There is nothing funnier that watching the bad guys in a silly movie or TV show prove their incompetence. You know the scenes when all the good guy has to do is stay out of the way. In fiction, evil incompetence lightens the mood. Who doesn’t love a good laugh at Wile E Cayote when his inventions backfire and he ends up plummeting off the cliff to land in a puff of smoke? Or even the numerous minions in a James Bond picture who couldn’t shoot the broad side of the barn. Even the masters in those movies make stupid mistakes that allow everyone’s hero to triumph.
That is of course the point. In fiction, Evil needs to be gullible enough to fall for the hero’s schemes and incompetent enough not to kill him in the first encounter. Without that how would you get a decent story? Competent evil has the resources to thwart the hero before they even get started. Incompetent evil however is just as threatening and needs to be taken out, but it can be. With incompetence the hero has a fighting chance against an army with all the latest weapons. There is still the jeopardy needed to create suspense and plenty for the hero to overcome to make the journey worth while.
Another aspect of Evil incompetence that makes it so fun in fiction is that it makes it not so scary. Oh, sure there’s an evil empire out there, but never fear – they are incompetent so the good guys will always come through in the end. Even if they do manage to shoot that Death Star once, it will never happen again because someone will be able to find the silly weakness in the armor. There will always be an untended back door or some other way into the super secret lair that anyone with a flashlight could find.
All that is in the real dramas. When you get into spoofs and parodies it gets even better. That’s when you get the evil mater minds soliloquizing about how hard it is “to find good help these days”. These are the scenes when the hero literally stands aside and lets the bad guys do their worst. And we eat it up, laughing ourselves sore.
The problem is when you find evil incompetence in real life.
In real life, there are very few evil master minds with armies worth of minions who are scheming at taking over the world. In fact there are very few people who would even identify as evil (though there are plenty who have been labeled so by others). It is hard to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys out here in the real world. And to be sure, the Nazis weren’t incompetent by any stretch of the imagination. Of course it wasn’t a small band of heroes who took them down either.
There is however incompetence in real life. You find it everywhere and often the incompetence alone is the cause of evil in your life. The bankers who took down the economy weren’t exactly evil – greedy and uncaring but they lost in the economic collapse too. They didn’t want the economy to collapse, they were making more money when the housing bubble was still inflating. Nor were the regulators evil or scheming to take down the economy. They were just humans working in dubious moral conditions and made a lot of bad choices that probably seemed good at the time. So while no one was scheming to take over the world or destroy the world economy, nor did anyone have armies worth of minions with poor aim, they still managed to destroy the lives of millions of innocent people all around the world. They may even have managed to take down a government or two by the time it’s all sorted out.
Suddenly incompetence isn’t looking so funny. It’s not funny when a “clerical error” erases your bank balance for a couple of days. It’s not funny when the lab tech misses your vein and pokes around until what should have been a small hole becomes a whole arm bruise. It’s not funny when some minimum wage worker doesn’t clean the equipment well enough and 20 people die of E. coli poisoning. I think you get the picture.
Then there are the times when you get the feeling you are the hero in the story going up against the incompetent evil. When you can see the mistakes the administration of your company is making and no amount of telling them about it is helping. When you wish you could just eliminate the problem the way that it happens in the movies – you come in blazing and destroy the incompetents, prove that you had a good reason for doing so and ride off into the sunset. Only it doesn’t work like that in real life. You don’t get to be the hero who can face an army and never get shot. You have to keep working with the rules of those administrators limiting you further every time you even come close to showing them the error of their ways. No amount of logic or grand speeches are going to help.
Is it any wonder that we dive into the escapist pleasure of watching the lone hero walk through the battle field without so much as a single wound? Of course not. If we wanted the depression of reality, we’d stay out here in the real world. So go ahead and write your evil empire into incompetence. That’s what people want to read.
Leave a Reply