Jonah Goldberg
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For instance, when Hollywood rewrote "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" for the live-action movie with Jim Carrey, the refrain "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch" no longer really applied. Instead of having "termites in his smile" and "garlic in his soul," the Grinch was actually the victim of closed-minded Whovillians. His transformation into Christmas hero isn't so much a powerful transformation as it is a moral victory against the bullies.

Psychological explanations for why there are bad people have their place. What bothers me is that we tend to explain away the objectively evil as merely misunderstood and the misunderstood as objectively evil. We all sympathize with Tony Soprano, even though he's a brutal murderer. Hannibal Lecter, it turns out, was a victim of the Nazis.

In the real world, how many times have we heard the motives of terrorists explained away as the regrettable but rational response of victims?

Meanwhile, merely disagreeing over gay marriage or health-care reform is a damning, self-dehumanizing act. Without trying to keep score in terms of political rhetoric, surely we can all agree that there's a tendency to assume the other side is not only wrong, but has knowingly embraced evil motives.

Back in Hollywood, the least sympathetic people are often not true villains but merely "judgmental" people who refuse to understand the misunderstood on their own terms.

Which brings us back to "How to Train Your Dragon." My daughter would have liked it less, but a refreshing and more realistic ending would have had the Vikings enlisting their new, fire-breathing pets in a massive invasion of Europe, laying waste to all they saw, and bringing the hated Christians to heel. Because that's really what Vikings do.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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