Megan and I were on our way up to Sterling to check out the housing market up there (it sucks, but we managed to find something in a registered ghost town nearby), and instead of listening to an audiobook, like we usually do, we decided to do the thing everyone else does: listen to music.
After a couple of rounds of Enya and Jack Johnson, Megan pulls out her soundtrack to Phantom of the Opera (the new one, with Gerard Butler). Okay, I kind of liked that as a musical. Hated the new one, it really underscored deformity, and Gerard Butler really shouldn’t sing. Cover it all up with a mask that’s more of a fashion accessory, and it turned out an almost resounding ‘meh.’
“You know this is about rape, right?”
I had to stop when she said that. She had spent about twenty minutes talking about why she used this same soundtrack to teach her choirs how NOT to sing ( “sharing in my tri-Ahmph”), and how the only voice worth listening to was Emmy Rosen/Christine. Then she turns around and says that. That is how you get a writer’s attention.
She explains that the phantom actually used chloroform to get Christine into his underground catacombs. What do we find in the catacombs while he talks about the music of the night and commanding her to “turn her face away from the garish light of day” and to look away from “cold, unfeeling light”? He’s planning a wedding. He’s got her wedding dress already picked out and dressed on a mannequin that looks exactly like Christine.
Probably even talks to it.
You’d think the insistence of turning away from something medically necessary for humans would be a bit of a red light, but it gets better. Eventually, she’s allowed to return to the surface and to the now adoring fans of her voice. See, the phantom’s been arranging “accidents” to ensure that the voice he trained got the time in the spotlight his obvious skill demands.
While he has invested a lot of time making her voice be talked about through all of France, Christine hasn’t been noticing all the strings he’s attached. I say strings, but chains are more appropriate here. She’s going along with this because just before her father died he promised he would send an angel of music to help her. And sure enough, the guy in the pathetic mask shows up and starts teaching her.
In short, the phantom is operating under the rape notion that accepting a gift implies consent. Or, “I did X for you, now you have to do X for me”:
I gave you my music, made your song take wing
And now, how you’ve repaid me, denied me and betrayed me
He was bound to love you, when he heard you sing, Christine
Then the truth comes out. The Phantom is unmasked, we see the deformity (or relatively small and unobtrusive birthmark in Gerard Butler’s case) and all he really wanted was some compassion and mercy.
This is where you rip your hair out. She gives him a kiss and suddenly he’s not bad? One tiny fact about his past and he’s instantly forgiven of everything? Really? That’s about as bad as seeing Darth Vader’s ghost show up at the end of Star Wars beside Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. This guy blew up planet’s and just because he doesn’t kill his own son he gets restitution? Really? This guy defines rape culture, and the women today still fawn over him. Seriously, search “phantom of the opera wedding” on Pinterest. There isn’t a single groom dressed like Raoul. Every single one is the Phantom. The manipulative, smooth-talking, murdering but somehow vindicated Phantom.
I don’t usually write about stuff like this, but it was a shocker to hear it explained. I had listened to the music from this musical for years, subtly ingesting the messages (I could sing most of the songs) and it never clued in the deeper message.