My son recently discovered Bad Guys.
Previously, all the stories we read to him and the tv shows he watched had no villains: Goodnight Moon, Barnyard Dance, Go Dog Go, Maisy Mouse, My Friend Rabbit, Theodore Tugboat.
Now he's suddenly the biggest fan of Superman, Batman and Spiderman; and his favorite book is The Lorax. All stories with Bad Guys. (And he interprets the themes quite literally. Hence, he suggested sending Spiderman to stop the neighbors' tree trimmers.)
By coincidence or not, he now also has the concept of friends, both "for real" and "for pretend." Superheroes help each other; bad guys "boom" each other. ("Boom" is always accompanied by an agitated finger gun motion.)
With the introduction of antagonists--and allies--into his story lines, his imaginative play is much more sophisticated.
It's funny, because I've always considered a story with no real bad guys to be the more sophisticated kind of story, albeit very hard to achieve. But I think it's fascinating to see how a child's understanding of conflict matures, and I wonder if this is a necessary stage. Once I would have said no, it was simply a symptom of our binary, dualistic, Cartesian culture, or maybe the military industrial patriarchy or something like that. (The fault of the Bad Guys, in other words). Now I'm not so sure.
One could blame my son's new obsession with Bad Guys on the content of the stories, but I think has as much to do with perception as content. Before, when he watched Cars, the main thing he took away from it was cars driving, and that was enough to thrill him. Now he notices the rivalry between Lightning McQueen and his friends and the Mean Green Car (and Frank, the Monster Harvester).
Meanwhile, my husband and I amuse ourselves during the 164th viewing of Cars by commenting on the deep philosophical meaning of the soul which has lost it's being being like a car which must rebuild it's own road. (Fun Fact: There's a car with the Apple symbol on the hood in the first race.)
Yeah. We've seen that movie WAY too much.