Letters Column in January 2012: “Every Controversial Thing”

Last year many controversial things began with R. I couldn’t keep track of them all. There were too many! Often my posts got so full of controversies and words beginning with R that I could barely finish one a week.

Let’s try more, much shorter posts 3-10x/week this year!

That’ll be a controversial thing, but it won’t begin with R. It’ll begin with H! For Hitherby Dragons! Or T! For 2012!

If it doesn’t work I can grab a basketball and jump off of this nearby cliff—

**

OMG CLIFFHANGER.
— coronary, on If I Go Crazy Then Will You Still Call Me Superman?

Oh yeah I went there.

**

I have to say, I feel deeply sorry for Vincent, and I really hate to see him go like this. I think he’s probably the most sympathetic character in this arc; “just a screwed-up guy who never did figure out what to do.” And the suffering he goes through as a result of that– it just doesn’t seem fair D:<
— coronary, on If I Go Crazy Then Will You Still Call Me Superman?

I don’t!

Vincent is not impossibly, horribly bad. But he’s bad. I don’t think random heroes could murder him in clear conscience. He’s not Sauron, where you can sneak into his house and start melting his heirlooms and then his eye will explode and everyone will cheer, The happy End! He’s not Emperor Palpatine, who is basically a professor whose research assistant realized one day, “You know, he’s just an old dude. Instead of trying to recruit more people for this guy’s Force research lab, I could pick him up and throw him into a well. Ha ha! It’s funny because he’s old!” Only it was awesome instead of wicked. Vincent’s not even Voldemort,* whom—

You know, I can’t actually remember the details of Voldemort’s death. It had something to do with wands. I know that much! So I don’t know if it’d be fair to say “whom you can kill freely because he doesn’t have a nose.” Possibly he was Pakistani? We seem pretty much able to just kill Pakistanis whenever and feel pretty good about it. Like they’re Death Eaters or lieutenants of Morgoth or something? Which I guess could be what is actually going on with Pakistan because I have not read the Silmarillion and wouldn’t know. Or he** downloaded illegal music. That was Tom’s Riddle!

. . . actually I think it would be really ironic if Voldemort did die because he was trying to torrent the second part of Deathly Hallows*** and the RIAA called in a strike team. Harry Potter’s all “I killed that dude,” but no, he just pointed a stick at that dude, the actual killing was done by an RIAA drone sniper. Or by Ron Paul!****

But the point is, Vincent isn’t one of those totally safe targets whom you can just walk up to and kill and feel all warm and fuzzy and moral about it. He’s not a Dark Lord.

But he isn’t a good person, either, and I don’t think you can let him off the hook for collaborating in the torture of children the way he kind of lets himself off the hook. He had his chance to take the right door. Melanie didn’t make him not do that. She helped, I’m sure, and maybe he was trying to commit suicide by hero, but suicide by hero is still less reasonable as an answer to having done something wrong than taking the right door.

Everyone who does evil will at some point come up with an excuse. Everyone who does evil will at some point try—quietly, in their heads, and to no effect—to claim redemption. And I can’t say that we who live in this world are hugely different from Vincent, because we are all partially responsible for everyone who is hungry and is not fed, everyone who is sick and is not comforted, everyone who is cold and is not given warmth and everyone who is hot and is not given solace; everyone who is tortured, everyone who is imprisoned, everyone whose bodily sovereignty is taken from them, everyone who is broken, and particularly all the people who are hurt by the policies of our individual communities and societies and the greater world community that surrounds them.

I mean, I can’t even say if some Iraqi kid whose brother got his skin melted off by white phosphorus decides to create a ghoul and have it eat me because I’m an American and I didn’t do enough to stop that kind of thing that he doesn’t have at least some level of moral justification. I’d like to say that, but, really, I’m not sure I can. And even if I could, well, Vincent doesn’t have quite the same distance from the actual decision making in question as did I.

He gets exactly one excuse: he grew up in Central, as we all had to grow up somewhere, and that does kind of count for something.

But still.

He was Vincent. He worked for Central. And when he had the choice between admitting he was wrong and trying to make things better, or risking his life on a self-justification in order to escape responsibility, he figured that escaping responsibility was his job.

The dude got an opportunity to change his course from both Jane and the Devil, and he turned them both down, and, as Principal Snyder might say, “that’s the kind of wishy-washy liberal thinking that gets you eaten.”

That said, I am going to add that it’s not your fault that he’s sympathetic, or that you sympathize with him, or that he’s understandable, or that you understand him. That’s explicitly my bad: I made him so. Bad people are sympathetic. Not all of them are sympathetic, I mean, monsters exist, but a lot of them are. Just because you kind of feel for a guy doesn’t mean he’s not drinking of the mead of human suffering, that he isn’t clothed in the garments of righteousness and self-justification, that he isn’t taking his meat and bread from exploitation of cruelty, or that he isn’t pleased to turn the world around him into those who support him and get cookies and those who oppose him and should suffer (for challenging, arguing with, tainting the image of such a wonderful and caring man.) Sometimes you’ll see someone getting attacked on, I don’t know, the Internet or whatever, for doing awful things, and you’ll want to step in because they have feelings too, you know? Your mirror neurons are lighting up with awareness of the fundamental personhood of the person who is willing to use force and threat and power and cruelty to dominate others, because knowing what they think and sympathizing with them is a lot more useful than knowing what’s going on in the heads of the people they hurt, and, well, the thing is?

Sometimes even Vincents die.

Sometimes their Melanies turn on them in the end, and sometimes their Kaelas are inadequate in the end, and sometimes they’re eaten in the thunder and the storm by a slightly stronger Tainted John.

NOTES

* although both of their names do begin with V

** I’ve veered back to talking about Voldemort. Try to keep up!

*** so as to not die, like many people who are born and live within this world prefer not to do

**** Ron Paul has nothing to do with the RIAA, so far as I know, but seriously, every controversial thing that starts with R is basically the same.

6 thoughts on “Letters Column in January 2012: “Every Controversial Thing”

  1. I think the thing with Vincent is that he’s basically a commentary on the “bad-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold” that you see in fiction a lot, where there’s some bad guy who there’s a dramatic reveal has been secretly good all the time, or gets converted to good by the heroes after the reveal of a sympathetic backstory, or whatever. Vincent fits a lot of that pattern, so I was holding out for it to turn out that he’d actually been helping people from within Central the whole time (to an actual risking-himself degree, not in a weak self-justification way), or that his hints of conscience would make him turn on Melanie at a dramatic moment and save the day and find redemption. His further characterization made this direction iffier, but it was hard to let go of.

    I think the main issue I have with this resolution of Vincent is that it makes Central look like an organization of only evil people again. It’d be interesting to see evidence that some people who took the right door did it for reasons other than self-serving ones, or what happened when someone who joined Central not knowing what was really going on tried to leave or free people when they found out, or things like that. (I’ve got this mental image in my head of an underground railroad for djinn, which I don’t think fits in this story at all but still seems spiffy.)

  2. Actually, the Voldemort answer is pretty close for movie Voldemort — Movie Voldemort wasn’t killed by Harry Potter at all.

    The thing about Vincent is not simply that he was complicit in Central’s activities, but that he had a chance to back away and didn’t. The story is still uncomfortable in certain ways — but that’s not entirely a bad thing.

  3. Xavid: It’s worth noting that at least four people took the right door without the threat of the Hero hanging over their heads (Leonard and, to the lesser extent, the three unnamed people who left while the Hero was incapacitated).

    Come to think of it, do we know anything about Leonard, other than from that scene?

  4. See, I agree 100% with this post.

    When I said Vincent was sympathetic, that’s what I meant: he inspires sympathy. He inspires sympathy because I see myself in him– Martin, Micah, Melanie, even Jane… they’re a little tough to understand. But Vincent? Yeah. I get him.

    The fact that he is a bad man who forgave himself for torturing children because “well, I was born there and I’m screwed-up about it” is what makes his death that much more wrenching and awful. Because, given the right Tainted John, it would have been me.

  5. We also see a little more about Leonard in Tigers in their Cages (2 of 2). It’s hard to say from that whether he’s a less-evil or less-wishy-washy Vincent who got redeemed, or whether he was more actively good even before the Hero came, or whether he’s got his own motives.

  6. Pingback: how do I blog?

Leave a Reply