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Cat-Loving Criminals: an article by: GF Willmetts.

September 1, 2019 | By | Reply More

I blame Ernst Stavro Blofeld, although it wouldn’t surprise me if there was an earlier villainous mastermind with a yen for cuddling a fluffy white, often Persian, cat while plotting nefarious crimes. Even so, it becomes a trope that has been used in other films ever since. No doubt an acknowledgement and homage to Blofeld in the 1967 film ‘You Only Live Twice’, with only the cat seen in the earlier ‘From Russia With Love’ (1963) and ‘Thunderball’ (1965) but you do have to wonder how does it depict film villains.

Are all villains cat-lovers and should you respect them having a kinder side? Maybe they are actually beguiling you that they are harmless fuddy-duddies whom you could trust with anyone or thing but secretly plotting your downfall?

Likewise, who in their right minds would shoot someone unarmed and holding a cat? Even you, Mr. Bond. You risk the cat becoming collateral damage and upsetting cat-lovers. There’s also a little matter of whether all cat-lovers are secretly villains. Where does that put half the population? Your choice as to where you stand on the moral compass. A cat will sidle up to a lot of people, so they either have odd tastes or have trust issues. It’s commonly thought that cats have good taste when it comes to owners but it’s more alone the lines of who they go to feed them. They also avoid people who aren’t nice so where does that put the villains? Would you easily trust a person who likes cats and not worry about the rest and they are really nice people?

Rather contradictory, everyone likes a good villain. We don’t like them to be particularly nice yet draw the line at them being nasty to pets. Would we feel different about Darth Vader if he had a cat in his hands as he dispatched various commanders of the Empire and think he’s really a nice chap doing his job? Would we care differently if they all had cats and got dispatched at the same time?

It’s interesting how we get a callous disregard to seeing humans or humanoids being dispatched compared to animals. Maybe there should be a disclaimer that no humans were also injured or killed at the end of the film. Mostly that’s true with the exception of some unfortunate stuntpeople. Does this also imply that humans don’t belong to the animal kingdom and the rules of biology have changed? We seem to have a callous nature when it comes to our own kind.

Our fascination with villains does have some limitations before distaste slips into hatred. Oddly, it works far easier with real life villains than fictional ones. It’s as if the brain can tell the difference until told by the media. If you think about it, you do have to wonder why victims don’t realise they are in trouble until too late but the reasons for that are multitude and probably deserves an article all to itself.

Then again, there are limits to what we see on a screen or written page than what we see in real life, assuming we get real close to these ‘villains’. That rarely happens for the normal person. At least, not knowingly. Even so, I suspect most of us with a moral compass can distinguish between behaviour patterns we see as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ once we are suspicious of someone and look for more clues. Any grey levels depends a lot on what we would deem acceptable. Probably the difference between raiding your office stationary cupboard and not seeing it as theft because everyone does it to a mugging which is a violent attack.

Anything is an escalation until you reach country and even world domination. At that point you want total obedience or death and your moral compass is off the scale. With the UK Brexit dilemmas, you do have to wonder how some people become blinkered against changing their minds regardless when evidence is presented to them. Still, you’re petting your putty-cat so some people will still think you know what you’re doing and think you’re a nice person.

A pet lover is seen as having some level of empathy to care for something other than themselves but no one considers whether a villain might be faking it to catch you unawares. In a logistical fashion, think also of the villainous mastermind gang or accomplices. Although their leaders must have a level of ruthlessness, to have it continually applied to their gang is going to have them run by fear and make mistakes or rebel. Of course, they could be scared of their leader, either by seeing how he or she personally dispatches people and even members of the team who mess up. The fodder of any writer but less so in reality. If such a villain existed in real life, you wouldn’t work for them for long but grabbing your fake passport and fleeing as far away as possible unless you were totally stupid or dominated. Oh, unless you’re equally evil and wipe them out to claim the leadership for yourself. It’s a cat murder cat world even in villainy.

You have to do a lot of thinking about this and how you think on this subject. More so if you believe in first impressions when you see or meet people. Would you trust a pet or animal lover more than one who has no interest in them? Hence my earlier comment that the villain is faking it to some extent. Maybe knowing they have a family that they support would also sway you?

I read Stephen King’s 1980 book, ‘Firestarter’ when he was still in his SF phase and what would become a detailed history of characters meticulously describes the life of Captain James Hollister as being a nice family man before revealing he also is in charge of a government agency called The Shop that experiments on people with drugs to give them psionic powers and not above ordering the murder of failures and anyone who gets in the way. In many respects, I thought and still do think Stephen King swamps his character with words when emphasis on deeds associated with him would have been more effective.

Agents working in Hollister’s name doesn’t necessarily mean he was in control of them or how cold-blooded he was, more so as his family aren’t noted again and not at all in the 1984 film. We live off first impressions and if you only saw Hollister either as a family or work leader, would you have different feelings as to the type of person you’re dealing with. It makes the character more complex but needs more explanation as to why. In many respects, Hollister is a government man and doing whatever it took to achieve the goals needed to be done in creating a psionic super-weapon and with no one to answer to and working above the law. That’s what makes him scary and dangerous and the liberation to do what he pleased and not be answerable to anyone about it.

A lot of fictional villains are only show from one point of view, usually their more villainous sides. Anything else would be deemed unimportant to how we view the character. Would we take to the likes of Darth Vader with his feet up and wearing bunny slippers and feel sorry for his disfigurement better than when he was suffocating people with a twist of his mind? In reality, he would be as likely to be as nasty in his off-hours as he would be doing his job. He would probably be pulling wings off flies just for fun in his idle time. You don’t lock up your nasty side. Well, not for long anyway.

Contrary, the reason we accept the more heroic people is we see them in their normal or home environment as well as doing something extraordinary later. Oddly, they might be more rounded but also thought of as being more mundane compared to the villains. The ordinary aspect is something we relate to and take for granted and quickly dismiss until they or their family and friends are under threat. We need to see what makes them the subjective ‘good’ and how they treat other people. Anything else is what gives them their heroic nature. This is probably why trained people like police, military and spies get elevated as they are better prepared than the man or woman from the street to survive. Mind you, they also have terrible home lives. Being a professional good person takes time out of your life.

Do we want to think of villains as being normal people or only posing as them? The villain twirling his moustache is purely a myth. We can only go by their actions. With a moral compass, you never hear of real-life criminals thinking they would rather be like particular heroes or see them as potential examples of good behaviour.

Even so, the maxim ‘extreme works’ is a fictional exaggeration used in stories. Usually, it is applied to the villains more than the heroes. So does being a cat-lover means he’s an extreme cat-lover? Would the same apply to any pet? I find it fascinating how big people have small pet dogs. Is it to show their own dominance or to exaggerate their own size?

A villain designed to make you like him or her before pulling the rug from under them is actually an old cliché. Look at Norman Bates from ‘Psycho’ (1959). Mind you, he preferred his animals stuffed. Oh and he wouldn’t hurt a fly so one species was saved. Still, what was worse, Bates’ love for his mother or killing people? His taxidermy was there to tell its own story of morbidity.

We do need our villains to be nasty enough that we wouldn’t want to be like them or like any of their traits. Even so, there is still a necessity not to make the heroes so perfect that we don’t find them interesting enough. If you want examples of that, you only have to look at the likes of the Thing or Incredible Hulk and know extreme can work even for them. Even so, I doubt if anyone would want to be either of them.

Imagery is important whether you have a good or bad character. More so, when you mix them and have the anti-hero who has both traits. Whether we like them or not, villains are still examples to people and we should be careful in giving the wrong kind of associations. With Blofeld, the white Persian cat has become a parody and ignores how nasty a villain he really was or is, assuming he gets resurrected again.

Showing villains have a nice side might also be detrimental to how you feel about them unless they are ultimately going to turn and do something heroic and even have some clue that this is going to happen. Does that mean any villain can change or is the reason to do so in their own self-interest? After all, who’s going to pay for his cat food?

Of course, we could go metaphysical and say the cat represents an amoral selfish person and like draws like but that would make us all villains.

© GF Willmetts 2019

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Category: Culture

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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