What do black hats, dark clothes, and scars have in common? They are often used in movies and television shows to signal the villain of the story. An article entitled The Problem With Disfigured Villains in Pop Culture calls for Hollywood to stop relying on scars and disfigured people for villain identification. While disfigurement is an easy storytelling shortcut, seeing it so often and especially juxtaposed with the heroes who have a perfect body and totally symmetrical features, have taught our culture that anything that is not perfect is bad.
As Catholic Christians, we are called to look beyond the surface of a person. Do we seek a deeper relationship with the people that cross our paths or has the influence of what we have seen in the media color our initial response? We connect more deeply with a movie or show when we find traits of ourselves within one of the characters. For those with visible differences, they are seeing an unbalanced representation that skews those with similar issues as evil villains. The use of disfigured villains goes beyond just the horror/thriller genre to include Disney movies like The Lion King and Star Wars. While movies based on books, like the Harry Potter series, may wish to point the accusation to the author, once a person sees what that villain looks like, the irregular features are no longer left to the person’s imagination and the portrayed disfigurement gets cataloged in the watcher’s brain.
The article uses Phantom of the Opera to illustrate that while the appearance of the main character was visibly unappealing, he had the ability to bring beauty into the world through his music and singing. By judging his outward appearance as evil and treating him as such, he succumbed to acting in the same way he was treated. When the novel Frankenstein came out, that too was a plea not to judge by what a creature looked like, but rather by his actions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the message of these two stories has been lost to the fantastic special effects that movie fans crave. If I asked you to draw a picture of Frankenstein’s monster, it would probably be a tall, green, human-like man with a flat head, bolts protruding from its neck, and perhaps some stitches or scars on its face. While shows like The Munsters and movies like Hotel Transylvania may soften us towards those who are visibly different, how much effort does it take for us to go beyond a person’s appearance? For individuals who lack symmetrical looks or who have scars, being rejected by others may result in a wall of protection when meeting new people. It may be more difficult to find a connection or common ground because of previously experienced hurts.
In reality, we are all flawed and are affected not only by original sin, but also the sins we commit. We may not be able to recognize evil, since it’s not always obvious on the surface. While we need to leave all judgment up to God, especially their souls, we also need to remember all humans are children of God. They are neither good nor bad; rather it is all the actions of a person that must be considered. As we all fail to act as we should, we should not be judged on just one good deed or one bad act. Let us shower those whose appearance is less than perfect with all the love and mercy God has bestowed on us. Perhaps then we can be recognized, not by what we look like, but by the love we have for others and bring God’s kingdom to reign.