6 Geniuses Who Were Actually Kind Of Evil
On Russell Kane’s podcast, Evil Genius, he and a revolving group of funny people (including Jayde Adams, Romesh Ranganathan and Alan Carr) take a deep dive—Okay, it’s kind of deep. How much can be done in 30 minutes?—into the hidden lives of history’s seminal heroes and villains to answer one brilliantly reductive question: Were they evil or genius?
In this article we're taking a look at six characters, real or otherwise, forever imbued in the cultural and political zeitgeist. Their lasting effect on the world cements them as nonpareils, but does that make them icons - or something much worse?
1. Father Christmas
“Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too!” sang The Ronettes. Little did they know, that ring-ting-tingling was ushering in a systemic wave of animal cruelty, slave labour and a hostile work environment for the red-nosed minority.
Working tirelessly to manufacture, wrap and distribute presents to billions of children and adults across the globe, the oppressed employees of Christmas Incorporated fear for their lives when faced with Father Christmas’s tyrannical demands.
As he’s more affectionately known, Santa—like every single other white male CEO deified on the cover of financial magazines—exploits the elves and reindeer that comprise his workforce to project an image of benevolence.
Could unionisation be on the cards in 2019?
2. John Lennon
John Lennon is so famous that if you pretend to never have heard of him, a million men with first pressings of The White Album will bombard you with disbelief.
Lennon’s infamy is anchored around two points: creating and destroying the Beatles, or as Evil Genius guest Sean McLoughlin put it, “a Buddy Holly tribute act.”
But the man who penned “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” wanted to hold was his own in a fist. By his own admission in Playboy magazine, he “fought men and [he] hit women.” His violent side was triggered when he felt that his reputation was threatened, which saw him get into scraps as a child in Liverpool and eventually sent Bob Wooler to the hospital.
3. Roald Dahl
Known for crafting fantastical worlds that marked our childhoods, Roald Dahl’s myth-making extended far beyond a page’s margins; he was a pathological liar. Even his origin story sounds like something written by your nephew whom you’re pressured into praising so you can avoid fights this Christmas.
Dahl claimed he was shot down in WWII and the resulting injury gave him the ability to write. In reality he was just rubbish at flying planes.
When that sense of fabricated wonder began to come undone with his first wife Patricia Neal’s unfortunate stroke, he would humiliate her in front of others and cheat.
Let us not forget a troubling anti-semitic quote he gave to the New Statesman: “Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on [Jewish people] for no reason.”
We probably should have been able to spot his transgressions, since Willy Wonka, one of his most beloved characters, maimed four children just for being annoying.
Alongside the notion of peaceful protest, Gandhi’s legacy is perpetuated by Indian rupees bearing an image of his face - and his quotes being shared by Susan to her Zumba class’s group chat.
However, this pulled the loincloth over the world’s eyes. His fight for independence was bolstered by an undercurrent of anti-blackness, referring to black people by the South African racial epithet, Kaffir, and demanding a separate post office queue be created in South Africa to separate Indians from black people.
He also had some pretty wild ideas about Doctors must hate him for this genius revelation!
5. Mother Teresa
The Albanian Nobel Peace Prize winner made a home in India aiding impoverished people, but she wasn’t a saint to everyone. Writer Christopher Hitchens famously brought to light the myth of the infamous nun, describing her as “a fraud, a fanatic and a fundamentalist.”
Mother Teresa romanticised the suffering of those she helped, believing it to be purifying. She thought “it’s very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot.”
She used this as an excuse to deny people with easily curable conditions access to doctors, when she herself received word-class medical treatment and had a pacemaker fitted.
God certainly appears to have favourites.
6. Albert Einstein
You may recognise him for his luscious locks that glistened in the harsh German sun like delicate threads of pure silver—oh, and for inventing the Theory of Relativity.
But what lay beneath that tongue he so loved to stick out?
Einstein’s achievements shook the world, and one in particular literally so. Having been convinced by the Americans that an atomic bomb would bring about world peace, Einstein reluctantly figured out how to split atoms.
After the horrific effects of Hiroshima, he made a point of campaigning against it. In 1945, he was quoted as saying, “If only I had known. I should have become a watchmaker,” but Kane compares it to exposing yourself in a supermarket - while loudly decrying the act of exposing yourself in a supermarket.
His personal life was explosive too. He described his first wife, Mileva Marić—who sacrificed her bright future as a physicist for marriage—as an employee he wanted to fire.
Why? Because he wanted to leave her for his cousin and she refused. He then made her sign a list of demands mandating she cook and clean for him and cease socialising with him.
Einstein = Miserable Sod².