Sympathy for the Devil

Phantom of the Opera is my favorite play. It’s also my favorite opera (because there’s not many options there.)

I don’t know why, but there’s something about the swelling music and the dark and light imagery…and I guess the psychopathic tendencies of the main character sort of make it interesting, too. (Spoiler alert: he’s a murderer in a mask and a cape. What’s not to like?)

And that’s totally weird, because at no point (except the point of no return, at the end) that we’re like, yes, let the heroine go with the kind, caring prince charming and sing a beautiful duet. No, we’d actually like the masked weirdo to win just. this. once. so that he can serenade her in the sewers or whatever he’s been planning to do for years.

Why? Because no villain thinks that he or she is a villain. And so we’re convinced that the villain, even for a moment, is right. We all have a little, or in many cases, a lot, of sympathy for the devil. Don’t believe me? Let’s review the exhibits.

Exhibit A: Gollum from Lord of the Rings. He was actually a Hobbit once, and loved and ate and slept and ate and played and ate as all hobbits do. And then, he murdered in the name of the one ring, and then he turned into a bad guy. But we still feel bad for that decrepit little creature with the huge eyes who lost his ability to speak in complete sentences but can riddle Bilbo Baggins until his face turns blue.

Exhibit B: He Who Must Not Be Named. Do you think that he wanted to be reborn with no nose and be beaten into submission by a baby? No! He wanted to be immortal (which he sort of is as a result of a highly popular children’s book.) And then, he wanted to be the best. And he was for a second, but then again, that baby who became a really angsty teenager with a grudge. (But really, no good can come to people who kill unicorns.)

Exhibit C: Well, that’s you. Because like it or not, sometimes you are the villain. And you don’t even realize it. To you, you’re just having a bad day. But to everyone else? You have a scepter and a poison apple in your bag. And you don’t even know it because it’s not like you mean to be evil. It’s just happening. And besides, you had a really bad day. Why can’t anyone see that? That’s just every villain’s thought process ever. (I mean, have we learned nothing from the drawn out monologues?) “I have to kill you because this, that, and the other thing.” “You were my friend until you betrayed me to blah blah blah, etc.”

So, congratulations. You’re the villain. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t feel any different than being the hero. It just doesn’t pay off.

The Time-Traveler’s Dilemma

Any movie or book featuring time traveling can be summed up in three acts.

Act I: Wow, time traveling. We can go to any time! Any decade! Let’s go meet a famous person! (Which inevitably leads to…)

Act II: No, wait. We need to be smart about this. We need to go back in time and fix history so that we can have a totally awesome future. Nothing huge, just a small alteration…like, let’s kill hitler. Or better yet, why don’t we stop countries from ever being created in the first place? (And then…)

Act III: No! We wanted to stop a thing from happening, but it happened anyway! Somehow Hitler still found a way!

Fin. 

And although it is sad that I can predict the entire plot of a movie or book before seeing or reading it, this idea is sort of inspirational. It can be summed up into: “Maybe if we’re really meant to do something, it will happen, no matter what.”

Which sort of gets me thinking about the alternative: what if famous people in history didn’t do what they were on track to do? What if they failed or gave up? What if the time travelers succeeded and stopped them?

And sure, that would obviously be the best case scenario for WWII, but what would happen to the benevolent artists and creators in the world? What if J.R.R. Tolkien never wrote The Lord of the Rings? What if van Gogh died before “Starry Night”? What if Nabisco decided the world wasn’t ready for the oreo?

It’s frankly a scary thought. Because these things have changed lives, encouraged creative thought and late night snacking the world over. I, personally, wouldn’t be the woman I am today without many of the masterpieces I know and love (I would also be about 10-15 lbs lighter without oreos.) But really, what would happen if these people just decided to give up because the going got too tough? Sometimes you don’t need a time traveler to make you think that you may be making the wrong decision for your future. I’m sure at some point, famous earth-shakers had doubts.

But, you see, everything is a domino effect. There is no decision in the universe that stands on its own. It is because a star is twinkling in deep outer space that a poet dreams, and when a poet dreams, a high school lit teacher is inspired to teach his or her students, and a student suddenly wants to look up at the night sky. There will always be repercussions and consequences to every action, but there are some things that are too good to live without.

So, the next time you feel that it would be easier to give in and give up, think about the time traveler’s dilemma: if it is meant to happen, it will happen anyway, despite and because of yours, or anyone’s, best efforts. And you never know who you may inspire as a result of it all.