Bad Seed

Why are the origins of evil so fascinating? Why do we crave stories about corruption?
on May 1, 2019 · 10 comments

Everyone loves origin stories, especially those that explore the beginnings of beloved characters in greater detail. While storytelling structures of yore would often place the origin story at the beginning of the story – as usually happens in real life – modern audiences like to be introduced to characters who are already somewhat possessed of their unique talents/powers and making their mark on the world. Once these characters become an industry fixture (when there is enough audience demand and profit potential) then prequels are made, delving deeper into the characters’ backstories to plot the course of how they got to where they were when they were first introduced.

Image copyright Warner Bros.

Nearly ever iconic character in modern memory has had their story told in this flip-flopped way: Darth Vader, Batman, the X-Men, James T. Kirk, John Connor, Vito Corleone, and on and on. We are introduced to a memorable character in their full glory and we say, “Wow! How did they get here?” Of course, prequels are also a safe bet because studios and publishers never know how audiences will receive the continuation of a story, but if it’s known that audiences loved the character so far, it’s easier to tell the story that led up the awesomeness. Cha-ching.

Probably the biggest entry into the pop culture prequel library this year will be The Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix. Numerous Batman films and shows have explained how the Joker got to be who he is, but only enough to make him a competent bad guy to trade blows with the Dark Knight. One of the goals of prequels is to make the characters sympathetic and relatable (did you ever think you would see Darth Vader as a chubby-cheeked kid?) and judging from the trailers, The Joker seeks to do that, at least to an extent.

Everyone knows that the Joker is a bad guy, and it would be in poor taste to make the audience cheer for him (though this approach strangely worked for Tom Hardy’s Venom). Since we live in a world that delights in evil, people will cheer for the Joker regardless of his depravity. The movie studio knows this, and I have little doubt they will try to make the Joker as charmingly perverse as possible.

My question is: why are the origins of evil so fascinating? Why do we crave stories about corruption? There is no simple answer, but I think it strikes at the heart of our human nature; namely, that we are all born into sin. This sin manifests itself in countless ways but we recognize that seed of sin in others more depraved than we are and think, “Could that happen to me?” After all, we share the same dark seed. It could grow into a penchant for lying, drug addiction, or a psychotic murder spree. We see a character like the Joker (although he is fictitious, we only have to look at the evening news to find twisted psychopaths) and we wonder if people like us, who would never dream of actually murdering people with a clown smile, could somehow morph into a monster. Origin stories and prequels outline those steps, sometimes with frightening implications.

If we are children of God, we are dead to our sin natures (Rom. 6:11) but we are still living in this body of death, which yearns for its old nature. This is the struggle that Paul talks about in Rom. 7:14-25. As believers, sin no longer reigns over us, yet we are still dragging around its corpse, so to speak. And sometimes, our dead sin nature can still exert a powerful influence over us. Christians have been caught up in depravity and debauchery as perverse and horrifying as anything the secular and pagan worlds have experienced. We need to follow Paul’s command in Rom. 6:11 – consider ourselves dead to sin. In other words, believe it, because it is true.

Personally, I have little interest in finding out how a psychopath became psychotic. I’d rather not dwell on exactly how the seed of evil blossomed into this particularly hideous flower. But if you do enter the warped mind of the Joker, remember that the power that controls him holds no sway over you. You are free. Believe it.

Mark Carver writes dark, edgy books that tackle tough spiritual issues. He is currently working on his ninth novel. Besides writing, Mark is passionate about art, tattoos, bluegrass music, and medieval architecture. After spending more than eight years in China, he now lives with his wife and three children in Atlanta, GA. You can find Mark online at and at Markcarverbooks on Facebook.
  1. notleia says:

    I think we like villains for the same reason we like trickster gods — playing with the tension between self-serving and community-serving. I also think we like to think we know how bad guys are made — so that we can soothe ourselves that by doing everything right, the kids will end up okay.

    Except research seems to show that it’s more complicated than that. You can (probably) prevent your kid from becoming a narcissist (tho narcissists can unintentionally come from good parents), but psychopaths (or was it sociopaths?) are born, not made. Except narcissistic behavior is often rewarded by (at least our) society and why a good number of CEO’s are narcissists. And this is constitutes your reminder to eat the rich, because they are probably terrible people and it’s the best way they can contribute to society.

    • Narcissists and psychopaths tend to be attracted to power, so they unfortunately gravitate toward politics, leadership positions at companies, religious organizations, schools, etc. Kind of hard to escape 🙁

      Supposedly, if handled right, a psychopathic child can be raised in a manner that will make them less abusive, etc. as an adult, though they will probably be a little destructive still.

      One issue I’ve heard is that when some of this research was starting out and getting popular, people were selecting leadership positions based off psychopathic traits because they thought they would be more intent on accomplishing business goals, etc. What people didn’t (and don’t) realize is that a psychopath has such different behavior sets than a normal person. Full blown psychopaths pretty much literally can’t care about anyone in a positive way and probably won’t give a damn if they, say, run a giant company into the ground.

      But then we could have probably had something similar happen in a more socialist society, if some circumstances happened. Like, if people thought more ‘ruthless’ individuals would be better at law enforcement or tax collecting, they would get hired and corruption would abound. And there’s always the question of whether the dictators of some more socialist regeme had NPD or APD.

      Of course, one problem now days is misdiagnosis. EVERYONE has instances when they will behave in a narcissistic or psychopathic manner, especially if they get stuck in situations they aren’t prepared for or self righteously assume they are in the right and that the other side is ‘evil’. And once people learn about NPD and APD, suddenly everyone they dislike or is scared of ‘might be’ a narcissist or psychopath.

      Like, one time I saw a video that was trying to say that Darkstalker from the Wings of Fire series is a psychopath. I decry practically all Darkstalker’s behavior, but labeling him as a psychopath is a misdiagnosis. Hate to say it, but he’s pretty much got a normal psychology, and it’s just that his circumstances, personality and upbringing made for a toxic mix. He clearly loves his little sister, his mother, and his girlfriend, and actually wants to be liked by others. Psychopaths probably don’t feel any of that, at least not in the same way. If he were a psychopath, he would have been more likely to become abusive to those three people with no provocation at all. He does kind of hurt Clearsight, but that’s partly because he’s trying to reconcile his goal with the fact that he cares about her, which is actually more of an INTJ thing, though other personality types have a chance of doing that, too. Thing is, INTJs can be pretty amazing people once they understand themselves and mature enough, and most of them probably won’t ever encounter the stimuli that will make them act like Darkstalker.

      People also discuss the idea that regular, normal people have started behaving in a psychopathic or narcissistic manner with the advent of social media. Like, it’s easier to disregard others when we can’t see their face and have the power to publicly shame them/ rip their reputation to shreds and feel like a hero at the same time.

      Buuuut, a true, full blown psychopath or narcissist is actually so much worse than people realize, and the behaviors are so different than an average person’s and are so much more pervasive, and the fact that people don’t fully understand that is probably why misdiagnosis happen.

      • notleia says:

        From what I read, it’s on a continuum. On one side is the actually diagnosible stuff. In the middle are your garden-variety douchebags and sh*theels, because being a douche is not actually in the DSM-5, given that they’re not really SUFFERING because of it. Then on the sane end is a lot of people who do some occasional selfish things. (And not even on that continuum, there’s people practicing self-care, which is not selfish despite what manipulators might want them to think.)

        • There certainly is a spectrum, but what people don’t realize is that the behaviors do technically still exist in everyone. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a necessity. If someone’s in the middle of a fight, for instance, they have to focus on protecting themselves and can’t worry if their opponent is feeling pain. The problem is that people take that way too far. People can be CONVINCED that whoever is opposing them or scaring them or whatever is actually a threat, and not worthy of any regard. And then people start attacking that ‘threat’ without any remorse, etc. This happens on both sides of politics, for example.

          People have a thing for assuming that they are good or in the right even when they are not. Given the right stimulus, nearly anyone can act in a way that almost looks psychopathic or narcissistic, and it’s scary. But, most people fit into the category of ‘not actually evil but have life circumstances that are causing them to be problematic at the moment’.

          Whereas a full blown psychopath fits more into the category of ‘doesn’t actually have the capacity to have emotional empathy or love anyone or feel genuine guilt/remorse and probably never has.’

    • Travis Perry says:

      I don’t like tricksters of any kind, sitting in a patheon or not. But I do find genuine studies of evil interesting…(not all portrayals of evil show actual evil).

  2. Travis Perry says:

    I am rather tired of origin stories, actually…

    But I do find evil interesting. Looking at what human beings are really capable of points out how much we need a savior…

  3. Old Coot says:

    As Solzhenitsyn said, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

  4. Interesting, it looks like I’m in the minority because I don’t enjoy origin stories about villains. I don’t want to humanize a villain, that takes away who the villain is.

What do you think?