No, not the long running comic strip featuring the flamboyantly purple-spandexed crimefighter immortalized by the dashing Billy Zane, but Andrew Lloyd Webber’s tragic hero from The Phantom of the Opera.

Ignoring the extortion, terrorism, and double homicide because these obvious trivialities do not require a second thought, let’s focus on the expression of the Phantom’s inexhaustible love for Christine. The Phantom’s love arc seems like he watched Beauty and the Beast and figured that was a solid strategy for meeting women. Unfortunately, it turns out Raoul’s Gaston is actually the healthier choice, and Christine has no problem choosing between the man who would die for her and the man who would kill for… any reason, really. To be clear, the Phantom threatens to murder Raoul via hanging unless Christine chooses to stay with him, citing that fear can turn to love in the most glaring satire of Hollywood’s romantic comedy trope where the stalker-ish dude is somehow considered romantic by the leading lady. I mean, I bet if they made The Phantom of the Opera into a movie, the Phantom would be played by a handsome, charming man from the UK to really belabour that point. Oh wait!

But Christine, a sane person, ditches the Phantom for the supportive and caring Raoul BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY. However, most, if not all, audiences support the Phantom in his sympathetic plight. He is the outcast, shunned by contemporary beauty standards due to his grody disfigured face. We forgive his murder(s); we forgive his terrorizing of the bumbling theatre managers; we forgive his extortion and deranged control issues; we forgive all his sins. Why do we do this? Being gross looking isn’t an excuse, and the body positivity movement certainly wasn’t around when this production was released to make him a really counter-intuitive poster boy.

Of course, any romantic already knows the answer. The Phantom’s love, talent, and dedication are all uniquely genuine, and are made even more arresting by being enveloped in this otherwise miserable and tortured soul. We celebrate his passion, however explosive, as he yearns in his own misguided way for happiness. Despite his admittedly horrifying flaws, the Phantom possesses hope that, overcoming his despair, he too might have a chance at life. His martyrdom in the finale of the play shows his all-encompassing dedication to love, even over his own needs to feel human. We see that there is no black and white in this tale as old as time, this song as old as rhyme… er… hold on, I’m getting confused again… anyway, there is no black and white, and we see the Phantom as a tragic hero because that’s exactly what he is.

Were The Phantom of the Opera a reality in this post-9/11 world, the Phantom would be described as a lone nut, encumbered by mental illness and a symbol for the noose-control debate raging across America. He would be pilloried and vilified, and no one would dare take a sympathetic stance toward his plight because abducting white women is about the worst crime you can commit. But in the magic of the theatre, we do. We are exposed to his totality, warts and all, and we accept him regardless.

Yet how do we know that the monsters in our world do not have their own passions, their own loves for which they would abandon their humanity? Who is to say that each individual condemned in the media doesn’t have their own tragic heroism, worthy of any audience’s heartfelt sympathy? When we forget the life and isolate the crime, it’s easy to make a devil out of anyone, but the Phantom is an operatic reminder that we shouldn’t be so quick to demonize the Beasts of our society… crap, I did it again. I mean they’re both musicals too, come on!

Advertisements