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'Evil albinos': Hollywood's pale menace

While Leyner was lying around nursing his injured knee and Goldberg was trying to console his hungry newborn at 4 a.m., we both switched on our DVD players. Leyner opted for “The Matrix Reloaded,” and Goldberg chose the oldie but goodie, “Foul Play,” with Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn. The next day, we realized a very strange coincidence: we both chose films with albino villains.

This whole business of the “evil albino” in movies is quite interesting. You’d think a symptom of albinism is extreme wickedness. Consider the self-flogging monk Silas in “The Da Vinci Code,” the sadistic cowboy Bosie in “ColdMountain,” the torturer in “The Princess Bride” (also, we might add, a hunchback) and, of course, our two late night examples. According to the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, there were a total of 68 movies from 1960 to 2006 featuring an “evil albino.”

Columbia Pictures
An albino monk named Silas flogs himself and menaces Tom Hanks in "The Da Vinci Code."

For some, this raises the chicken-or-egg question:  What comes first, the stigmatization in our culture of some physical characteristic or condition as an “abnormality,” “deformity” or disfigurement” or its demonized depiction in Hollywood? 

We think that gives “Hollywood” (our handy metonym for the whole commercial movie industry) MUCH too much credit. Hollywood is echolalic. If something or someone is considered repulsive in our culture (be it someone horribly disfigured in a fire like Freddy Krueger or someone obese like Jabba the Hut) then it’s transmuted into something identifiably evil by Hollywood.

The real question, then, is why certain conditions or “abnormalities” seem to frighten people so much, not why Hollywood (which is a kind of industrial-sized fear-mongering machine) would exploit them.  And we think the reason, culturally, is that anything that represents the unfinished, the mutable, anything that is outwardly and thus immediately associated with birth, death and degeneration is profoundly frightening to the Western consumer to whom Hollywood panders.

Most prefer the closed, the smooth and the impenetrable surface of the body – the Barbie and Ken – to the reality of the mutable body that’s subject to the vagaries of our genes or to injury or to deterioration. They’re comfortable with basically a range of pink to café au lait complexions covering flawless, symmetrical bodies. Anything that deviates significantly from that normative range is fodder for the monstrous or the evil or, at the very least, the morally impugned.  And that’s what the movies reflect back to us.

The music industry’s fringes and, of course, underground film, seem to celebrate “difference” in a way that Hollywood simply never has. There’s Johnny and Edgar Winter, there’s Yellowman, there’s the albino young man in Kenneth Anger’s film “Invocation of My Demon Brother” – whom Anger says he used because of his nystagmus, an irregular rapid movement of the eyes.

And there are even exceptions in mainstream entertainment – I mean, there are movies in which there’s a positive or at least neutral portrayal of unique physical conditions. There’s that movie “Mask” with Cher; there’s Quasimodo (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) who falls in love with the beautiful gypsy girl Esmerelda. There’s Bree Walker-Lampley, the Los Angeles news anchor who has ectrodactyly (which causes fingers and toes to be fused).  There are one-eyed TV and movie stars (Peter Falk, Sammy Davis, Jr.) and an entire subcategory of movie dwarfs. (Dwarfs are a very special category.  They are sometimes evil and sometimes “cute” – it all depends on whether they’re sexualized or not.  Munchkins, for instance, are de-sexualized, so they’re an example, par excellence, of “cute” and utterly benign movie dwarfs.)

But these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

We have to say, thinking about it, that Internet porn actually maintains an infinitely more egalitarian aesthetic than Hollywood in its exuberant inclusion of the mature and the obese and the hairy, etc., etc.

Now, there’s something else significant to consider about all this: those individuals who seem to joyfully accept and embrace and celebrate what other people might call deformities or disfigurements are particularly threatening to the status quo.  They seem to be saying:  I don’t abide by the prevailing aesthetic/moral constraints.  I don’t adhere to the code of this tribe anymore.  I cast myself out.  This is a very heterogeneous category – it could include people who, say, completely cover their faces with tattoos or deaf people who choose not to get cochlear implants or women who choose not to wear wigs during chemotherapy.

Anyway, in the end, we love all the so-called “evil” characters so much more than the so-called “good” characters.  We are Freddy Krueger FANATICS!

What’s more horrible to us – what’s truly monstrous –  is the homogeneous and normative templates that are endlessly propagated in Hollywood. Now, that’s scary! The Kate Hudsons, the Matthew McConaugheys … “Fool’s Gold”  is much more frightening to us than “Nightmare on

Elm Street

.”

And we’ve always found the evil that nests in the banal the most truly terrifying – you know – those movies where they say “the calls are coming from a phone within your house!!”  Or those classics like “Rosemary’s Baby.”

It’s when evil resides in that standard, perfectly “normal” body that it’s most disturbing.  Ted Bundy, for instance.  Or this guy, Steve Kazmierczak – the gunman who just killed five students in an ocean science class at NorthernIllinoisUniversity.  He certainly didn’t fit the Hollywood profile of “the campus killer” –  he wasn’t that brooding outcast.  He was consistently described as personable, gregarious, appealing, a nice-guy, exemplary.  He was revered by his professors.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is content to peddle its version of moral-profiling, concocting “freaks” who are easy for us to identify as the “evil ones.”  But, in addition to being frequently bigoted and degrading it’s so hackneyed and SO boring.