OPINION: Shkreli’s reign of terror offers quality entertainment

By Cole Altmayer, staff writer

The super-villain checklist

Have you ever dreamed of world domination? Or, at least, of obtaining a limitless fortune through treachery and blasphemous acts? If you have, then surely you have heard of former Turing Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli, who immortalized his name in super-villain history by jacking up the price of toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim from $13.50 a dose to over $750 overnight, gaining the ire of every media outlet under the sun. With a few easy steps and a few million dollars to spare, you too could be as notorious and unlikable as our friendly neighborhood “Pharma-Bro”!

Martin Shkreli smirks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. Shkreli is the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC.

Martin Shkreli smirks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. Shkreli is the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC.

Evil’s entertainment value

When brought before Congress for a hearing regarding matters of price-gouging, securities fraud, and other various unhealthy business practices, former Turing Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli found himself doing something he had never done during his time in the spotlight: he kept his mouth shut.

Every question thrown his way was deflected by the powers of the Fifth Amendment. Shkreli wasn’t worried about losing his footing and accidentally incriminating himself and losing the empire he built by his own hand in the process. All he had to do was sit back, look as smug as he could possibly muster, and most importantly, smile for the camera.

Shkreli has a very hard time making friends, but making enemies and angering the public? No one does it better.

Shkreli is a walking dog-and-pony show, and the media won’t stop buying tickets. But in a way, the media needs people like him; people like Shkreli just ooze headlines wherever they go. The reason people like Shkreli, Kanye West and even Donald Trump have thousands of eyes on them during their every waking moment is something they’ve all brought upon themselves, which is constant controversy and discussion. It isn’t easy to talk about your average wholesome goody-two-shoes at length, and it’s hard to squeeze an interesting story out of one, too.

But a villain? A villain is the easy way out. There’s always a story with the “bad kid,” the one who always sits in the wrong seat when there’s a substitute teacher, or the one who will kick over your sand castle. Shkreli is one of those kids. He would kick over your sand castle, and then build a bigger one on its remains.

And I absolutely love watching every minute of it.

As a kid, I found that a good villain would always have a bigger impact on me than a good hero ever could, and I think that sentiment still sticks with me today in some ways. Sure, everyone can relate to the everyman hero; he’s written specifically for that reason, to be relatable. For example, Spider-Man has girl troubles just like every teenage boy does, and he often has to juggle his education and social life as a regular teenager with his superhero persona.

But when you begin to dig into Spidey’s rogues gallery, you begin to find characters with more bizarre and outlandish motives and character traits, and part of the appeal of characters like these comes with the fact that they are so unrelatable, and often all the more exciting because of it.

What makes Shkreli so fascinating is that, out of all people in the media today, I don’t think anyone has come close to perfecting the super-villain persona, and I know for a fact no one loves living in that role more than Shkreli, either. Most sane and reasonable people try their hardest to avoid bad publicity, no matter how minor it might be. Shkreli, not being exactly sane or reasonable, drops everything he’s doing and dives right into controversy with no regret or remorse in the slightest. He’s a conduit for all sorts of drama and conflict, and where there’s conflict, there’s a good news story.

Shkreli knows this just as well as the media knows it, and he began his reign of terror as soon as he realized the controversy his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, had stirred up by hiking the price of Daraprim.

[column size=one_half position=first ]

That’s what makes having people like Shkreli in the media constantly is a double-edged sword. Sure, we get to hear every minute detail about that controversial thing he said, oh, two weeks ago, but the question is … do we really want to?

To me, the answer is that question is obvious, and it is a resounding yes.

[/column]

“I started doing funny and fun stuff that maybe even extended that concept of ‘Yeah sure, I’m evil! I’ll be the Bond villain!’” Shkreli said in an interview with Vice News.

After his well-documented purchase of “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” the album by rap group Wu-Tang Clan which is notorious for only having one copy in circulation (see “The Supervillian Checklist”), Shkreli received some flak from Wu-Tang fans and members of the Clan alike, most notably Dennis Coles, who is known by the alias of Ghostface Killah among fans of the group.

Coles and Shkreli traded blows over Twitter and other forms of social media, the most infamous of which being Shkreli’s “diss” video, which involved Shkreli being surrounded by “henchmen” wearing hoods and masks, while Shkreli made various shots at Coles for being an “old man who has lost his relevance.”

“You know, most people don’t even try to beef with me, do you know why?” Shkreli asked. “[Because] nobody’s that dumb!”

Shkreli seemed to revel in the hatred, but he wasn’t fully satisfied.

“I’m not just the heel of the music world. I want to be the world’s heel,” Shkreli tweeted.

For those uninitiated in professional wrestling lingo, heel is another word for villain, and just like a heel is supposed to, Shkreli takes it upon himself to go out of his way to stir things up.

Appearances from Shkreli on different news platforms vary from surreal to downright hilarious. His interview on Vice News comes across as an awkward first date, as he and his interviewer play a quiet game of chess and share glasses of wine in his apartment, while on TMZ, Shkreli demonstrated a headstrong nature, most notably when he nonchalantly used “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” as a coaster for his drink.

Keep in mind, “Shaolin” is worth $2 million. That is more money than I, and most other people, will ever get to even see in our entire lifetime.

Shkreli has also broken into the livestreaming community, with admittedly unexciting streams that last for hours on end, and don’t involve much but long silences, random chemistry lessons, and the occasional wolfing down of a Fruit-by-the-Foot. If anything, this proves that like any good villain, Shkreli has a cult following of fans and supporters who willingly submit themselves to the torture of watching him stare at a computer screen for mind-numbing hours on end.

While Shkreli’s villainy is pretty much universal as most major news outlets have nothing good to say about him, other famous figures have been vilified similarly. The most trendy person to hate on recently has been Donald Trump; ever since Trump made his way to the top of the polls, he has found himself the butt of every joke, from Saturday Night Live sketches all the way to my mom’s Facebook account.

While I am not fond of the man, I can respect the ways that he has managed to wiggle his way into everything as of late; it only really broadens his appeal, as these days everything seems to constantly be about Trump all the time. If the man took out his own trash for once, it would be reported on as if it were an event of apocalyptic magnitude.

That’s what makes having people like Shkreli in the media constantly is a double-edged sword. Sure, we get to hear every minute detail about that controversial thing he said, oh, two weeks ago, but the question is … do we really want to?

To me, the answer is that question is obvious, and it is a resounding yes.

Just like the everyman hero, my life is boring and relatable. I wake up, brush my teeth, go to school, occasionally write an article or two, then I go to bed. Rinse and repeat.

But when I hear the story of the crazy pharmaceutical man who just threatened a 90’s gangsta rapper with his “goons” at his side, I sigh, I smile, and then I laugh. It’s a strange emotion: a little exasperation and a little amazement that we’re all still paying attention to something so ridiculous. For a moment, I have no idea whether I’m laughing at Shkreli or laughing with him. I then decide that I don’t really care what the answer was. I laughed anyway.

I don’t know why such bad people bring enjoyment to me, or many others for that matter. I know for a fact I’m not the only guy with the bad habit of rooting for the villain once in awhile. But if I had to explain it, sometimes it just feels better to boo instead of cheer. As Shkreli knows well, everyone needs a nemesis.

“A lot of people want an enemy, and they’re gonna get an enemy one way or the other,” Shkreli said. “If I’m the enemy for you, good! I’m happy, man. I’m fulfilling some need in your life!”