The heroes of my youth—J. K. Rowling, Pizza Hut, and most of all Disney—are the villains of my adulthood. This is only natural for a curmudgeon of my caliber; to mature is to make enemies. To learn, in other words, to vilify. What’s unnatural is the reverse process: heroization. This I never do, and not just because I can barely pronounce it. The very act arrests development. So of course the Walt Disney Company excels at it. Once a minter of great heroes, it’s lately sunk to the business of heroizing great villains. You remember Maleficent, eidolon of evil, dragon lady writ literal? In not one but two pop-feminist productions, Disney has defanged and unwinged her. The only thing edgy about nu-Maleficent is Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones. Being an inclusive company, Disney came next for a boy. This year’s Artemis Fowl, unwatchably directed by Kenneth Branagh (who’s less hero or villain than international hoodwinker), turns the depraved super genius into a good kid, with dweeby morals. Because a spoonful of infantilization helps the revisionism go down! Alas, Disney isn’t the worst decriminalizer. That would be Netflix, whose contribution to the genre, the animated edutainment Carmen Sandiego, commits the gravest offense. The original Carmen, all blowout hair and flame-red cape swirling out of the frame as she made off with historical monuments, was a malefactor to admire, a master of subversion, a—as the anarchists say—poetic terrorist. Recast as a misunderstood teenage do-gooder, she has nothing left to teach us. Nothing left to teach me. Heroes age badly. Agents of sameness, they stink of stagnation. My soul needs villains, those perpetrators of change. May they be free to fight on, to struggle, to lose. To villainize, valorously.
This article appears in the November issue. Subscribe now.
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