Witness as one of the trashiest, most vapid shows on television becomes an unexpected and uncomfortable analogy for real-life drama and pain.

MTV's erstwhile 'reality program' 'The Hills' observed of a group of Los Angeles socialites and their boyfriends.

The executives and writers behind "The Hills" tapped into a formula that, despite its banality and idiocy, worked. This would not be possible without three things. First, the producers' imagination at plotting, urging and choreographing the show's major dramas, confrontations, and run-ins. Second, the editors' skill at taking regular conversations and, with a little magic dust, transforming them into awkward stare-downs. Third, and arguably, most important, are the villains. Stories need foils and villains to give the drama greater weight, and "The Hills" villain is as awful as they come.

Whether he is a brilliant actor immersed in the role of a lifetime or whether his on-screen psychopathy is genuine, there's no denying that he is the hook onto which most of the notable tension gets hung. What makes him so much worse is his consistent, active, deliberate cruelty toward almost everyone around him. He doesn't even really have peaks and valleys of behavior. He is essentially awful all of the time he is on-screen, and its that that has caused many to wonder if the whole villain thing is an act or a hoax. After all, no one is that awful, right?

Watching his out-sized cruelty, manipulation and abuse run amok week after week makes it impossible not to wonder about the presence of real-life villains. Outside the fishbowl of reality television, are there people in our lives who play that villain role? Have you ever known someone - or multiple people - who, by their mere presence, ratcheted the tension up in a room or caused everyone extreme discomfort? Have you ever known a person, or people, capable of unrepentant and deliberate cruelty? Do these people get a free pass, or are they just tolerated?

I suspect some of you may find the notion of the existence of villains a bit over-dramatic, but keep in mind: I'm drawing a distinction between people who have done horrible things and people who are horrible. There is a difference, a difference wide enough that even in this world, which is populated with people doing awful things to each other all the time, I don't think that villains are all that common. They're pretty rare, actually. I've known people - including myself - who have done things they're not proud of, things that have hurt others deeply, but I know few who set out to hurt others deliberately. I think you have to be either a psychopath, or a heavy drinker, to commit the worst kinds of cruelty.

We've known our share of difficult personalities. I am sure that I've become one of those difficult or cruel personalities when going through a tough time or feeling threatened, or weak, or angry. When it comes to outright villainous behavior, though, the list narrows considerably. I can't think of more than two or three people in my entire life who have cared enough to show deliberate, planned cruelty - not by accident, or due to pain, stupidity, human foibles or lame attempts at humor - but out-sized, almost cartoon-ish villainy.

My first villain didn't direct his gaze at me, but hurt someone I loved in a horrible way. He was particularly evil because he fled from his crimes, and I told myself I would hurt him if I ever saw him. I never had those sorts of feelings. I was always a 'grey area' person. I saw the good and bad in people, and still mostly do, but some people actively challenge those complex notions.

The first - and worst - villain who tormented me directly was a gaunt, rat-like alcoholic with a Kenny G hairstyle. We never spoke, and didn't know each other. He had a lot of friends but was shy, quiet, and glowered at everybody. I wondered how he had so many friends. He never seemed capable of smiling or laughing. He came off as a tense, brooding, quiet schemer, and he also liked to give his girlfriend bruises. All-around good guy. I became stupidly intertwined with him, by way of this girlfriend, and in my attempt at being gallant, I stumbled into a situation I didn't fully understand, and earned his ire. He tried to fight me once, but I never felt physically threatened by him. The threat here was - as with all true villains - psychological. In just a few weeks, a rumor began to spread. He conveyed it with such earnestness and persistence that before long, most people who knew me began questioning if it was true or not. It was a devastatingly awful rumor. Major damage was done, damage that was never undone. At that time - it was almost twenty years ago - I was much more passive. Had I been I the person I am now, I might have confronted the situation more directly. Instead I let him fade away into the background, a scar and specter lingering over me and over the ruins of old friendships. Some really thoughtful friends of his did apologize to me later for what happened, but like I said, the damage was mostly done.

He will always be a villain. Nothing he could say or do will ever erase that.

Looking back now, I see that he drank. I see that he was an abuser. I see that he was trying desperately to keep someone in his life, by any means necessary. I see that he was threatened by me. I get that. But, that said, forgiveness is something else entirely. I'm capable of great compassion, but not always great forgiveness. I'm alarmingly inflexible about forgiveness. And so, he is a villain.

Interestingly enough, the 'Hills' villain committed a similar act on the protagonist in the first season, an act that had repercussions through the rest of the show's run. I know it's absurd trash, but at the same time, I feel that pain acutely. I thought to myself, 'these things must actually happen to people if they're being dramatized on this show,' and consequently, I feel less alone. I have avoided that sort of drama most of my life, but I do know that only villains are capable of such things.

There are other villains who may not have perpetrated their crimes on me, but they might as well have. They physically preyed on people I love. It was bad enough to warrant a seething, rigid, longstanding hate. Some of these men were never punished for their crimes, and as far as I know, they 'got away with it.' It's more difficult for me to walk away and separate myself emotionally. Hating a villain demands, in almost equal parts, dismissal paired with loathing.

That begs the question: isn't everyone deserving of forgiveness? Far be it from me to dispute a primary ecclesiastical tenet of universal forgiveness, but I there are slights that keep my heart rigid that cannot be massaged into flexibility. Some people have lost the right to share space with me, forever. I know that this rigidity is terrible for my soul, but as I am flexible in just about everything else in my life, I must let some things stay that way.

I'm almost never focused on the villains in my life, but watching the 'Hills' antagonist reminds me that they exist, not just in a corner of the world but in a corner of my soul. And who's to say that I am not someone else's villain?


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