I learned a new word from Steve Pressfield’s blog yesterday: McGuffin.
According to Steve, it’s a Hollywood term, attributed to Hitchcock, for the usually meaningless item that a movie villain desperately wants.
Steve cites the example of Key Largo, in which the villain can’t even say what he wants when asked point-blank — the answer, which Humphrey Bogart’s character supplies for him is that he just wants more.
In addition to wanton pursuit of essentially meaningless ends, Steve says that the key characteristic of a villain is the inability to change: even if you point out that all he’s after is more, the villain will laugh, agree with you, and then go right on chasing it.
Our culture offers a lot of McGuffins as objects of desire. Often, they’re aggressively marketed. And aggressive marketing tends to position some McGuffin or other as the thing you simply must have in order to play the hero in your own movie.
Of course, the point of aggressive selling isn’t to satisfy our desires but to sell us more.
You don’t have to buy that McGuffin. Or, if you do find yourself chasing one — as we all do from time to time — you can change.
Unless, of course, you’re determined to play the villain of insatiable, irrational appetites.