Recently I’ve started watching the series “Lucifer” on Netflix. Lucifer Morningstar is the devil, and he is on vacation and running a nightclub in Los Angeles. I’m only on the third episode and it’s clear that he’s being influenced (for the good) by some of the people around him, but even apart from that influence, this character isn’t very devilish. He isn’t evil; he’s only “evil.”
That is, there’s a difference between real evil and stage “evil”, rather like there’s a difference between being a ballet dancer and simply wearing a costume of tutu and ballet shoes. I’m not complaining. If the character were truly evil, the show would be unwatchable. Who wants to watch a show with a totally unsympathetic main character?
(Note: I did just finish watching “Deathnote”, but the main character started off thinking he was pursuing justice, even if he was wrong about his methods. He became increasingly evil as the show went on, but he was opposed by some good characters and it made for a fascinating battle of wits. As long as you have equally important good characters in opposition and the main character isn’t completely evil, you can still have a very watchable series.)
Stage “evil” is the fun kind, the trappings of evil without the substance. Lucifer has devilish good looks and charm, a bold disregard for rules and authority, and a penchant for causing trouble. But let’s notice that the people he causes trouble for are usually themselves either troublemakers or really irritating people. He scares a school bully and terrifies a fraudulent street preacher. If he really wanted to increase the misery in the world, he should have encouraged them, not scared them. But the audience wouldn’t like him then, because that would be real evil.
He also runs a nightclub with scantily clad dancers and is often found in bed with a number of individuals of either gender who are equally scantily clad (and would be wearing even less if this weren’t a TV show.) But notice that it is strongly implied that all these individuals chose to be there, and that there is never the slightest hint that the nightclub dancers might be exploited or working for him only reluctantly. He’s sleeping with a psychiatrist, but there’s no suggestion that she might be married or otherwise attached. No one gets hurt.
I said that he does cause trouble for troublemakers, and Lucifer rationalizes his selectivity by saying that he is punishing evil-doers, and isn’t punishing evil what the devil is supposed to do?
That’s curious, because punishing evil doesn’t itself seem evil (though it isn’t merciful either.) If the devil is supposed to be evil, presumably he would encourage evil-doing in order to cause more misery. The devil is supposed to tempt people in ways that twist their souls and ruin their lives and the lives of other people as well.
But again, a main character who was truly evil wouldn’t make for an entertaining show. If you want to learn about real evil, there are plenty of documentaries, but I wouldn’t call them “entertaining.”
Why make a big deal about this distinction between evil and “evil”? Because real evil doesn’t come with labels, and people sometimes mistake stage “evil” for the real thing.
I’m thinking, for instance, of people I have known who find dark, occult-looking things appealing. Or maybe they’re into vampires. Stage “evil.” They’re playing with props. They aren’t really evil at all. But some people don’t seem to realize that. They take the appearance of stage “evil” as a desire for the real thing.
Granted, there are some people drawn to stage “evil” who really are kind of twisted, and others who do so in order to shock and offend (not exactly a kind motive). On the other hand, there are people who are drawn to exactly the opposite symbols (of goodness and light) while behaving in a genuinely evil manner. You really have to look at people’s deeds, not their outerwear or outer attitude.
So, I’m enjoying a TV show about the devil on vacation in Los Angeles. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’ve been drawn to the dark side. I know the difference between “evil” and evil.