Worthy Adversaries: Villains Take Center Stage

Currently, there's a fascination with the dark side, Kring said. "For a lot of us, there's a sense that the world is in a very dire place. The economy, global warming, diminishing resources, terrorism and the economy. There's a very palpable fear, and that naturally translates to pop culture. So the idea of good triumphing over evil is very reassuring."

But is good triumphing over evil? Psychologist Pamela Jaye Smith isn't so sure.

"We are inundated these days by reports from around the globe and close to home that all is not well with the world," said Smith, author of the book "The Power of the Dark Side: Creating Great Villains and Dangerous Situations."

She said, "The individual these days has very little power against giant companies and giant governments, both typically either corrupt and/or callous. Goliath has gotten so huge that David has simply shrugged, folded up the sling and tossed down the stone. Depending on your perspective, it can at times look as though the dark side is winning the war for the world and for humanity, and it's simply a natural animal tendency to side with the winners, hence our increasing fascination with villains."

Plus, said the Center for Story and Symbol's Young, it's all about catharsis, at least temporarily.

"Watching a movie is simultaneously an escape from everyday life and a safe way to encounter these terrors," he said. "It provides a ritual of entering the perilous saga to gain a sense of control and mastery. We may emerge from the theater less afraid, feeling more capable and with a renewed optimism about ourselves and the world."

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