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The Most Effeminate Male Villain: Final Fantasy vs. Disney

So you’re writing a novel or a movie and you’re trying to decide on some quality that will make your villain more distinctive, more unusual. There’s one easy way: have them defy gender conventions! Thus we end up with villains like Ursula from The Little Mermaid, who was modeled after the Ur-drag queen Divine (yes, really) and Jafar from Aladdin, who wasn’t modeled after anyone in particular except a bunch of really dusty Arabic stereotypes. Okay, okay, I love Final Fantasy and I love Disney’s animated movies (well, most of them), so I don’t want to imply that the makers of these franchises are being reactionary or homophobic or heterocentric or whathaveyou, and I’ll just leave it to Gender Studies majors to parse out the implications. I’ll just say I think it all comes down to the cultural language we’re all programmed with, and not any attempt to respond to contemporary political or social issues – unlike, for example, the insanely homophobic portrayal of King Edward II in Braveheart (because it cannot be said enough times: screw you, Mel Gibson, even if you did an elaborate cameo in one of the greatest Simpsons episodes ever).

I just find it amusing that two franchises I like both went through the same trend in the early-mid ’90s: really effeminate bad guys. And I by “effeminate” I mean “almost in the drag-queen realm.”

Jafar vs. Emperor Palamecia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, okay, maybe Jafar isn’t halfway toward auditioning for Edna Turnbladt in Hairspray, but he does come across as a homicidal Paul Lynde. Although unlike Uncle Arthur and the real life Paul Lynde, he does enjoy kissing a princess.

But, of course, sexual orientation doesn’t mean a guy can’t sashay with the best of them.

Emperor Palamecia is trickier to pin down, because what little personality he has only comes across in Dissidia and even then it doesn’t go beyond a few lines of dialogue. Nonetheless, we just have to look at him to see he’s like the offspring of Uncle Arthur and Hedonism Bot, which can only make him the winner of this round.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scar vs. Kuja

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scar does embody a pretty old literary stereotype – the mincing, cowardly, luxury-loving, treacherous male villain in comparison to the earthy, honest, and butch male hero. But it’s hard not to like him anyway, from the moment he scorns his inconvenient nephew Simba and sneers, “Shall I curtsey?!”

Kuja, on the other hand, represents…I don’t know, glam rock’s invisible yet pervasive influence on Japan? In Final Fantasy IX Kuja is an extraterrestrial arms dealer trying to trigger an apocalyptic global war, but his costume instead makes it look like his ultimate objective is to be the next Lady Gaga.

Admittedly it’s a close call, but I have to call it for Scar.  Kuja’s got the dress, but Scar is an out-and-unashamed metrosexual lion.  Plus we know he’s the real protagonist of The Lion King.  

Ratcliffe vs. Seymour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only is Pocahontas‘ villain Governor Ratcliffe a fancy boy, but he even has an effeminate animal sidekick, a dog named Percy. That’s a new height for any of the villains on this list. Plus he gets his own song with the lyric, “Think how they’ll squirm when they see how I glitter!”

By rights he should win, and yet…there’s Seymour, who in Final Fantasy X is basically an evil Pope as envisioned by David Bowie’s Goblin King …

The real scandal isn’t that Seymour is an undead being (who gets beaten up by your party every two hours) or that he serves a corrupt Church that is complicit in a cycle of mass murder carried out ritualistically at the behest of a literally mindless spirit, but that at least 40 percent of the tithes paid to the Church goes to Seymour’s hair.

I mean, I’m sure Radcliffe leads a pricey, lavish lifestyle, but Seymour wins simply because his annual hair care budget surpasses the GDP of some small countries.  Truly that makes him the maester of metrosexuals, and in the world of Spira which includes girly frat boy Tidus that’s quite an accomplishment.

Winner:  Final Fantasy  

Disney put in some strong contenders in the early-mid ’90s, but the award goes to the Final Fantasy franchise.

Our Western sensibilities just couldn’t compete with a franchise from a culture that has formed entire genres out of having men with ambiguous sexualities and androgynous genders.

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The Worst Parent: Peg Bundy vs. Homer Simpson

Another great meal, Peg.  Y’know, honey, you’re incredible.  You ignore the children, you neglect the house, and still you find time to let the dinner get cold before you serve it.  How do you do it? 

Well, Al, I guess I care enough about me not to care about you. -Al and Peg Bundy

Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try. -Homer Simpson

Bad parenting isn’t supposed to be a laughing matter, and yet it is. After all, Homer Simpson gets quoted much more than either Ward Cleaver or Cliff Huxtable. Homer not only embodies the complete antithesis of the ideal of American fatherhood so well, but says things about family life that many people wish they could say. So it is with Peg Bundy, the ultimate anti-housewife. It begs the question (well, in my mind, anyway): which one would be the worst parent?

Granted this question might be skewed from the very beginning. Homer has Marge, who is no June Cleaver (well, depending on the episode) but who does more than fill in for Homer’s ethical and nurturing lapses as a parent. Al Bundy, on the other hand, really is Peg’s perfect counterpart. The only difference is that Al is a breadwinner, albeit a reluctant and miserable one who, like Homer Simpson, mysteriously has not been fired. So rather than looking at the Simpsons and the Bundys as couples, let’s take Peg and Homer and see how they function as parental units.

Physical Abuse

Let’s dispense with the darkest category first, shall we? Even the show has come out and referred to Homer strangling Bart as bona fide physical abuse (“And that horrible act of child abuse became one of our most beloved running gags”). With Peg, there’s no indication of physical abuse, but as “Married…With Children” progresses Peg does go from being a housewife who feeds her kids nothing but frozen dinners to one who keeps her family in sub-Third World conditions while spending Al’s money on clothes, nicknacks, and even food for herself. In other words, Peg Bundy runs the Bundy household like North Korea.

So while Homer’s treatment of Bart does fit our usual understanding of physical abuse, malnourishment also counts as physical abuse, and the “prize” has to go to the woman who leaves her kids to try to make meals out of a single M&M found on the floor.

Winner: Peg

Emotional Abuse

This category is hard to judge thanks to the “Rule of Funny,” which in this case dictates that if it’s funny for Homer or Peg to act like sociopaths then so be it. Also it’s hard to judge this one while being fair to the shows. “Married…With Children” (with extremely rare exceptions) was written with “Seinfeld”‘s “no hugging and no learning” rule. “The Simpsons,” despite its reputation for cynicism, usually wears its heart on its sleeve.

While Bart is the exclusive recipient of Homer’s physical abuse, all the Simpson children routinely have Homer’s bipolar/schizoid/whatever disorder showered upon them, whether it’s Homer threatening to murder Bart if he loses in a peewee sport or yelling at Lisa for daring to lambast Brown University. Still, Homer does seem to be as lavishly affectionate as he is short-tempered. The best examples tend to come out of Homer’s relationship with Lisa, which really is one of the most tender recurring themes in the entire show. Despite Lisa being so different from him that she might as well exist in another dimension, Homer still makes genuine efforts to bond with her (which is why the episodes that focus on Homer and Lisa’s relationship tend to be the ones people remember as tearjerkers, and indeed if you don’t have at least one of those episodes that at least makes you tear up a little – mine is “Lisa’s Pony” – then you truly have a heart of stone.)

Peg is capable of love. She is very loving and supportive toward her mother.

 This is what Peg’s mother would have looked like in a better universe.

She also was very maternal toward Seven, at least until she got bored with him. So it is that Peg clearly loves her children; it’s just that their novelty wore off years ago. And she has uber-Aspergers’ when it comes to voicing her opinions about them. …And she judges her children’s value based on the material rewards they can bring her. We see Peg’s parenting priorities most clearly in an episode where Kelly has an affair with a city alderman. Although initially outraged that their daughter would date someone twice her age, Peg and Al become supportive when Kelly’s boyfriend start doing favors for them. To make sure the relationship keeps running smoothly, Peg actually stops Kelly before she leaves on any dates to make sure she looks more slutty. When Bud gets jealous at all the praise and attention Kelly is getting just because she’s sleeping with a politician, Peg blurts out, “”We always thought you would be the successful one. Boy were we wrong!” and adds when smoothing things over, “Don’t be jealous. You’re both our children. It’s just that Kelly is our favorite one now, that’s all.” It almost gets creepy when you realize that Bud is a hard-working A student who is watching the self-destructive behavior of his lazy sister get rewarded by his parents just because at the moment it happens to feed their greed.

Winner: Peg

Nurturing

How much nourishment can Homer actually provide be when he can’t even open a can of pudding and when he can cause cereal to catch fire just by pouring milk over it? Peg can cook, in her own way. Making hamburgers with a toaster is still making hamburgers, after all. Also she does give her children dental checkups (even if it just involves her and Al doing it themselves at home) and vitamins (although it is actually Pez). With Homer, the show has established pretty well that without Marge and to a lesser extent without Lisa his home life pretty much devolves into a “Mad Max” experience. Peg does put a little effort into taking care of her children, even if her idea of care is what “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is to “Star Wars.”

Winner: Homer

Creating an Unstable Home Environment

Both “The Simpsons” and “Married…With Children” have had episodes where the families were in danger of being split apart by divorce. However, those types of episodes were much more of a recurrence in “The Simpsons.” Not only that, but the Simpsons’ marriage is a bit more…inexplicable, even to the characters themselves. Even when the whole issue of why Homer and Marge are married is confronted head-on, Homer excitedly notes that the only thing he can offer Marge no one else can is “complete and total dependence!” Now Marge does defend her marriage to her delightfully cruel sisters claims that there are hidden depths to Homer and long-time viewers have reasons to believe her, but still their marriage does have its oil-and-water qualities.

Al and Peg, on the other hand, are made for each other, if only because they’re both cynical and mean as Hell. As they put it themselves: “We don’t believe in love.” “That’s why our marriage works!” We even find out that, when Peg does get a job, it actually disrupts their dynamic, because Peg sees her actual “job” as soothing Al’s ego as the sole breadwinner while Al enjoys complaining about his wife’s laziness (and, he reluctantly admits, he kind of likes having her around).

Winner: Homer

Capacity for Self-Improvement

While I’m no parent and, God willing, I never will be, I’ve learned from enough sitcoms and commercials that there is no manual for parenting and that it’s a job you learn as you go. If only because they’re both in sitcoms, neither Peg or Homer ever really learn. Indeed, really, they get worse as the shows go on. Still, Homer does learn, if only for a little while. He gives up drinking for the sake of his marriage, learns the importance of spending time with his daughter (albeit multiple times), and comes very close to realizing how Tennessee Williams-esque his marriage is. Throughout eleven seasons, Peg learns…um…that having a job is just as bad as she feared, maybe?

Winner: Peg

And the Award of Worst Parent goes to…

So, the bottom line is you’d probably rather have Homer as a parent than Peg. Now, what would it mean if you had Peg and Homer as your parents? Maybe next time.

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The Most Evil Megacorporation: Umbrella versus Shinra

The evil corporation is undoubtedly one of the biggest cliches in fiction, but it’s also the most relevant type of villainous organization right now. Plus they can be more fun for writers and the audience. Unlike the Mafia or corrupt politicians, even the more sinister actions of corporations can have a certain kind of legitimacy granted to them by society and by governments (for examples, see…well, just about any account of multinational corporations’ activities in the Third World), which makes them more of a challenge for one’s protagonists. Shinra Electric Power Company and Umbrella Pharmaceutical, Inc. are two mega-corporations that I think stand out, not just from the classic video game franchises of Final Fantasy and Resident Evil but from all genres and media, in the fields of violent oppression, casual environmental devastation, tyrannical behavior, and of course limitless greed. Which one, though, can claim the prestigious title of the Most Evil Mega-Corporation? Let’s naturally start at the beginning:

Who Had The More Ruthless Rise to Power?

Shinra had inauspicious origins as a small munitions manufacturer, but enriched itself by selling arms to both sides in a world war. From there, they discovered an energy resource called mako energy and became the global (and very likely the only) supplier of it. After that, Shinra’s history is vague, but by the time Final Fantasy VII begins Shinra has taken over most of the world, somehow (but likely in various rather unpleasant ways) muscling out preexisting governments. What is pretty certain is that when they constructed the mega-city of Midgar literally over some towns that were already there, they didn’t really have the previous inhabitants in mind, condemning them to lifetimes of sunless poverty in slums almost completely shut off from the “above-ground” where the privileged live more prosperous lives. Still, getting a fortune from playing both sides of a war is pretty routine even by real world standards, and raising some people up while sinking others further into poverty is what capitalism is all about, so let’s move on to Umbrella…

Well, for starters, Umbrella itself was just a front for its rich founders’ mad scientist shenanigans, starting with their discovery of a virus in Africa that had the potential to mutate a human body. Afraid that the architect who designed the mansion that would secretly house their experiments could be a liability, they efficiently killed two birds with one stone by leaving the architect to die from dehydration in an underground maze and injecting his wife and 12-year old daughter with a modified version of the virus, killing the former and mutating the latter into an immortal, psychotic killing machine who roamed the mansion’s underground areas, ripping off and then wearing the faces of anyone unlucky enough to stumble across her. They weren’t the only ones; Umbrella’s founders really got their kicks from either injecting unwilling people with various versions of the virus, for Science (!), or for trying to use the virus to create a master race. Compared to that, Shinra in its early years looks less magnificently, horrifically evil and more routinely, run-of-the-mill evil, like Comcast.

Winner: Umbrella

Who Has The Most Questionable Products?

In the Resident Evil universe, Umbrella makes everything from food to makeup, but what they end up becoming most famous for is producing not one, but multiple versions of a virus that usually turn people into zombie hordes, but sometimes into near-mindless, near-indestructible psychopaths. Umbrella’s founders and other affiliated scientists hoped to find the cure to death (largely for themselves, of course), but instead they ultimately caused a zombie outbreak that forced the US government to nuke an entire city. Now that’s a scenario I hope they use in final exams for students who want to become PR professionals. Of course, there’s no doubt that a company that makes viruses that at best turn people into zombies and at worst turn them into deformed, god-like Ed Geins who have to be taken down by an army is “bad.”

On the face of it, Shinra’s main product, processed Mako energy, seems more innocuous. Then you have to take into account what Mako energy really is: it’s the Lifestream of the planet. What’s the Lifestream? Well, it’s comprised of the souls of everything that’s ever lived, including humans. It’s a close call, but in my opinion having the essence of your dead grandfather power your toaster is creepier than zombies, even super-zombies, any day.

Winner: Shinra

Who Gets To Throw Around The Most Power?

Like any respectable evil mega-corporation, Shinra and Umbrella have their own private armies. They both get their own cities too, which they didn’t establish but heavily developed. Unlike in the (awful) movies, Raccoon City was just a small town that grew into a city thanks to the presence of Umbrella HQ. As a result most of Raccoon City’s authorities are practically on the company payroll.

In Midgar, Shinra is apparently completely and openly responsible for everything from utilities to law enforcement, and in fact the only real responsibility the Mayor of Midgar has is keeping Shinra HQ’s document library in order. I have to give this one to Shinra. Eventually after Raccoon City is nuked, Umbrella is exposed and practically shut down by the US government (although it helped that all their major research centers ended up being destroyed). In Final Fantasy VII Shinra is a government in of itself, the stuff of many dystopian sci-fi novels. It takes a meteor nearly colliding with the planet, most of the board of executives getting killed, and a pissed-off Godzilla-like monster sent by Mother Earth herself blowing up Shinra HQ to take Shinra down, and even then, at least according to the movie sequel Advent Children, Shinra’s still more or less around and kicking.

Winner: Shinra

Who Was The Most Evil (And Stupid) When It Came To Playing In God’s Domain?

We already delved into the uber-shady experiments Umbrella’s mad scientist division liked, but I only mentioned their experiments with producing superhumans who aren’t horribly deformed and addicted to human flesh. One attempt produced a man who ended up becoming something like the killer from Dressed To Kill and a woman who took over one of Umbrella’s core facilities and decided she wanted to take over the world – starting by grotesquely mutating her own body. Another just created a lot of dead bodies and the one man who would go on to betray Umbrella and leak the information that would bring it down. So, yes, trying to produce things that were less like zombies and more like Captain America ended up hurting Umbrella more than their occasional zombie outbreaks.

Even though it basically already conquered the world, Shinra’s leaders loved to try to expand into the business of supersoldiers. Actually it started well, until their scientists just happened to find a frozen body and, assuming that it was a member of a lost legendary race, just started injecting their soldiers with her cells. Unfortunately, said frozen body turns out to be a world-destroying Lovecraftian alien parasite that happens to still be alive and conscious. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out well for anybody. Still, Shinra otherwise did somewhat well with their own supersoldier program, and it wasn’t really their fault that their top scientist Hojo turned out to be completely insane and hiding the fact that Shinra’s best supersoldier Sephiroth would probably get around to preparing to help his cosmic horror mother destroy the world. With Umbrella, however, none of its best and brightest ever got the hint that the answer to “What should we do with the virus that horrifically mutates people into bloodthirsty monsters that are all but impossible to control?” shouldn’t be “Try to make different types of it!”

Winner: Umbrella

And Who Actually Did The Most Evil?

This will be the tie-breaker, as well it should be. Both Umbrella and Shinra have long lists of crimes: environmental destruction on a scale that would make even the most anti-”big government” politician demand that the EPA be given dictatorial powers; treating entire cities like their own fiefdoms; and taking the ‘Take this thing we just discovered and stick it in their veins!’ approach to human biological research. To be fair to Umbrella, if you look past the individual crimes of their founders and scientists they’re at best indirectly responsible for many of the atrocities that unfold. Like in the (awful) movies, the exposure of researchers to the virus that leads into the plot of the first game was a deliberate act of sabotage, in this case by one of Umbrella’s founders, who was assassinated under orders from one of his colleagues (he got better). Also the zombie outbreak in Raccoon City was purely accidental, and not because of someone wondering, “Let’s see what happens if…”

Later in the series, a lot of the bad things that go down is still driven by Umbrella’s research, but the culprits are always rogue agents and scientists. Shinra, on the other hand, apparently made being murderous bastards company policy. Even when one of their reactors exploding decimates an entire town, there’s no indication that they do anything like help rebuild the town or help its citizens. Another town gets torched just because it’s suspected that the inhabitants are harboring anti-Shinra terrorists. The biggest example of overkill, however, is that they literally crush an entire slum in Midgar, just to try to get rid of a terrorist group consisting of about six people. Now that’s being an evil mega-corporation.

Winner: Shinra

Of course, you could make the counter-argument that Umbrella is the more frightening, sinister mega-corporation because it’s the most realistic. Not only does Umbrella exist in the “real world,” but the ongoing saga through most of the Resident Evil series of how Umbrella manages to duck responsibility for a major catastrophe that destroyed thousands of lives has been made a bit too realistic by things like certain recent events in the United States. Now Shinra isn’t quite as detached from reality as it may look. After all, it exists in a world where the lines between a for-profit corporation and government are seriously blurred and where almost all the only prosperous areas are tourist hotspots.

However, in terms of unadulterated evil, Umbrella’s realism hurts it a little bit. Yes, its founders and affiliates are guilty of some atrocious acts, but as a body Umbrella’s crimes are more due to negligence and short-sighted greed, not malice, much like real world mega-corporations. Shinra, on the other hand, comes across as what would happen if Microsoft and an old-school Fascist regime got together and had a baby. If you put out a successful MoveOn.org petition against Umbrella, they’d ignore you at worst or release a press release about it at best. Shinra would have you killed and burn down your house with our family and pets inside, just for kicks.

Plus, Shinra just has a pretty kickass theme.

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