Who’s your favourite
In general we tend to prefer our villains fictional, which makes sense since actual villains actually hurt real people and that’s much harder to ignore. We can perversely enjoy the terrible crimes of Hannibal Lector in a way we never could those of Jeffrey Dahmer.
But a scoundrel is something different. Their crimes are more often those against politeness and decorum than they are the actual law. A villain can be a scoundrel, but a scoundrel isn’t necessarily a villain. Speaking fictionally again, Han Solo is a scoundrel, Jabba the Hut is a villain. To speak in real life terms, Howard Stern is a scoundrel, Rush Limbaugh is a villain (he wrote instantly making this political).
A scoundrel–for the context of this post–is someone who flouts society’s conventions (often for their own gain) but who stops short of actually hurting people in the process. They are exploitative, but in a way that leaves the exploited having felt better for the exchange, rather than devastated. They’re a con person who gives you such a good show it was worth the money you paid for it.
One great example of this is a man who made a fortune (and even earned an honourary Oscar in the process) “exploiting” young filmmakers. He paid them almost nothing and pocketed virtually all of the profits that came from their efforts, but he also did something virtually no one else in the film industry would at the time–gave them the experience they needed to become the greatest filmmakers of their generation.
My favourite real-life scoundrel is Roger Corman:
The early careers of Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard and Jonathan Demme (to name just six Best Director Oscar winners) began with Corman films. Corman was also an equal opportunity exploiter, who was happy to exploit filmmakers like Stephanie Rothman, Amy Holden Jones, D.G. Brock and Carol Frank in an era where other producers wouldn’t even consider hiring a woman to write and direct a movie. Stories of his cheapness are legendary, but so are the stories of the freedom he gave to filmmakers willing to work with nothing to create something. To get his films made, Corman frequently flouted the law (stealing shots without the necessary permits) or flat out avoided it (taking productions to the Philippines, where you could get away with everything short of murder).
He’s the perfect example of a “scoundrel” you are happy to leave behind, even as you admit he made you a better person in the process.
Can you think of a similar example? Doesn’t have to be someone famous. Could be an uncle or aunt or an old boss–anyone who you know refused to live life by the rules, but in a way that made you cheer them on, rather than await their downfall.