Whence Evil?

I’ve been watching the Sci-Fi Channel’s miniseries Tin Man. I like it – I like it a lot. It’s based on the venerable Wizard of Oz stories, with lots of changes, but enough commonality with the movie that most of us know and love to be recognizable.

Kinda. Okay, barely. But it’s still got a central story of innocence and good versus evil.

My problem with it is the nature of that evil. Spoiler alert – if you haven’t seen the second episode yet, avert your eyes.

In this version, the main characters are a pair of sisters, the daughters of the Queen of the OZ (Outer Zone). One is a bad seed, Azkadelia, who kills her younger sister at a young age and goes on to become a powerful evil sorceress. But the younger sister, DG, is reanimated by her mother’s love and is sent to our world to avoid her evil sister and one day return to set things right.

Okay, I’m buying it so far.

But then, in the second episode, they reveal the origin of Azkadelia’s evil. She and her sister were close friends until one day they inadvertently released an ancient evil witch from her prison. DG ran, leaving Azkadelia at the witch’s mercy. The witch then possesses Azkadelia, starting her evil rampage and imbuing her with cool flying monkey tattoos on her boobs.

Now, I’m no slouch at suspending my disbelief, but this runs counter to my personal philosophy of morality. The message is that the two sisters were both good, but subject to ordinary human weakness, and as a result, an outside force of horrific evil managed to overtake one of them and bring about lots of suffering.

I don’t think evil works that way. It is, very sadly, not something external to the human experience. People like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Pinochet weren’t bizarre freaks possessed by evil demons. Well, maybe they could have used some lithium. But they were the products of their upbringing, their society and their ambition. The horrible, evil things they did were, ultimately, human – something that any person could be a part of, given the right circumstances.

I think we have a desire to view evil as something outside of normal human experience because we’re afraid or unwilling to admit that we could ever participate in those kinds of things.

If we’re going to ever abolish evil, we have to recognize that it’s not something that comes from outside of humanity – it comes from inside it.

So, yeah – I would have been happier if they just made Azkadelia a raving bitch.

11 Responses to “Whence Evil?”

  1. Mark Says:

    I had a totally different experience watching Tin Man. I disliked the first night enough to not bother the second night. I will second your opinion on the nature of evil. To paraphrase the immortal Forrest Gump: “Evil is as evil does.” People love to blame an external force for evil – it gives them an out when they commit it themselves: “The devil made me do it.”

  2. Jill Smith Says:

    I had issues with this too (though I thought it was in some ways a more interesting choice than the traditional “bad seed” trope). My issues had more to do with the fact that the whiny, rather cowardly little twit ran off and left her more capable sister to get infected with flying monkey mojo. Not to say that the strong and faithful are always rewarded (’tis to laugh indeed), but I just don’t buy DG as an heroine. She seems to spend most of the time with mouth agape, watching bad stuff happen to people who inexplicably care about her and help her. (Not sure if it’s a credit or demerit to the production that the childhood and present characters are remarkably consistent in this).

    That being said, I only watched about 1/4 of the first episode and went to bed. My husband was the one who stayed up and watched that bit and was the only reason why I ended up watching any more of it.

    The steampunk props and sets are pretty, though.

  3. Sarah Says:

    I agree in terms of the evil sister! Another thing that bothered me about it, though (albeit a superficial thing) were the costumes. Except for DG’s, they looked really tacky and like each one was designed by a different person. I think the most disturbing thing about it for me was the fact that they made Toto a black man who had been “locked up” for 15 years, and basically equated this man with a dog; therefore a man who is really not fully human (cue Jefferson’s defenses for slavery) who turns out to be untrustworthy yet “loyal” to DG nonetheless. The implicit racism was really troubling.

  4. Rachel Says:

    tell it, brother. I totally agree with you that evil is naturally human and that organized religion together with a deep aversion to personal responsibility has made a popular vision of external evil the predominant view. le sigh.

  5. staceyjoy Says:

    I’m not watching it, but that was a great post.

  6. Ellen-Mary Says:

    I’m with Mark. I was looking forward to watching it and I tried but I couldn’t get through the first night. I couldn’t even get all the way through the first night. In fact when the Scarecrow character turned and said “Have a heart, Tin Man.” I changed the channel.

    Based on what you say about their portrayal of evil I’m glad I skipped it.

  7. Miss Scarlett Says:

    “organized religion together with a deep aversion to personal responsibility has made a popular vision of external evil the predominant view”

    Well said Rachel!

    I haven’t seen this yet but have heard a lot about it online – might still give it a view.

  8. Kath Says:

    I think they lost me when D.G. tells the scarecrow character (Glitch) that his zipper is open. Oh puh-leeze!

  9. Mary, Mary Says:

    You forgot Fidel Castro–but I’m married to a Cuban and we watch ‘Cane’ just to hear the odd Cuban accent surrounded by Puerto Ricans. I have ‘Son of a Witch’ on my nightstand–might give that a go instead. Ever thought about Patricia Wells’ Daube de Boeuf? Same thing but with a bit of orange zest and stewed forever–really great when the weather stays under 50 degrees for more than 5 minutes. Salut!

  10. Miss Scarlett Says:

    I downloaded and watched the series — somehow made it through the lame, lame, lame 1st episode. I was really shaking my head at most of those lines, poorly delivered.

    Obviously this was a production with money – we know these people can act (Neal McDonough — awoogahh!! – I mean: Band of Brothers) but stiff and painful — the scene of them walking through the snow lifting their legs up to their waist….ohhhh so bad. Don’t even let me get started on Richard Dreyfuss.

    But I did watch the rest – and actually started to like it partway through pt.2.
    I didn’t have a real problem with the explanation re: Azkadelia, but that is a recurrent theme in many movies, shows and books – it’s really quite biblical.

    You’ve raised a good thinking point – it is easier to accept evil actions in entertainment venues when they are thus explained — it is another thing altogether in the real world. I would never credit something like possession to explain Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler etc.

    Anyways….one of the best parts of the show for me is that it was filmed here. I’ve always thought the forest here was magical. 😀

  11. Valerie Says:

    Actually, quite a lot of studies have been done on the true nature of evil. I’m a Psychology major. People with Antisocial Personality Disorder (otherwise known as psychopaths or sociopaths) are now thought to be caused by 35-50% defective genes that cause these people to not be able to experience empathy or have a conscience. The other roughly 50% is thought to be due to Cultural Values, or rather lack of them. America is an individualistic consumer culture that values competition over cooperation, unlike some Asian cultures. And guess what? We have a much higher rate of sociopathy. Actually, sociopaths, believe it or not, are not much influenced by their upbringing. So evil is both born and made, not that that’s any excuse for it! Other people do awful things because most people will follow the orders of a person they consider an authority figure, even if those orders do bother their consciences. Also, interestingly, only 20% of American prisoners are actual sociopaths. Other bad behavior comes from life experience, child abuse, poverty, neglect, and yes psych meds sometimes. That kid in Omaha that shot 8 people in a mall and then himself had been on a Prozac-like drug for about 3 months prior. Don’t even get me started on this! I have been medically mismanaged for about 13 years, and it is nearly impossible to get off the stuff! Don’t go there! Take vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Low levels of these are common reasons for “mental illness”. Oh well, now you know the psych version on evil.