Reference : Faceless Evil in Popular Culture
Books : Collective work published as editor or director
Arts & humanities : Literature
Faceless Evil in Popular Culture
Thiltges, Sébastian mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences (FHSE) > Department of Humanities (DHUM) >]
Kohns, Oliver mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences (FHSE) > Department of Humanities (DHUM) >]
Cultural Express
[en] Popular Culture ; Evil ; Face
[en] “You never knew. That was his power.” These words, which picture Keyser Söze in The
Usual Suspects (1995), also describe a specific mode of action typical of evil protagonists in
popular culture of the 20th and 21st centuries, namely their non-appearance. One can indeed
distinguish several types of evil in popular culture: on the one hand, the representatives of
the “other” in the sense of a political enemy (the stereotypical character of the Nazi, the
Communist, the Arab terrorist, etc.); on the other hand, the figure of the faceless, disguised,
not (stereotypically) apparent evil. The secret organization that James Bond fights against in
several films is significantly named “Specter”. Similarly, Lord Voldemort remains faceless and
ghostlike in the Harry Potter series. These figures do not represent the “other” as a clearly
identifiable political antagonist, but an “other other” whose unknowability and namelessness
are an essential part to his or her power and (non-)identity.
The “bad guys” can always be interpreted as reflections of a political order: by not
adhering to the moral, social, and political rules of the community, they reflect on the
contingency of these rules and may also try to enforce alternative models of coexistence
through violence. It would therefore be interesting to ask to what extent the faceless figure
of evil represents a political model without being clearly identified to a political or ideological
In the context of media diversity in popular culture in the 20th and 21st centuries, the
portrayal of faceless figures of evil produces an equally wide variety of aesthetic
manifestations. The question of the representations of evil thus necessarily exists at the
interface between politics and poetics. This issue of Cultural Express wants to examine this interface in popular and youth literature, fantasy, science-fiction, horror, crime fiction, movies, TV series, songs,
comics, graphic novels, video games, etc.

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