What is morality? Morality is the system of good and evil and all the shades of gray that come in between.
Good always triumphs in the end, right? Well, not always. The Balance Between Good and Evil gives many villains loopholes to slip through and make their grand return. Furthermore, the presence of the Anti-Hero or Worthy Opponent blurs the distinction between good and evil, and in well-done cases, forces us to reexamine our preconceptions of right and wrong.
Here are some examples:Black and White Morality
Good versus Evil. White hat versus black hat. The shining knight of destiny with flowing cape versus the mustache-twirling, card-carrying force of pure malevolence. The most basic form of fictional morality, Black And White Morality deals with the battle between pure good and absolute evil.
This can come in a variety of forms:
•Motivation: The villains never have a sympathetic motivation for their actions. Complete Monsters are common, there aren't any Well Intentioned Extremists, and The Mole will become evil. Rather, their intentions are entirely selfish or for the sake of Evil (and may involve taking over or destroying the world). Likewise, the forces of good never have any ulterior motives for their deeds. They do good because it's The Right Thing To Do.
•Choices: All major choices that the heroes are faced with are either unambiguously right or wrong. There aren't any grey areas, and when a Sadistic Choice is presented, there's always a third option. Furthermore, the heroes will always make the right choice unless they're about to learn a moral or become evil.
•Characterization: The good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad. If there are any morally ambiguous or gray characters around (such as an Anti-Hero or Worthy Opponent), they will eventually shift firmly to one side or the other. They'll either switch to the side that matches their actual perceived alignment, or turn fully good or fully evil. Minor characters may maintain some degree of neutrality, but the major characters will all be on one side or the other.
◦Occasionally there will be a short scene explaining the neutrality is inherently evil (or, very rarely, good). To avoid an some shows prefer to claim that being neutral is similar to supporting the stronger side. Grey and Gray Morality
In an all-grey conflict, neither side is competely good or completely evil. Both sides have a strong, justifiable reason for fighting, and contain a mixture of people of all kinds, from admirable, upstanding individuals to vicious, slimy scumbags.
In most cases, one side has better reasons and more good people than the other. The protagonists usually fight for this better side, and if they don't, they'll switch sides before the end. While the audience roots for the better side, they still have sympathy for the opposition.
The result of such a conflict depends on where the story lies on the tone. At the idealistic end, both sides will eventually realize that fighting is futile and end up putting aside their differences to learn from each other and make a new and better world. At the center, one side usually ends up crushing the other; this brings about peace, but of a hollow, depressing kind, as a faction with noble ideals has been destroyed. At the cynical end, both sides gradually become less sympathetic and more evil as time goes on until in the end, the more evil, cruel, and vicious side annihilates the other, ushering in an era of harsh rule and oppression or both parties end up fighting to the death.
In some cases, the story will end with both sides teaming up against an unambiguously evil third faction, who may even have been behind the war in the first place. When this villain is defeated, the grey sides almost invariably decide to live in peace (in the harsher version, the casualties from fighting that villain may find that there is actually now enough of whatever they fought over for all the survivors. Ultra-harsh version of this has the realization that the resources have been spent on the war). Black and Gray Morality
It is often found in fictional media that the protagonist/antagonist conflict takes the form of the shining knight whose breath smells of flowers and has holy light shining from his every orifice versus the very fount of all evil who Eats Babies as a hobby, and Kicks Dogs as a profession.
In an effort to portray "realistic" conflicts, writers often introduce flaws in their heroes and redeeming qualities in their villains.
These can be deeply unsatisfying. Movie-goers want a hero to celebrate and a villain to vilify. But if both sides have flaws and redeeming qualities, how do they know which is which? How can a writer create such a satisfying world without making it all impossibly unrealistic?
It's simple: leave the job half-done. Only the white gets removed, leaving behind a world where the choice is between mundane corruption and baby-eating supervillainy. This is the essence of Black and Gray Morality; the only choices are between kinda evil and soul-crushingly evil.
Obviously, the heroes of such settings tend to be antiheroes In such a world, a character who might appear to be good in may eventually be revealed as a person who blindly believes he's doing the right thing in disguise, an Evil Prophet inches from the edge, or a deeply flawed Anti-Hero. They may genuinely good characters on the show though.
A good litmus test for this trope is as follows:
1.Do the main characters do seriously reprehensible things to their opposite number?
2.Are they still unquestionably painted as being "on the right side?" By virtue of the other side being worse? Whether the author is successful or not does not matter.
If so, you've got a classic case of Black and Gray Morality. Black and Black Morality
Sometimes, you just need a break from heroes. It can get a bit repetitive to have every protagonist be a white-as-snow goody-goody hero. A refreshing dose of moral ambiguity can do just the trick. When you're tired of watching heroes be heroic, watching a Villain Protagonist be villainous can be a nice change of pace.
But there's a problem with this. See, heroes are so popular because people like heroism. People are, to some small extent, basically good; they like watching other people be happy, succeed against all odds, and so on. Most of the time. The reason villains lose all the time is because they do things that get them into a dislikeable position, that's the reason they're villains. Watching a villain defeat the heroes and plunge the world into darkness and suffering might be different at first, but it makes you feel bad.
The solution? Pit the VillainousProtagonist against Mr. Big Bad. Someone so rotten that no matter how low you go on the Karma Meter, you'll still want to kick his butt. That way, the character(s) can be evil while doing good. It's the best of both worlds. You don't have to do really rotten things like kicking puppies, you can kick fire-breathing demon puppies instead. It's kind of hard to Take Over the World when another Evil Overlord is already ruling it; or wants to destroy it. For a Thief who wants the best loot, what better target than other thieves? The Treacherous Subordinate has to have someone to overthrow, right? And even the most vicious lord is right once in a while. And if both bad guys are bad enough, having them destroy each other is a victory for everyone! Green and Red Morality
To say that questions of morality are thorny and filled with gray when they aren't being hammered between stark absolutes is putting it mildly. Because of this there can be great drama when characters who represent a wide range of moral viewpoints come together or into conflict.
The strangest of these characters are those who espouse Green And Red Morality. These characters have a moral framework that is so utterly alien and foreign to human experience that we can't peg them as good or evil. They aren't Chaotic Neutral , though they may seem to act terrifyingly randomly; nor are they necessarily Lawful Neutral, because our and their understanding of 'law' as a concept may not even be equivalent. There might be a logic behind their actions, it's just that they operate with entirely different sets of values and premises with which to draw their conclusions.
Just to repeat: that doesn't make them bad, although they are often liable to commit acts we would see as nasty, in that case, they're likely to follow these with completely benign behavior, and not act as if anything was the matter. Because in their world/mind, that's just what they do. This Conflict is one of the trickier to pull off well, because Most Writers can't understand it and it's often hard to portray alien without simplifying it to Evil.White And Gray Morality
The very idealistic end of the many Shades of Conflict, a setting with White and Grey Morality features no truly evil characters, but ranges through a spectrum of squeaky-clean heroes, slightly more sarcastic heroes, borderline heroes, Well Intentioned Extremists, and the occasional Anti-Villain at worst. Your Complete Monsters do not apply (They do however have a slight chance of appearing). Conflict is generated either through misguided ideals or simple misunderstandings, so there is often an undercurrent of "if only people would sit down and talk to one another, they'd find they're not so different after all". Expect a great deal of Affection and reforming, from characters only nominally "evil" to begin with.
This does not necessarily imply that there is little conflict or that the conflict is lightweight. Two powerful forces working at cross-purposes can cause an amazing amount of mayhem even though both of them have good reasons for what they're trying to do.