Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rules for Villains: Presentation and showmanship!

Villainy may seem easy to the new super. Go out, rob a few banks, go to Vegas and spend it all, rinse and repeat. You can do that, sure, but do it more than a few times in the same way and you'll go to jail. True villainy is a calling - you're a bandit, a stage magician, an entertainer, a celebrity, a cad, and more. America loves its rebels, and that's you. The best capers are ones that don't require you to interact with people, since every spectator is also an unknown variable, but sometimes you have to. And let's be honest, sometimes the attention is gratifying.

So today I want to talk about presentation and showmanship - how to make an entrance, how to make an exit, and what to do between the two. This has nothing to do with escape routes or the practical problems of villainy. Instead, this is all about style. Every villain has their own style. You'll develop yours as you go.

The essentials of stylish villainy are appeal to pathos and stress management. When you engage in an act of villainy, you're doing more than just profiting. Often, you need to secure cooperation from the people on the scene, and so you're also working to get bystanders to be sympathetic to your cause. You need to be the person in charge of the scene. You usually achieve that with fear, but you can't make people so afraid that they'll freeze up or try to resist you.

Pathos is appeal to the audience's emotions. You do this through several ways in rhetoric. Not all of them are valid for acts of villainy, so let's review the ones that are.

Humor. This is sometimes difficult for inexperienced villains to pull off, so my advice is: don't try unless you know you can do it. It's a fine line between making the crowd appreciate the humor (black or otherwise) of their situation and seeming like a clownish buffoon. An example of the former is the bank robber Tellurian. He had a knack for looking at someone and announcing what he thought they were thinking from their facial expression. He spun stories on the fly while draining the bank vault, and when questioned by police, more people remembered the stories than pertinent facts about the robbery. An example of the latter is Beaver Boy, a would-be jewel thief who burrows into stores. He's, frankly, ridiculous. Nobody takes him seriously, even though he has a legitimate power, because he tries to clown around and he sucks at it.

Visuals. Eye-catching effects are both a great distraction and a great attention-getter. Prefer your powers or control of the local environment over something gimmicky. Only go with the really corny stuff if it's big - quantity has a quality all its own.

Delivery. Patter is vital. Vocabulary is crucial. Seriously, defraud someone of a dictionary. Thieve a thesaurus. Check YouTube for videos of Singularity in action. She was amazing, simply unparalleled in her ability to monologue. Practice some speeches in front of a mirror if you have to. Join Toastmasters.

Surprise. You can build up a lot of social momentum by opening with a surprising move. You don't want explosions or anything immediately dangerous, just something that holds the attention. Peoples' attention flows like a river, and you want to bust the dam and get the current flowing.

Passion. You have to care about what you're doing, and it needs to show. If your heart isn't in it, people won't care. Before you can convince anyone else you're serious, you have to convince yourself.

Competition. For you to hold the attention of the crowd, you need to eliminate competing influences. The tall blade of grass gets cut, and you need to be ruthless in applying your lawnmower. If someone decides to make a stand against you, you need to restrain them in the fairest way possible. The idea of fairness is really critical here. Don't "make an example" of people. Just make it clear that anyone who gives you trouble will be dealt with, and deal with everyone the same way.

If you can master these elements, your audience will be receptive to your program, and may even appreciate the spectacle. Everybody likes to be part of something larger, and you're giving them the opportunity to do so.

Stress management is related to pathos in some ways, but it's different enough to warrant its own discussion. Basically, any overt act of villainy will cause stress in observers. Your job is to channel this stress into productive channels - things that help you.

Members of the crowd will respond in one or more of these ways:

Fight. The civilian will be argumentative, assertive, and possibly difficult to deal with. A skilled villain can sometimes get these people to direct their aggression against each other, or some other threat, rather than you. Like water, anger flows along the channels of least resistance. If you don't feel confident of your ability to manage such feelings, though, ignore these people unless they directly get in your way. If a hero is on the scene, they become his problem, not yours.

Flight. The civilian will try to get away from you. Good - unless your plan requires the cooperation of a crowd (and why would you make such a plan without guaranteeing the crowd's reactions?), this is perfectly fine. The civilian stays safe, you have one less variable to worry about, and you can go about your business.

Freeze. The civilian will freeze up - become unresponsive, stop moving, curl up into a ball, whatever. This is probably okay, but between this and flight you'd prefer flight. Point such people out to any heroes on the scene when you need a distraction.

Fawn. The civilian exhibits friendly behavior toward you. Their reaction to stress is to ingratiate themselves with you. This is what a lot of people think of when they hear "Stockholm Syndrome". This reaction is the most annoying of the four to deal with, and hopefully you won't have to.

Some studies say that males and females differ in their reactions - that males tend toward "fight or flight", while females tend toward "tend and befriend". My experience is that in a given crowd, the individual reactions are far more important than their genders. Mostly your goal is for nobody to move, for nobody to get hurt, and for nobody to get in your way.

Stress management, as a skill, involves doing the things that will provoke the most favorable reaction. Visualize stress flowing like water, with you directing the flow of it through your actions. Too little stress, and the crowd won't respect you - and then you'll waste time dealing with them. Too much stress, and peoples' panicky reactions dominate the scene, again forcing you to deal with it.

So in short: you want to open with a surprising entrance, take charge, raise or lower stress levels to keep the crowd pliable, and engender sympathy if or when you can. All in all, not an easy thing! But doing it is the hallmark of a true master villain.