This column contains spoilers for “M3gan.”
There’s a scene in the newly-released movie “M3gan” when M3gan, the newest glossy, Audrey Hepburn-slash-Chucky killer doll, lures a neighbor’s dog to a ruthless slaughter. There’s perhaps nothing more cinematically American or easily readable than the tragedy of a dog’s death in a movie. Yet, as the score swells, and M3gan’s glossy Mary Janes tiptoe towards her prey, we can’t help but hold our breaths, excitedly anticipating the slaughter — after all, the dog did just bite the eight-year-old main character, Cady.
In just one scene, Gerard Johnston’s “M3gan,” a gloriously campy, surprisingly queer ride, has subverted one of the most recognizable American cinematic tropes: that a dog’s death equals tragedy.
This is M3gan’s power: while we are ultimately satisfied at her demise, we cheer her on at pivotal moments. “You should probably run,” she eerily taunts the schoolyard bully with her girly, singsongy voice, before bear-crawling towards him at full speed like some kind of rabid spider-dog. M3gan wears a glossy handkerchief, knows Tik Tok dances, sings “Titanium” to a grieving Cady, played by Violet McGraw of “The Haunting of Hill House.”
M3gan is easy to root for; the modern day girlboss has become an instant staple in the queer community. Erik Piepenburg writes for The New York Times on M3GAN’s subtle gayness, describing a scene when “M3gan enters a room and pointedly removes her sunglasses, as if she’s Miranda Priestly surveying her panicked minions.” M3gan has been claimed not because of her sexuality but because of her fashion and fierceness. In short, “M3gan” is camp. “Strap in hunty, Annabelle could never,” jokes SNL in a recent skit.
Thanks to Gen Z humor, villains are becoming celebrities. As Lady Gaga said on the red carpet of the “House of Gucci” premiere, “I don’t believe in the glorification of murder. I do believe in the empowerment of women.” Horror is ushering a new era, and M3gan is a prime fulfillment of this subversive adoration. Look at how fan-culture has exploded for her: there’s think-pieces from Refinery 29 about how “M3gan’s polished look plays at our society’s respectability politics, tricking us into thinking that she’s just another Barbie doll safe to take to class (spoiler: she’s not).” Tiktok has exploded trying to recreate her dance. M3gan lookalikes have flooded talk-shows and The Empire State Building. Actress Aubrey Plaza plays her in a recent SNL skit.
Yet what happens when other cinematic villains – actors playing real-life killers in biopics – are praised?
We are living in an age where cinematic villainy is celebrated, an era of Golden Globe awards and Tiktok thirst-traps awarded to “Dahmer” actor Evan Peters despite the pain and pushback from victims’ families, Vogue articles like “What’s Anna Delvey reading right now?” and ship edits and Glamour interviews between Zac Efron and Lily Collins on Ted Bundy biopics. Yet all of these figures have real life victims, and fan-culture continues to perpetuate violence and pain against them.
What separates M3gan from other contemporary villains is her fictitiousness: M3gan has no real-world prey. While her crimes range from encouraging Cady not to eat her vegetables to murdering dogs, schoolyard bullies and heads of huge Seattle-based tech startups, M3gan’s crimes live inside the movie. There are no real parents still visiting graves or celebrating missed birthdays while America streams their childrens’ murders. Each of M3gan’s victims makes it to press junkets and red carpets and future movie roles.
Now, a new era of horror: where queer-coded villains are celebrated instead of mocked, where female villains are lauded as girlbosses, where murderers serve and slay. But let’s celebrate villainy in a fictitious, imaginative world. When fan-culture excitedly latches onto the newest white male villain on screen, it becomes messy to untangle celebrity adoration from criminal glorification, despite insistent pleading from family members who continue to be retraumatized. So if you’re looking for a villain to celebrate, choose M3gan over true crime. Even if she did kill the dog.
Eliza Powers PO ’25 is from New Orleans, Louisiana. She loves Phoebe Bridgers, reality television and searching for the perfect avocado toast recipe.