized them for killing and persecuting those they considered degenerate. But that was long ago, before science was relegated to just one more opinion and people had given away democracy in exchange for the illusion of security.