Heroes and Villains

This isn’t properly a kink topic – more of a morality and personal media analysis topic. But given the way my kinks work, these categories are a very large part of the dynamics that I like, and sometimes I talk about characters as being in these categories (as I did in my last post). So I think it makes sense for me to define the terms as I use them.

For me, villains are characters who willingly hurt innocent people. Or, to put it in more exact though less simple terms, characters who willingly hurt people who are too innocent/not guilty enough to be hurt in that way. (As usual when I use it, ‘hurt’ here means ‘hurt in a way that violates their human rights’. So for instance refusing to put up with people violating your boundaries is not hurting by this definition, even if it really upsets them. Likewise, neither is causing someone consensual pain, etc). Several of these terms being flexible, this leaves a lot up to the author of any particular narrative.

‘Willingly’ is flexible because a person who has no other choice is not acting willingly, but a person who does and takes that one anyway is. So when they want to determine morality this way, authors get to decide what choices their characters had, and who gets to count as having had no other options.
–An example of this is the question of whether and when ‘I was following orders’ is an acceptable defense against war crimes – if the idea of violating orders was unthinkable? If it would have brought severe punishment? Never? Etc.

Meanwhile, ‘too innocent/not guilty enough to be hurt in that way’ is flexible because people have often very different opinions on how much it is alright to hurt guilty people, and how guilty they have to be for that. As an example of this:
–Someone who thought that death was an appropriate punishment for profiting off of slave labor and someone who did not would write very different takes on a story about exploited factory workers planning to bomb a rich neighborhood.

On the other hand, heroes are people who are actively against willingly hurting innocent people. (‘Actively’ is another rather flexible word, which I here use to mean basically anything aside from ‘they never really thought about the topic, but if you asked would probably end up saying they were against it’. So it can range from simply opposing it to refusing to do it to going out to stop the people doing it). This has the same areas of flexibility as the other definition. For some examples:
–If a character is offered the option between shooting one person or watching 10 people be executed, does making the second choice make them selfish for prizing their own ‘purity’ above 9 lives, or does it make them admirably committed to their principles (or neither)?
–While most people would agree that the heroes could not torture random civilians, is it alright for the heroes to torture people with known misdeeds?

As a relevant definition, I generally define dark heroes as ‘heroes who have a more permissive opinions on what harm it is acceptable to deal out to guilty people than some baseline’ (the baseline can be many things – the other heroes, their canon characterization if this is a fanfic, etc).

As an example of one way this shows up in my kinks: as I mentioned in the previous post, one villains-as-constricts dynamic I like is guilty-feeling repentant villains. Often, I like to see these villains hurt – imprisoned, enslaved, tortured, etc. Sometimes, I like it when the people doing this are the heroes. Such a dynamic is only possible in a moral universe where there is some level of hurt it is alright to deal out to some level of guilty people.

Edited to add: a comment a reader left made me aware that I’d missed a rather important point. That being: the standard discussed here is based on my morality/worldview. A more general formulation would be ‘villains are characters who violate the determining tenet of the morality system/worldview being used and heroes are people who are actively against violating that tenet’.  The determining tenet of my morality/worldview is not hurting innocent people. Therefore, that’s what determines heroes and villains for me. However, if for instance my determining tenet was ‘obey every command of the Great Leader’ or ‘create a world populated only by left-handed people’, then villains who didn’t hurt anyone, but did violate the commands of the Great Leader or hid right-handed people, and heroes who hurt innocent people because the Great Leader told them to or killed innocent right-handed people would be a part of my stories.

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Specific Narrative Kinks: Villains as constricts

What do I mean by this:

Usually, when I talk about negative power dynamics, there is a very consistent direction for the morality line. The principle is doing wrong in what they are doing to the constrict, and so the principles are the villains, while the constricts, generally, are the heroes. This is a dynamic that I like a lot and I get a lot out of. Sometimes, however, I like to reverse it. Sometimes, it is the heroes who are in power, and the villains who are the prisoners [1]. This kink is about that dynamic.

Categories:

The categories for this kink for me are generally about the attitude of the villain-constrict. At the moment, I can think of three in particular that I like.

  1. Guilt
    This is for the repentant villains. They’ve come to see the wrong of what they’ve done, and now condemn themselves for it. They likely think their new status as the constrict is correct and deserved. As such, this is basically the setup for my rather enormous kink for guilt.
  2. Irony
    These villains get the amused kind of enjoyment out of their power and out of using it, and that hasn’t changed now that they’re on the wrong end of a power dynamic. They’ll never show that their situation bothers them (if it even does). When they reference it (and they usually do, with words or gestures) it’s always with a smile, often accompanied by ironic complements to their captors. They are, however, also likely to be pragmatic, and avoid outright provoking  their more powerfully positioned captors. Since heroes are generally less interested than villains in torturing people for disrespect, they can thus create a situation where their attitude allows them to save face while they use their cooperation to advance their wellbeing. As such, they are excellent candidates for becoming boxed crook teammates for the heroes.
    Examples: Loki in SHIELD custody in Avengers has elements of this (however, since he knows/feels himself to actually be in a position of more power, he also just outright acts like a principle a lot. You can see the two sides in the beginnings of these clips versus the rest of them).

    Loki in parts of Thor: the Dark World also has elements.
    Neal Caffrey of White Collar (at least the first few episodes, which is what I watched) is an example with somewhat less villainousness.

  3. Self-Presence
    These villains are more interested in getting what they want than in having fun, and being on the wrong side of a power dynamic has in no way made them doubt their competence or success. It may be part of the plan, it may be an unplanned inconvenience that they’re sure will be dealt with shortly, but either way, they’re not going to be particularly concerned. They won’t pointlessly antagonize their captors because it’s just that – pointless. In fact, they’re unlikely to acknowledge their situation at all, and won’t act particularly differently from how they usually do when they’re not a prisoner.
    Examples: an excellent example of this is John Harrison of Star Trek: Into Darkness.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnZJjNjMg98

Actionable counterpart:

The guilt type was the dynamic in one of my best scenes ever, and it was awesome. The irony type would be incredibly fun to act, I think, but since I do want to be beaten up and such, I’d be much more interested in playing the same attitude but as a hero-constrict. Likewise for the self-presence type.

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[1] This could be seen as violating the “what the principal is doing is wrong” definition of negative dynamics. I still consider them in this category, because they’re still not positive and still specifically non-consentual. If the hero-principle is not seen as doing something wrong, it’s not because they’re acting with consent, but because their actions, in being toward a villain, are considered justified. Which can raise all sorts of interesting moral questions, but this is not the place for them.

Negative Closeness

[This is one of those things I probably want to write more about at some point, whether about it in general or about specific elements, but in the meanwhile I’m putting a basic post out there so that it’s there and I can refer back to it and such.]

To give a simple definition, negative closeness is when elements that tend to be characteristic of positive relationships, especially emotionally intimate or otherwise close ones, appear in negative dynamics.

This is something that both shows up a lot in many of the negative dynamics I’m into, and is really common in fiction in general, for I think pretty similar reasons – if two people are a main focus of a work, the work is more interesting if their relationship is more interesting, and emotions and complexity tend to make for more interesting relationships than detachment.

Negative closeness has three main flavors – one, when both characters are engaging in it, and two and three, when one character is engaging in it but not the other (that’s two flavors as opposed to one because whether the character engaging in it is the hero or the villain and, in my case, the principal or the constrict, makes a difference to the dynamic).

Negative closeness can generally be seen in two areas:

  1. The character’s feelings. This can involve things like being particularly interested in the other character, desiring to spend time with them, not wanting to or being conflicted about hurting or killing them when normally they wouldn’t hesitate, etc.
  2. The character’s actions. This can involve things like sharing or inquiring about personal information, expressing concern, being respectful in ways that are not demanded, etc.

For the aforementioned ‘makes things more interesting’ reason, the feelings elements tends to show up a lot in some form at least, including with characters who hide it.

However, actions without feelings can also show up, in that case usually either as a mind game on the part of the characters doing them, or as a point of personal pride/honor.

Specific Narrative Kinks: Transgressing an official morality for a person-based one

What do I mean by this:

An official morality in this sense is a morality about order. It’s about things like obeying one’s commanding officer or other authority, doing things according to some set of rules, etc. A person-based morality is a morality about human life and wellbeing – saving and helping people. preventing death, etc. So the situation here is that there was some kind of conflict where acting according to one morality meant violating the other, and the person who had this choice chose to violate the official morality in favor of following the person-based morality. (The most common version of this I’ve seen is where the person’s commanding authority, usually due to incompetence of some sort, tells them to follow a course of action that would get people killed, the person realizes this, and chooses to disobey instead). The person is then punished for their transgression of the official morality.

Variations:

The way this works out can vary pretty widely (including between being a positive and negative dynamic) depending on how the transgressor and whoever they’re accountable to feel about this kind of situation. Basically, each of them can either feel (1) that person-based morality is supreme and therefore if there’s a conflict, official morality is just not important, or (2) that official morality is still important and transgressing it deserves punishment, even though following the person-based morality was correct. Finally, the punisher could feel that (3) official morality is more important, and person-based morality is not a good enough reason to violate it.

I- If the punisher feels (3), while the transgressor feels (1), this turns into an altruism-based negative dynamic. The transgressor feels that they absolutely did the right thing. That they then have to suffer for it is an injustice, but it’s an injustice they’re willing to endure for the sake of what they did.

II- If the punisher feels (3) while the transgressor feels (2), this turns into another form of non-consentual consent. The punisher is still seen in a negative light, but the transgressor also feels that  they ought to be punished for what they did, even though it was the right thing.

III- If both of them feel (2), this can be a positive dynamic with a lot of respect in it. Both of them agree that the transgressor did the right thing, both of them agree that punishment is needed. The punisher has a lot of respect for the transgressor’s strength in making the right decision and then facing the consequences. The transgressor respects the punisher for their proper leadership despite its weight.

IV- Finally, if the transgressor feels (2) while the punisher feels (1), the transgressor then carries both weights from III – not only of making a right decision they will suffer for, but also of being the driving will behind their punishment being carried out, of insisting that even though the punisher would actually have let them off, this cannot be allowed to happen, and the punishment needs to be carried out. (There’s an amazing story with such a dynamic here, which is in fact what inspired me to write this post).

(In the interest of thoroughness, to mention the other two combinations: If both of them feel (1), then there isn’t going to be any punishment or conflict, so that wouldn’t hit this kink for me. If the transgressor feels (1) while the authority feels (2), this also wouldn’t hit this kink for me, and is also a kind of interpersonal conflict that I don’t really enjoy at all).

Fantasy and reality:

I wanted to note here that even though III and IV both work out as positive dynamics, I think that having these kinds of situations in real life is a very bad idea. In real life, prioritizing person-based over official morality is both a very important thing, and something that all too often and too easily doesn’t happen. Putting any kind of penalty on it, adding any kind of deterrent to it, is therefore something that should be avoided as much as at all possible.

However, in fantasy, where I get to play with characters who absolutely will do the right thing and won’t be deterred from it, and therefore I get to watch all the feelings and power twists that these situations create, I like them quite a lot. And since this is fantasy, and no one is actually going to get hurt, this is perfectly OK.

Actionable counterpart:

Both I and II would totally be situations I’d be interested in doing roleplays of. They have a lot of very great material, but are similar enough to roleplay settings I’ve already done that I feel a lot of comfort with the idea. III and IV are more complicated. As I’ve mentioned before, the last (and only) time I tried doing a CP scene with a positive power dynamic setup, it didn’t go well, specifically feelings-wise, so I have some wariness about trying it again. Also, I think these situations, especially IV, might not work very well for whoever was on the other side of the roleplay with me. I think if I knew someone who was interested, I’d be interested in trying it with them, seeing if we can find ways to make it work. Otherwise, I think my feelings say this isn’t something I would be likely to pursue, at least with the feelings I have right now.

Levels of Autonomy and Control

(Note: While I mention ‘the controller’ here as well as the subject, it is the subject’s mind, and its levels of autonomy vs. control, that are the topic. Also, note that the controller does not have to be a person. The controller is who or whatever has produced this effect on the subject’s mind. It could be a drug, or wild magic, or nanites, or another part (not the consciousness part) of the subject’s own mind, etc).

Given a subject, a type of control, etc, the amount of control vs. autonomy in question has two axes. First, levels of control and autonomy, and second, extent and range of control.

 x-x-x

-First axis-

(I’m numbering levels of control and autonomy from 0-4 by increasing control.

4: Total control, no autonomy:

  • The controller has taken over the subject completely. They manipulate their body as though it were their own. The subject could be aware, or unconscious, or anything else, but they might as well not be there at all. The controller can change anything in the subject’s mind at will. (Note: in fiction, the two parts of this tend to be separate powers and often don’t appear at the same time. However, if you’re controlling someone’s body and it’s not telekinesis, then you’re inside their brain, and if you’re inside someone’s brain, then the part that controls the muscles is there too, so while a particular character’s power might be limited in scope, this is still the same kind of thing).

3: Simon-says:

  • Obedience to specific orders. The order is processed by the subject’s existing ‘systems’ (knowledge, abilities, etc) and fulfilled accordingly, with no room for consideration or choice. If the order cannot be processed or fulfilled, it returns failure it one way or another (not doing anything, reporting the inability, etc). So, if the command is ‘turn into a bear’, and this is something the subject can do, they will. If it isn’t, they won’t. If the command is ‘принеси мне лопату’ and the subject understands Russian, they will bring a shovel. If they don’t understand, they won’t. The option to ask ‘will dressing up in a bear costume work’ or to decide they should go look for a Russian-English dictionary does not exist.

2: Goals:

  • Obedience to fulfilling provided goals. Here, the subject does have the autonomy to consciously consider the goal, decide how to best achieve it, seek out resources in fulfilling it, try multiple methods if the first one doesn’t work, etc. The subject could be told “I need my apartment cleaned by the time I get home” or “make sure everyone in this room is dead”, and could asses the situation and decide whether it would work best to clean the apartment themselves or call a service, or whether the current situation calls for releasing poison gas into the room, for an assault rifle, or for shutting off the lights and dropping through a vent with night vision goggles and a knife.

1: Drive:

  • The subject has a guiding objective, but this objective can be open to interpretation, and the subject has enough autonomy to do this interpretation in their own way. For instance, if the subject’s guiding drive is ‘do what is best for person X’, and this person is planning a murder, the subject might decide that it would be best to help them, since this is what they want, or that it would be best to prevent them so that they don’t risk getting caught and imprisoned. ‘Make the world a better place’ could similarly be interpreted as all sorts of things, from ‘try to live with kindness and love’ to ‘destroy humanity because they are bad for the environment’.

0: No control:

  • The subject has total autonomy, and their purposes, goals, actions, feelings, etc, are all completely their own.

Tracking it the other way, a person at 0 has autonomy over their ultimate purpose, their specific goals, their individual actions, and their physical selves. For a person at 1, their ultimate purpose comes from the controller, but they have autonomy over their specific goals, individual actions, and physical selves. For a person at 2, their specific goals come from the controller, but they have autonomy over their individual actions and physical selves. For a person at 3, their individual actions come from the controller, but they have autonomy over their physical selves. A person at 4 has no autonomy, and their physical self is also under the control of the controller.

 x-x-x

-Second axis-

This has to do with how much of the subject’s time is spend under the given level of control, and what if anything happens the rest of the time.

Sometimes, the subject is under the given level of control all the time. For 1, this means that they are constantly focused on their purpose. For 2, 3, and 4 this means that if no control/orders/goals are being provided, they are doing nothing.

Other times, the subject might instead sometimes move to one of the lower levels of control. This could be level zero – for instance, the subject might go about their normal lives at all times except when the controller gives them an order, at which point they carry it out. It could also be one of the other levels.

A fairly common thing in stories tends to be moving incrementally from 3 to 1 when each higher level of control is not active. So, for instance, the Sovereign of Mindlandia might have a servant. This servant obeys any order when they are given one (‘bring me my sword’). When there is no current order, they instead work on any tasks they have been given (‘find these people who have been plotting against me and have them arrested’). When they are not working on tasks, they have a general purpose (‘help the Sovereign achieve their aims and desires’).

x-x-x

So, there’s my organization for this. I’ve used it to analyze several stories and get a better idea of how some of my characters work.

Anyone have thoughts?

Guilt and Forgiveness

Guilt and forgiveness are two related words/concepts that are very powerful for me, both in a kink way (especially guilt, there), and in other ways. As such, I’ve spent some time thinking about what they mean to me.

Most fundamentally, guilt, to me is about separation and distance, and forgiveness is about bringing back and together again.

Beyond that, for me there are three kinds of guilt: fact-and-not-feeling guilt, from-inside guilt, and from-outside guilt. (They are not mutually exclusive, and more than one can be present in a situation at the same time).

Fact-and-not-feeling guilt is, as the name suggests, not about anyone’s emotions. It is about a situation where someone did something that they are now being considered guilty for. As such, they are seen as separated in this way from everyone else – they might be regarded differently, treated differently, etc. In some cases, there is then some condition that can be met for the person to be able to ‘return’/to be forgiven – maybe if they ‘pay for their crime’ with some punishment, or if they show themselves to be penitent, or if enough time passes. And in some cases this is a permanent condition – that person is considered separate for life, and even if some conditions are met, they can never fully ‘return’/be fully forgiven. As far as I can tell, Les Misérables, for instance, is about this kind of situation.

From-inside guilt is when a person considers themselves to have done something wrong. They feel guilt for this, and they feel like this makes them separated – they regard themselves differently, and may or may not feel that others should regard and/or treat them differently as well. There are then three subsequent options. Some feel that the separation can only be breached from the other side, by those on the other side deciding to forgive. This is then framed in terms of the grace/mercy of those others. Some feel that they need to span the separation through their own efforts. This is then framed as atonement – they want to contribute something, for instance effort or suffering, and it is through this that they can ‘return’. Therefore, the wider they see the separation as being, the more atonement they are likely to feel is needed. And some feel that they ought to stay separate, that there is no way to go back. For instance, a character of mine believes that after her execution she will end up in her faith’s version of Hell, and also believes that this is exactly the correct outcome.

From-outside guilt is when one person, usually the authority, creates a negative feeling of separation in another person. This usually happens between people who have some sort of bond, and the separation here is between the person being told they’re guilty, and the person doing the telling. It involves distance-feeling created by the first side – “you did this and it was wrong, I am disappointed”, and the second party very strongly feeling this distance as painful and wanting to bridge it. Here again there are three options, this time for the first party. They can grant their forgiveness (either explicitly or implicitly), therefore connecting back. There can be variety in time and intensity here – from something like waiting a moment, saying ‘I’m glad to see you’ll be taking this more seriously from now on’ and allowing the interaction to continue normally to remaining distant as the guilty part begs and cries and apologizes repeatedly before finally saying ‘very well, you’re forgiven’. Alternatively, they could impose some sort of punishment first. This one is common in corporal punishment stories, usually manifesting in a ‘lecture (seperation) – punishment – comfort and forgiveness’ sequence. Punishment in this scenario usually involves the party being punished thinking about how they’ve disappointed  the first party, as opposed to simply about what they did. Finally, they could completely refuse to forgive, and let the separation and its feeling remain.

More words!

So, as I noted way back here, my terms ‘principal’ and ‘constrict’ don’t feel right to me when I’m talking about positive power dynamics – which, given that I specifically came up with the word ‘constrict’ to mean ‘someone who is constrained by a power outside of themselves against their will’, makes sense.  But, I’d like to talk about positive power dynamics too, sometimes. So, new words:

The top of a positive narrative power dynamic is the authority. This isn’t perfect, but it’s the term I found that best keeps the connotation for someone who has power due to it being vested in them.

The bottom of a positive narrative power dynamic is the liege. This is really less than ideal, given that it actually means both the top and bottom of a power dynamic, and is used more often for the former (as in, ‘my liege’). But, I haven’t yet found another word with the connotation of someone giving power over them to someone else, as opposed to having power exerted on them. (If anyone knows any better words, please tell me).

The difference in it’s simplest form is the presence or absence of good consent. A constrict is made the bottom of a power dynamic nonconsensually (by a principal, by social forces, etc). Therefore, a principal, even a well intentioned one or one who was not the one who forced the dynamic, is party to a nonconsensual relationship. A liege makes themselves the bottom of a power dynamic, because they want to, and the relationship between the authority and them is consensual.