Things in Print / Theatre Thursday :: deconstructing the Phantom as an unhealthy romance.

21 Jan

So, as per this month’s theme is stalking and I am having an incredibly hard time finding books that are “about stalking” that I want to read (somehow I thought there would actually be books that I could easily locate that were about people who had been stalked and then healthily got over it and learned to protect themselves, I guess), I have been rereading The Phantom of the Opera.  As we’ve touched on before, this is a story about stalking/abusive relationships/rape culture out the ass, and it is highly romanticized.  So here we are to compile a list of ways that in both the book and the musical (and the musical is much guiltier of romanticizing the Phantom, narratively) the Phantom of the Opera, Erik, whatever the hell you want to call him, is unhealthy.

Referencing this list.

They try to control you and treat you like a child.
The entire premise of the Phantom’s relationship with Christine is that when she was a little girl, her father promised her that he would send her the “Angel of Music” from heaven.  When a mysterious voice appears from the walls and offers to teach her to sing Christine’s reaction is “oh, cool! Must be the Angel of Music!”  The Phantom then proceeds to keep the ruse up, acting as the “Angel of Music” and preying on her adolescent fantasies, relying on her inherent childishness, to grow the relationship.  She is but a “wandering child,” as he sings, and he knows better the way of things, especially music.

Furthermore, he is incredibly controlling.  He tells her who she can tell about their arrangement (basically no one), who she can spend time with (basically no one), what she can do.  He gives her ultimatums.  He tries to dictate every aspect of her in order to point her at him.

They correct or chastise you for your behavior.
I’m going to start this one off with “damn you!  You little prying Pandora!  You little viper!” because… well.  Christine’s attempt to see the Phantom for who he truly is is met with physical lashing out and verbal degradation.  In the film of the musical, she also describes him as “very strict.”  Not to mention the general “grooming” quality of the relationship and its corrective undertones.

You feel like you need permission to make decisions or go out somewhere.
In the musical, the first day she sees Raoul is the same as the night when he first approaches her, when, again, “my tutor is very strict.”  Under the guise of teaching, the Phantom limits Christine’s interactions and choices.  In the book, Christine first sees Raoul a month before he approaches her and she studiously avoids him simply because she knows their relationship would not be permitted by the Phantom.  (Or society.)

They try to make you feel as though they are always right, and you are wrong.
Also relating back to the corrective nature of things.  The Phantom has seen things.  He feels he understands both the world and opera better than Christine or indeed, anyone and he is not shy about sharing this information.  Violently.

They have an inability to laugh at themselves and can’t tolerate others laughing at them.
Well, Christine doesn’t ever laugh at the Phantom, but everyone else sure does, which causes the Phantom to wreak havoc and do murder.  And honestly, one of the appropriate reactions to a guy who poofs out of the ground in a flash of smoke and throws you a highly sexual fanfiction to perform is to laugh.  Ditto one of the appropriate reactions to a guy who keeps mannequins dressed as brides with your face.  The other appropriate reaction, of course, is screaming.

They are intolerant of any seeming lack of respect.
Christine’s interest in Raoul is a sign of disrespect, to the Phantom.  Christine trying to remove his mask is a disrespect.  Christine trying to poke her nose into his in-progress fanfiction is a disrespect.  And it goes on and on.

They make excuses for their behavior, try to blame others, and have difficulty apologizing.
The world showed no compassion to me!” the Phantom shouts in the musical, because since the world showed no compassion to him he clearly should not show it to anyone else.  Fair is fair, right?  He kidnaps her ~because he loves her, he lurks in her wall ~because he loves her, he murders people ~because he loves her.  And at the end where he should probably say he’s sorry, at least in the film he throws a hissy fit, but he doesn’t do anything productive in any version.

They resort to pouting or withdrawal to get attention or attain what they want.
In the book, the Phantom explicitly tells Christine that she can never marry, because then she will never hear his voice, the Angel of Music’s voice, again.  In the musical, after he throws her around for taking his mask off, he slowly stalks around his lair, menacingly singing “stranger than you dreamt it can you even bear to look or bear to think of me this loathsome gargoyle who burns in hell but secretly yearns for heaven” which is his highly manipulative pouting attempt to get her to feel pity for him that turns to love (another thing he says).

They view you as an extension of themselves rather than as an individual.
I am the mask you wear” / “it’s me they hear,” they sing in the titular song.  The Phantom feels that Christine’s success is entirely his doing, and while there may be something to that (in the book it states that she’d been wholly unmotivated as an artist until his appearance, and it’s here that I should point out that in the book she’s always a singer, not a ballerina at any point, so her singing is her only available presentation) it’s certainly likely to be an exaggeration.

They make subtle threats or negative remarks with the intent to frighten or control you.
See also: the entire plot.  And the threats aren’t even subtle.  The threats aren’t to Christine, exactly, but they’re to the opera and also very directly to Raoul, which affects Christine emotionally as well.  He says he’ll do all of these terrible things if Christine doesn’t whatever with him or for him.  More than once he threatens her into returning to him, especially in the book.  But despite the fact that she explicitly says she’s frightened, something about his threats continues to pull her in.  Because she’s afraid of what will happen if she doesn’t.

–your fangirl heroine.



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