The Super Rich make good villains

One of the things the TV series Prison Break did very well was to gradually expand the scope of the plot as the series went on. In the beginning it was a relatively simple case of a man being framed for murder. But over time it became a huge Matrix-like CONSPIRACY where even the U.S. president was a puppet whose strings were pulled by a secret shadow government run by the super rich. And to think: Prison Break came out before the 2008 financial meltdown!  

Towards the end of the second season of PB, a new villain emerges, an old, well-dressed man who doesn’t communicate verbally with his minions except via short notes on little pieces of paper. What a great device for a villain! – he behaves according to the rules of an unseen world – a world of Big Brother electronic eavesdropping which he probably helped to create.

My theory is that thrillers – both books and movies – in a Darwinian way, are a reflection of society’s current attitudes towards categories of people. I say Darwinian because a book that chose, let’s say, the Royal Canadian Mounties, as the diabolical bad guys, no matter how well written, would most likely so confuse people that no self-respecting agent would represent it – and therefore never get published. So Islamic terrorists, crooked politicians, mad scientists, Nazis, eco-terrorists, super criminals, secret government agencies, and drug-kingpins – they’ve all had their day in the sun in post WW2 thrillers and have all been  richly accepted as villains. And probably in their heyday all reflected a deap-seated societal fear.

Today, I’m seeing Islamic terrorists dwindle as the thriller villains dejour and the invisible super-rich rise to take their place – and I wonder if that is saying something significant about American society. When the culture chooses as its villain a shadowy, amorphous enemy with tentacles everywhere manipulating world events, does that imply that society feels pummeled by forces it can’t see, fight, or comprehend – and that the citizens see themselves as confused and manipulated. Hmmm…sobering if true.

My next posting will be on ‘bad language’ and why you won’t find any in  Einstein’s Trunk.


Zurich, June 8, 2011

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