Here’s my column in today’s Greenville News:

It’s good for us to know what evil is…

I’ll never forget watching the original film adaptation of the novel ‘Salem’s Lot,’ by Stephen King. Burned into my mind is the image of a child-vampire floating outside the bedroom window of one of his friends. It gave me chills for years. I went to a ‘Midnight Movie’ in high school with my girlfriend Viv. It was Halloween II. Needless to say, when I walk down lonely hospital corridors at night, I still sometimes wonder if Michael Meyers is slipping up behind me, bloody scalpel in hand.

Of course, in each of those movies, we could identify the villain with relative ease. The vampires were still vampires. They still wanted blood. Michael Meyers.might have been in dire need of horse tranquilizers and some intense psychotherapy (and exorcism), but we we were fairly certain he was dangerous, even if he was misunderstood.

Now, however, things have changed. In books, television and movies, vampires and werewolves are increasingly misunderstood. Yes, they want to kill. But deep inside, they just need to be held and hugged. They just need the love of a good woman, or a good man. And a B negative slushee to go, if you please.

Our fascination with villains, with evil, is nothing new. We still watch documentaries on Adolph Hitler and on Stalin. We still wonder who Jack the Ripper was. We love true crime and cheer for the team that catches the bad guy or gal. But I wonder if we’ve made a new turn. Because now, rather than trying to understand evil so that it can be identified and stopped, we often refuse to define it. Even worse, we absorb and embrace evil because it is the new good.

A few years ago, I caught a couple of episodes of ‘The Sopranos’ and was really disturbed to find that poor Tony Soprano was just a confused guy who was trapped in his criminal life. A guy who might kill you, to be sure. But you could rest (in the dirt) with the reassurance that Tony would at least hustle off to the psychiatrist to try to figure out his deep, internal angst.

The population of many of the reality shows is similar. They’re people you’d never invite to dinner for fear they’d steal the silver, kick the dog, punch your pastor and have lewd conversations with your husband or wife. We make heroes, it seems, of anti-heroes.

Why do we do this? Why do we hold up hip-hop stars with criminal records as virtuous, while condemning businessmen as wicked oppressors who rob the system? Why do we consistently honor all kinds of perverse, bizarre entertainers and athletes, even as we ridicule and mock the values of the hard-working, tax-paying, child-raising masses as backwards and uninformed?

Isn’t it amazing that in many circles, even the idea of having a large family is considered evil? It’s an affront to the welfare of the planet, we are told. It’s stealing from the future. It’s irresponsible. One thing that has always been considered a societal good, the family, is now the anti-society.

Some of this was born from a desire to avoid seeming judgmental. We are a plural nation. We have many viewpoints and lifestyles represented. We don’t want to be too quick to condemn. I get that. But I fear we’ve gone too far. Or at least, someone has. In particular, those who educate and inform us have decided that our national, cultural sense of what is right and wrong, good and bad is practically Neanderthal.

We, or at least our leaders, now have difficulty identifying terrorist as terrorists; preferring more respectful terms, like ‘insurgents,’ or ‘freedom-fighters.’ Our leaders would have us try to understand oppressors like Hugo Chavez and Ahmidinijad, and would ask us to bow before the opinion of corrupt UN member nations, whose human rights records make US prisons look like resorts.

The lesson, apparently, is that ‘nothing is as it seems.’ I remember learning, in high school English, the quote from Hamlet: ‘…for there is nothing goood or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ I don’t think we got the irony as Hamlet addressed Rosencrantz. We absorbed it as an aphorism, that all things were relative, depending upon our perspective and opinion.

Years later, raising my children in topsy-turvy world of entitlement and murkey ethics, I think it might be better to say, ‘there is good and bad, and thinking must help us discern them.’ Anything else is far scarier than the worst Halloween nightmare.

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