The Most Whitewashed Character In Literary History

The Most Whitewashed Character In Literary History

“Erik… why did you send her away? You desired her and she was yours to use exactly
as you pleased. Why risk offending the shah for the sake of
a girl who is only a slave?” He gave a great cry of rage, lifted the table
in front of him, and threw it across the room with a force that splintered the legs asunder
from the marble top. “Only a slave… only an animal!” he roared. “You asinine Persian dolt—get out of my
way quickly, before I forget all that I owe you!” “Is this another of your quaint and delightful
customs?” he demanded furiously. “Has no one in this godforsaken court heard
of a decent period of mourning?” I raised my shoulders helplessly. “The shah’s sister is his personal property,
to be disposed of as he sees fit.” Erik looked at me incredulously. “Are you telling me the girl is transferable,
like the grand vazir’s signet ring—that whoever takes one must take the other?” I sighed. “It is often the custom in such matters.” “Oh, I see,” he said contemptuously. “Legalized rape is the done thing here, is
it? Any man may force himself upon a woman and
say it is the custom? My God, what a country!” And he turned away with such fierce disgust
that I felt faintly ashamed of my own race. “She is poor and has children to feed. I am able to pay the price she asks without
hardship. Why shouldI stand here and haggle with her
like a miser?” “She expects it, Erik. I tell you, it is the custom.” “Fuck your customs!” There is something intrinsic in human nature
that when someone says, this thing belongs to us, not you, and no you can’t have it,
the excluded group loses their shit, whether they actually would have wanted the thing
or not. Like I didn’t want to go to Shelly’s birthday
party, I don’t even like Shelly, but I find out that I’m not invited? Oh. That bitch. This attitude dominates discussions of cultural
appropriation in particular, where one group says, no this thing belongs to us and actually
has deep cultural and religious significance that you clearly do not understand, nor do
you care to, so maybe don’t wear a feather headdress as a part of your lingerie line. Like maybe the excluded group has zero interest
in wearing a feather headdress with a lingerie line, but they’re kinda offended at the idea that someone said you can’t. Why can’t I do sexy feather headdress? I didn’t steal your land or violate countless
treaties or give you diseases to which you had no natural immunity. I, personally, was not there. And no, I wasn’t going to wear a sexy feather
headdress, but I should be able to without… being called… ~ problematic.~ But this attitude is nothing new. Let us go back to the mid-19th century, when
travel writing was all the rage and there was particular interest in ~ The Orient ~. And
I don’t mean that orient, although that was certainly was also a thing, but in this case
Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and Persia. It is from male European travelers to the
Ottoman Empire that Europe was introduced to the idea of the harem, but only the idea,
because men weren’t allowed into harems, see. That’s kind of the whole point, only women
and male relatives are allowed into harems, them’s the rules. And of course our 19th century Eurotrash did
not like that. Why won’t you let me in your club filled
with slave ladies wearing those sexy belly dancer outfits and, you know, those finger cymbal thingies and those badass eunuchs with their sabers? Why can I not have the thing? And with this desire to be included in a space
in which they were not allowed, their presumptions about the culture they were visiting combined
with this forbidden space made their imaginations run wild. If we aren’t allowed in there, it must be
because it’s sexy, licentious. It must be full of these sexy slave babes
who don’t really want it but also kind of want it. These are some early mainstream European examples
of what Columbia University professor of literature Edward Said defined as “Orientalism” in
his 1978 book… “Orientalism.” European depictions of the Middle East date
as far back as the medieval period – The Crusades, a thing that happened! – but the rise of what
we’ll call Orientalist media really begins in the 18th century, as major European world
powers go into war with the Ottoman Empire–operas like Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seralagio,
travelogues like Lady Elizabeth Craven’s A Journey Through the Crimea to Constantinople,
and Lord Byron’s poetry/personal antics were all popular proliferators of this concept
of the Eastern Other. But where 19th century Orientalism really
took off in the visual and language arts coincided with Napoleon’s failed attempts to invade
Syria and Egypt and the British Empire’s efforts to destabilize the Ottoman Empire
at the beginning of the 19th century. As both world powers sought to colonize these
areas, demand back home created an explosion of art centered around the Middle East and
Central Asia–often by artists who had never actually been to said territories, but, y’know,
had like a friend who knew someone who’s cousin had done like one of those Nile cruises. As a result, we got art that looks like something
like this: Slave babes. But for your average Jack and Jacques back
over in Mothers England and France, this emerging visual culture dominated perceptions of these
countries–no, paintings like this were not based on reality, yikes, but Victorian Europeans
thought that they were. It’s like if aliens tried to make art depicting
what being an American in 2019 is like, but by only having like Nickelback as a reference. But they’ve never actually seen Nickelback,
they’ve only like heard about them second or third hand, and maybe they’ve seen the
photograph meme. Like that. Eventually travel writing by European women
became a thing, and … tried to clear up this incorrect assessment of what harem life
was like because being women they were allowed into harems. Turns out harem life is actually pretty boring
and NO they don’t dress like that and NO that’s not what an odalisque is, Susan Kay. I’m not saying it was a good social order,
I’m just saying it was nothing like the sexy, licentious slave babes that these dudes imagined
it to be. But the damage was done and to this day when
you hear the word “harem” in the Occident, it conjures up a very specific, very 19th
century image. Sexualized, licentious, appropriative, and
above all, inaccurate. But… who cares? It’s just media, it’s just writing, it’s
just a painting. It doesn’t have any real world consequences,
and besides, they do it to us, too. Watch any movie designed for non-American
audiences that features an American character and it’s like.. Oh. So that’s what that’s like. And of course that is true, but it’s completely
disingenuous to say that Orientalist depictions of the middle east had no real world consequences
in terms of real world politics – categorically, it did. Just within the last year, German far-right and totally
not neo-nazi group AfD, anglicized as Alternative for Germany, used one of the more notorious
orientalist paintings, Jean-Leon Gerome’s “The Slave Market”, as part of a propaganda
campaign against Syrian refugees being allowed entry into Germany. But other less overt examples pervade mainstream
media as well – 300 is hilarious, but kind of also an insidious depiction of a war between
the east and the west, and more recently we have the post-9/11 gritty realism trend of films set in the middle east, but we’re not going to get into that today! So, we gotta colonize the motherfuckers I guess. This is the rationale behind colonization in general. Like – yeah sure wewanttheirstuff but really we’re
doing a favor by colonizing them. I mean look at them. It’s for their own good! Ya’ll need Jesus ! And they got this crescent
moon, that’s not a cross! And they got this club they won’t let us
into and I DON’T LIKE IT And while neither Egypt, the Ottoman Empire
nor Persia were ever teeeeechnically colonies, some of their stuff was…. And their historical trajectories were all
deeply impacted by the effects of colonialism, the consequences of which haunt us to this
day. Now I know what you’re thinking – we’re like 10 minutes into this video, And you’re like this is not what I was promised by thumbnail – I was promised 80’s melodramatic rock opera. And I’m getting to that, but the backdrop
of Orientalism is important to this discussion – if you’ve never read Gaston Leroux’s
1910 novel, the phantom of the opera, you probably don’t know where I’m going with
this, but if you have read it, you totally know where I’m going with this. Enter The Persian, one of the main characters
in Gaston Leroux’s phantom of the opera, a fan favorite, a character so central to
the narrative that basically the entire second half is told from his point of
view, and a character that is either whitewashed, altered, or omitted entirely from the vast
majority of the hundreds of adaptations of phantom of the opera. Like… nearly all of them. Like at least 95%. HmmmmmmmmmmmmMMmmmmmMMmm And on the rare occasion when he’s NOT cut
out, we get– The one well-known-ish adaptation, or in this
case retelling, that does feature the Persian in any role of prominence is Susan Kay’s
1990 novel titled only ~Phantom~, which falls squarely into the worst flavors of 1980’s
Ayatollah Assaholah anti-Iranian sentiment combined with good old fashioned 19th century
Orientalism, which– This book is also extremely popular with the
fandom. And incidentally is not available on Audible. And there was a time when Phantom fandom had
no goddamn sense of humor and YOU WERE NOT ALLOWED TO CRITICIZE THIS BOOK. But it’s 2020, phantom shitposting is finally
a thing, and I AM THE GOD. But we’ll get to that book. First, let’s take a look at the source material
– who is this Persian, what is his function within the novel, and why is he omitted from
nearly every single one of the shit-million adaptations of phantom of the opera? Gaston Leroux’s novel isn’t all that dissimilar
from either the 1925 Lon Chaney movie or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical or even its terrible
film adaptation directed by Joel Schumacher. The key difference is the novel was originally
published in serial form, and framed more as a mystery instead of a tragic romance with
new increments of the story introduced each week. Who is doing the bad thing? Could it be the manager? Could it be the rat catcher? Could it be the Vicomte de Chagny’s older
brother, Phillipe? Could it be this shady ethnic in the astrakhan
cap that’s running around the opera? Or could it be the skull-faced incel who lives
in the basement? Who’s to say? I’m going to summarize the original novel,
and yes it does spoil the whole thing, so spoilers for… phantom of the opera. Our story begins when the prima donna La Carlotta
falls ill, and is replaced by this young ingenue no one’s ever heard of named Christine Daae,
and she brings the house down with how amazing she is. During her performance, She is recognized by her childhood friend,
the fuccboi Vicomte Raoul de Changny, and he goes to her dressing room to say hey good job,
but he overhears her talking to this guy who claims to be her voice teacher, and being
a fuccboi he’s like… oh… slut. In the meanwhile there’s all these mysterious
goings-on – someone calling themselves the opera ghost is extorting the new managers,
some guy turns up dead with a noose around his neck, there’s this shady brown fellow
poking around the opera all the time. And amidst it all, Christine just… disappears. And the fuccboi is like… slut. Couple weeks later there’s a masquerade,
and hey she’s back, and pulls Raoul aside and tells him where she’s been, and of course
the victim-blaming fuccboi is like… slut. And she’s like no, what do I have to do
to explain to you that I was kidnapped by a skull-faced incel named Erik who… well, admittedly he told me he’d let me go as long as I didn’t ever touch his mask and… You remember that thing I said earlier
about human nature, where someone’s says you can’t have the thing. Or you can’t see the thing. And under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t have cared but y’know, someone said you can’t like see– anyway she took off his mask,
he loses his shit and says she can never leave my lair and she’s like no…. You loook… great. Basically she pulls that act off long enough
for Erik to let her out of the basement so she can tell the victim-blaming fuccboi oh
please god help me and he’s like okay How about we leave together…. After your next big performance. So after the next big performance, Christine
just disappears right off the stage. Right in the middle of the stage. And if we’re watching the musical this would
be the “track down this murderer” portion that leads into the Final Lair scene, but
we’re only about halfway through the book. Enter the Persian. He’s never given a name because the framing
device is Leroux telling this story like he’s a journalist, He’s presenting it almost like found
footage, like it really happened And since in universe the Persian isn’t on great terms with y’know the shah, he’s trying to protect this guy’s identity. In terms of gilded age literature, at which
Leroux’s original novel falls right at the tail end, The Persian is an interesting character
because in most regards he does not fall within late victorian orientalist tropes. Like the tragic backstory stuff totally does
– when the narrative goes back to Erik’s time in Persia when they first got to know
each other it definitely does the – ooooh, those exotic Orients, they love their bloodsport,
the royals watch murder just for fun, just like the romans, so barbaric! See Erik moved to Persia to be like a circus
performer slash… architect …. And while he made all this amazing architecture
for the Shah. This was also where he learned to do murder real good. That’s the punjab lasso that is very clumsily
handled in the musical and…. …. Even more clumsily in the film, somehow. It’s a sneaky, foreign way to kill, he insta-garotes
you and you never see it coming. And the Shah loved watching Erik do this,
he thought it was great. Well anyway, the Shah liked Erik but Erik
knew too much, so he has to die, I guess, and the Persian, who has a soft spot for Erik,
helped him escape and basically covered for him. The Shah suspected the Persian did this, but
lacking proof and since The Persian is like his fifth cousin or something, banished him
from court instead of killing him, and also gave him a nice pension. And so in his new life in Paris, the Persian basically spends all his time keeping an eye on Erik and making sure he didn’t do too many murders, and Erik
pays him back by… not murdering him when he happens to venture too close to his underground
lair. So Leroux’s depiction of Persia in the 1850’s,
when Erik and the Persian met, fell right into that orientalist trope of barbaric, exotic,
and feminine orient. But the character himself is kind of ahead
of his time in that in a narrative that centers mostly white people, he has a character at
all. He isn’t exoticized except insofar as everyone
thinks he’s kind of shady before they get to know him, he isn’t barbaric, he doesn’t
shroud himself in mysticism and his Other-ness is not at all used to set him apart from the
rest of the characters. He is arguably the most well-rounded character
in the book, and easily the most likeable. AND HE DOESN’T DIE So basically Raoul goes into the basement to
rescue Christine but gets circumvented by the persian, who’s like hey dude, you are
going to die in like half a second if I don’t help you. Raoul, understandably suspicious is like,
who are you, how do you know all this, and the persian is like… look Erik and I basically
went to college together, he did me a solid I did him a solid, but I also got booted out of persia beCAUSE of this asshole, so
now I’m wasting my golden years cleaning up his messes. they make it all the way down to Erik’s
house by the lake under the Opera, but then oops accidentally end up in the torture chamber he has… in
his house… for some reason. So that’s okay sure. Erik doesn’t even notice that they’re there at first, because he’s too busy giving Christine an ultimatum that she either has to marry him or he’s going
to blow up the opera house. She finds out the Persian and Raoul are in there,
and in short order Erik does too and he turns the torture chamber on. It’s basically a sauna. Eventually christine is like okay okay I’ll
marry you just please let these guys go, and he’s like ooookay, and he does. And the Persian wakes up in his home like nothing had happened. So by this point the persian is like, you
know what, I have covered for this asshole for way too long, I don’t care what I owe
him, I’ve paid my debt to his ass, I’m going to the police and telling them everything. And just as he’s about to do that knock
knock, guess who’s at the door, it’s Erik. And he plops down on the persian’s chaise
lounge like… hey… bud. I’m sorry about all that. Uh… I let her go, as far as I know she’s going
to elope with Raoul. Are we cool? And the persian is like… dude what the f**k When christine agrees to marry him, Erik in his infinite crazy assumes she is totally playing him and has
every intention of killing herself rather than being his wife because he is just the
worst, which he is, but as in the musical she kisses him, and he realizes like… holy
shit, she’s actually willing to go through with this. It is at this point that he concedes to himself how horrible he’s been, and is so overcome with emotion that he lets her go, gives her his blessing,
and makes her promise that she’ll come back and bury him once he dies of all of this love
he’s feeling, which given that we’ve still got some Victorian vapors going on should
be in a couple weeks or so. Erik relates all this to the persian, who
relates it to the narrator, Leroux. Erik presumably does die, Christine presumably
does come back to bury him, and the persian dies an old man safe and happy in his home
in paris, the end. So with regard to the most famous phantom
adaptation, in terms of pure plot utility, you probably recognize the character of the
persian in the character of madame giry. She kind of floats around, warns people about stuff, and then when the time comes, she’s the one who shows raoul how to get down to
the lair and how to protect against the punjab lasso. Hell, in the film version she’s even involved
in the tragic backstory and helps him escape the thing – both traits from the persian in
the original novel. I’m not saying Andrew Lloyd Webber is
bad for replacing the Persian with a white woman HE’S BAD FOR OTHER REASONS But little known fact about about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, is that the original plan was not to write an original musical, but to produce Ken Hill’s
1976 adaptation of phantom of the opera, which hews extremely close to Leroux’s
book and DOES feature the Persian as a major supporting character. In fairness, this musical is just really,
genuinely terrible and I can’t say they made the wrong choice by deciding to ghost on Ken
Hill and then just writing their own. But it must needs be remarked that one of
the major changes they made from the Ken Hill musical, itself the inspiration for the current broadway
behemoth, is that it cuts out the Persian. The closest thing that could be considered
a reference, either to the character or Erik’s time in Persia, is this here monkey, which… I mean I’ve seen this show like 400 times
and i still don’t know what they were going for with the monkey. And this falls within the trend of adaptations not only cutting the character out, but leaving in
a replacement role, basically conceding that SOME character performing the persian’s
role in the story, at least if you keep it as close to the original novel as andrew lloyd
webber did, is necessary for the plot – as long as they’re white. This began with the first big adaptation – Carl
Laemmle’s 1925 feature film, the phantom of the opera starring lon chaney. The Persian is in this movie, he’s got his
astrakhan cap and everything… only he’s not actually here, this is not a Persian at
all but a French white police inspector named Ledoux who’s PRETENDING to be persian… for…
reasons… and he’s been tracking that phantom for months! In… disguise? And now he’s found him! But instead of involving the police for whom
he works, instead he just takes raoul for some reason. You can probably guess why Yep, tale as old as film The earlier cuts of the film originally hewed
way closer to the novel. That astrakhan cap is there because in the
original cut, Ledoux was The Persian – Even his casting choice is somewhat telling Ledoux’s actor, Arthur Edmund Carewe, was actually born in Armenia And was a character actor known for playing “Shady foreigners” such that he rarely got to play a good guy as he does in this movie and it also had the novel’s ending, with Erik letting christine go instead of
being eaten alive by an angry mob. So they shot it, and then they changed it – the
Persian was a secret white the whole time! And that trend did not exist in a vacuum either
– this follows Paramount’s 1921 hit The Shiek starring rudolph valentino, in which
Valentino’s Sheik is portrayed … differently. But it being a romantic comedy and that the
eponymous shiek gets the girl in the end, don’t worry, we find out that he was actually
a secret white the whole time! Just like Esmeralda… I should do a video about characters of color
in media who are like revealed to be secretly white the whole time. We can call it Dolezals. Now this was before the Haye’s code so it
wasn’t mandated that the bad man must be punished on screen, but the studio thought
that should be the case because early audiences didn’t like the ending – we cannot have The Bad
Man what does the murders get a sympathetic, tragic ending, and moreover we cannot have An Ethnic
be both a central character and heroic. And live. The 1943 version has not one, but TWO Raouls
who vie for Christine’s affections. One is a cop, and the other likes to play detective,
so they team up to rescue Christine. I mean, they don’t really have a history
with the Phantom, but they kind of serve the purpose of expediting the third act along
to its conclusion. Also, this movie kind of owns, because it
ends with Christine fucking off without either of them, like bai. In… yes… Phantom on Ice, the Phantom has like a whole chorus of acolytes-slash-groupies that exist…. I feel like we don’t talk enough about the
fact that there was this whole era of human history where “THING on ice” was so ubiquitous
it was parodied in an episode of rugrats Speaking of the 90’s, possibly the most
early 90’s thing ever set to film, Phantom of the Mall, yes a real movie, wherein the
phantom Eric does not torturedly play organ in his basement, he torturedly lifts. He is not an angel of music, he is an angel
of roundhouse kicks. And in this version our Persian is… Pauly Shore! The 1990 movie starring Charles Dance–
Yes, that Charles Dance Our Persian replacement is Erik’s dad, played by Burt Lancaster, who hid him away as a baby and raised him to be a… phantom of the opera That punches plastic deer. Let’s watch that again. In 1998 Italian filmmaker Dario Argento directed
his own adaptation. And a sort of romantic analogue between its Phantom and Persian replacement, and in
this one the phantom is a tortured rapist who is not deformed and our persian surrogate
is a bunch of rats. Friendly, friendly rats. This, for the record, *is* the worst adaptation
of Phantom. It’s the worst one. It’s bad. But the most well known replacement is Madame
Giry in the Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation, who serves the purpose of filling in the Phantom’s
backstory after seeing him on his world freak tour years prior but being too chicken shit to do anything else after ratting him out to the
gilded youth. And all this is to say nothing about adaptations
that changed their source material so much that there isn’t really a Persian surrogate
at all, like the 1962 Hammer Horror film starring Herbert Lom, or the only good phantom of the
opera movie, Brian De Palma’s 1974 film Phantom of the Paradise. Of course, the Persian is not absent from 100% of adaptations, even if he is absent from all of the ones you’ve ever heard of. There was a 1988 animated movie that’s one
of those like “classic literature: for kids!” things from the 80’s that had a budget of
like… two. And he’s also in the terrible 1991 musical
that was released on video and sold in all the stores and poor fools kept buying it thinking
it was the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and then being horribly disappointed when they got home. Because for the most part, the trend with
this character, despite being extremely well liked by fans, has been erasure, because I
guess we don’t know what to do with him. But when it’s not erasure… Then we circle back to orientalism. this is all a prelude to discuss what is debatably
the most memorable take on the character outside of the original novel- Susan Kay’s Phantom, and how much it bites hard. Look at this cover. Yeah, this is a reprint. The original was much more like 90s romance novel. YOU try being the only girl in the phantom
forums who hated that book in 2001 Anyway, I’m just explaining myself because
a LOT OF PHANTOM FANS REALLY LIKE THIS BOOK and it really changed a lot of the foundations
of the fandom of itself. Most fans even call the Persian by the name
Susan Kay gives him in the book, Nadir Khan. So, Phantom is basically a 600-page novel
about the life of … the Phantom, split into six different point-of-views. Nadir is the point-of-view character for Erik’s
20s, which she squarely sets in Iran, then Persia, starting in the year 1850, so… let’s
take a look at Persia in 1850 -Nasir al-Din Shah was the actual real-life
shah, newly into his reign. And while the book paints him as an ineffectual,
blood-thirsty, backwards tyrant Well, you know, Iran didn’t have great luck with Shah’s for the last 200ish years of them. But on the real, Nasir al-Din Shah was a mixed
personality, whose reign is marked by the constant sturm und drang about modernizing
Persia by Western Standards And in absolute fairness, the Shah of Persia
at the time was what academic historians describe as a f**kin’ weirdo. During research for this, we learned about a game he’d play with his wives and
children called “lights out” where he’d just turn the lights off and everyone in the
room would just have to beat the shit out of each other in total darkness. Monarchs! But he didn’t like… jerk off using the
blood of virgins and assassinate half of his court as he does in this book. And this is another way this book really influenced
the fandom. By playing into these ugly 19th century orientalist tropes – we have to make
Erik’s backstory all harsh and tragic and part of that is painting Persia as this cutthroat
awful place, with stuff like corruption and executions and slavery, so much slavery…
which was nothing like the US in the 1850’s! Leroux’s original novel frames Erik against
a world that is horrible, that everywhere he went molded him into the nightmare f**kboy
he turned into. It’s the same sort of Ender’s Game logic
where it’s like… I know you have a kind and gentle heart but…
you’re just so good at murder. In a better world, or hell if he had just
been normal looking, he would have been a respectable man. In fact that is how the original novel ends,
Leroux lamenting how terrible the world is to disadvantaged people, and positing that
Erik could have been one of the world’s great minds if the world wasn’t so shitty
to people with disabilities. Which, for 1910, is a pretty nuanced
take! Hell, for NOW it’s a nuanced take. Erik looked like a monster, so people treated
him like one, and he behaved like one in kind – but he was not born a monster. But while Susan Kay doesn’t drop that angle,
the entire Persia sequence is framed as different from all of the other locations,
which are set in France and Italy. It was Persia that really made him into a monster, because the culture is just that bad. So, after all this, you might be asking yourself
what the point of this video was. Was it really just an elaborate excuse to
talk about Phantom for half an hour and dump on this book? Yes. But while we’re here, I don’t mean to imply that
Gaston Leroux was intentionally trying to to write the wokest book ever featuring a non-Western character. but I don’t think it was unintentional that
he went out of his way to place a Persian character as basically the moral backbone of his story in
a market that basically demanded white heroes and relegated everybody else to stereotype,
spectacle, or both. Fundamentally, Orientalist media and the stereotypes
it creates–even what we see as benign or even benevolent–are a kind of erasure, a simplified
refutation of the realities of a lot of people. But it’s erasure that serves a sociopolitical purpose as well. And I think it’s interesting that with this character, we effectively had nothing but erasure all the way up until the late 1980’s, and once the Persian was
reintroduced back into Phantom fandom through Kay’s novel, in a lot of ways it was a lot
more regressive than Leroux’s original novel was – and fans were keen to embrace the more orientalist
tropes, effectively replacing erasure with orientalism. I was on those forums 20 years ago, too, and while I never liked this book, I can’t say I did not uncritically enjoy some of those orientalist extracted both from the book and from the original novel. And phantom of the opera is far, far from
the only modern example where this is A Thing – this isn’t to say you’re a bad person
if that angle appealed to you, but rather I would like to encourage you critically think about why that angle appealed to people, why do so much of western media be like that, why do so much of it still be like that? And
recognize that there are some very real consequences to Orientalism in media, even from ignorant racists painting sex slaves in the 19th century But I also wonder, could there be an adaptation
of phantom of the opera that keeps the character of the Persian AND this idea of Erik living
in Persia for a while as a part of his backstory, without incorporating those ugly orientalist
tropes? The world has changed a lot in the last 110
years since Phantom of the Opera was published, but for all of its pulpiness and hamfisted
Edwardian melodrama, it still keeps getting remade and reenters the conversation.
But the constant erasure of one of it’s main characters is a testament
to how little the needle has nudged in this one regard.
And while we’re here, Part of the reason I kept putting off releasing
this video was because of escalating tensions between the US and Iran, and given that this
whole episode concerns an Iranian character, I wasn’t sure how or even if I should address that. Even now we don’t know what’s going to happen or how this is going to play out, but I will say this – in times of stress, there is something of a tendency to
fall back on narratives that feel familiar. And if we keep seeing narratives of a certain
people being othered enough, eventually it makes sense to start conflict with these people. Even if there’s no benefit to either side in doing so. Save perhaps the political. So I wonder if is possible to challenge ourselves to evolve past these narratives which have already caused so, so much harm. But again… maybe that’s just human nature. And with that, now I have to do my ad read. I of course was going to recommend some version of Phantom of the Opera, but instead I’ll recommend the book that I’m listening to right now. Which is Ronan Farrow’s War on Peace The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence Hey, speaking of Iran • And to help motivate you, Audible is issuing
a challenge to current and new members: finish 3
audiobooks by March 3rd and get a $20 Amazon credit. Yeah, I’m almost done with my 3. $20 here I come. Finish 3 by 3/3 and get $20. Visit or text Lindsay Ellis
to 500-500. Start listening with a 30 day trial and choose one audiobook and two audible originals absolutely free.

100 thoughts on “The Most Whitewashed Character In Literary History”

  1. I love this!!! Thanks so much for breaking this down! I’m researching the musical inheritance we have as a result of 19th century Orientalism. It’s a particular brand of exoticism that musically sticks to our films and ballets.

  2. Egypt was very much a British colony. The ottoman empire was colonised after the great war. There is no doubt about it.

  3. Not to be that guy, but I don't think about Harems in the context of "Slave babes" anymore, and I don't know anyone that does.

  4. nah sorry, i'm on board with most intersectional/left thought on culture, but culture doesn't intrinsically belong anywhere, or to any one. nothing that's culture belongs solely to the culture that made it. that has never been true, it won't be true. It doesn't make sense in the slightest.

    when white people appropriate culture for racist ends, sure, that's always bad, but the mere act of appropriating culture is a neutral act absent malice.

  5. I've just discovered your channel and listened to it for several hours while driving cross-country. Thank you for the very well-informed and detailed analysis. I'll keep watching your videos.

  6. Men of the west: Why can't I get in your harem?! Just to…look at all your sexy, naked slave girls?
    Men of The Orient: You mean my wives? My daughters? My mom?! Yeah, no!

  7. I saw a copy of Phantom at a goodwill last week and I hope that the owner saw this video and then promptly got rid of the book out of embarrassment

  8. Damn, so the persian is literally whitewashed for the french dancer teacher in the musical. Who also goes on to be the reason that Love Never Dies is a colossal mess as well. Welp.

  9. Ironically I'm only just seeing this video for the first time and I'm actually going to see the London production of Phantom of the Opera in 3 days xD

  10. 7:10
    That's a Bollywood movie, Americans are depicted normally in Bollywood movies, but when the typical dance number starts – that is what's shown here. It's the same with every place Bollywood depicts, frankly it's stupid. Even in India, people don't just start dancing every now and then all flash mob like, but that's what one might think from watching a typical Bollywood movie.

  11. Reminds me of the little black girl in Sherlock Holmes' Adventure of the Yellow Face. Out of the two hundred something cinematic adaptations of Holmes, that particular short story was never once used.

  12. Was that… Oliver Thorn reading the Erik lines from Phantom? The "fuck your customs" line especially sounded like him.

  13. I am not exactly saying that how the Persian culture was presented in Susan Kay’s novel was right or that you are wrong for not liking it even though I do like it, I feel like Erik would have felt disgust in other cultures too in that book because of his really cynical personality. If he went to the American South he would have said something against slavery especially since their economy was based on the exploitation of other people especially considering his experiences with Javert, the man who owned the freak show of the Romany tribe he worked for. But going away from that book, I really do like the character of the Persian, he is one of the few people who had common sense in the book. Also thank you for bringing up that Raoul in the book is not that much better than Erik and doesn’t have the excuse of having a traumatic past to explain why he is the way he is, Raoul in the Leroux novel is indeed a fuckboy.

  14. I loved your analysis of Phantom of the Opera… also glad to hear that I am not the only one who liked "Phantom of the Paradise ".

  15. i heard oliver thorn reading the introductory dramatic role and i realized lindsay ellis is incapable of disappointing… cable tv should hand yall the keys… sounded like malcolm ray reading the narration? that would make me happy so i won't check and dash my chances against the wall

  16. 23:20 – possible the most egregious "on ice" moment was when full time prog rock god and part time diwmit Rick Wakeman did a performance of his The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table album.

  17. People unfortunately don't like to think about things that are too complex for them to understand. Simplification is a cultural coping mechanism.

    "Persians are barbarians" is a lot easier to digest for most than " Persians are people, and their history, customs and culture are incredibly intricate and complex"

    This is also what populism thrives on. People don't like to be uncertain or admit that they don't know something, because it makes them feel insecure. Now imagine someone comes along and says: "Don't worry, it's simple! It's all the [insert group] s fault"! That is a message that is going to have broad appeal, because it alleviates the fear of not knowing, and allows one to stop thinking. Which is secretly what a lot of people want: for someone or something to think FOR them.

  18. Bruh when even is the map at 15:02? This is not even close to the right time for the events being depicted. This is some 6th century shit.

  19. @Lindsay Ellis You are a serious dichotomy to me. I've said this before but I'm pretty sure I would disagree with you about most things. But some of the videos you produce are very informative. Do I sound surprised lol? Anyway thank you…..(again).

  20. As a German, the AfD makes me feel ashamed to my core. I wish those racist homophobic fuckers would finally disappear from the face of the earth. They're a disgrace for Germany.

  21. Dammit, Lindsay, you said Phantom of the Opera is pulpy, so I thought I could leave it off my already way too long to-read list, but now this video is making me kinda want to read it a little bit.

  22. I'm 4 different races, 5 if you go by unique skin color variants, 10 if you use it in the traditional way (culture groups distinct to a region) rather than the thing we made up to justify the Christian brand of slavery where slaves were viewed as irredeemable animals rather than humans and color coordination was useful. (You weren't allowed to have Christians as slaves so slaves had to be animals. It was a thing.)

    I really hate the modern concept of race ya know.

  23. I am not a fan of The Phantom… I went on a date with then girlfriend to a live performance on Broadway, went to the abysmal Shoemaker movie with girlfriend turned wife, and took my mom to see it for her 50th, I don't like it – nothing about it really.  BUT you made it interesting, thank you.  By the way – to credit the terrible Shoemaker version at least he completed the flashback unlike the live play – its infuriating!

  24. I actually own Phantom. It was given to me as a gift a few years ago. I haven’t read it though.

    …I kinda wanna see how bad it was after this video.

  25. As an Asian who is ALSO a secret white (because I have to keep reminding myself mixed people exist), I approve of The Dolezales. Wait no that's not what I meant!

  26. Lindsay, please keep doing what you are doing. This break from YouTube has been so long, I keep watching and rewatching and rewatching your videos. Love everything about them and I haven't even watched/read half the material you talk about 😅 you are amazing! much much love!

  27. 35:05 oooohohohohoh the puss! the Pain! the black Vodoo! the wet jigsaw puzzle! get your Persian doltery aut of 'ere and never darken my door again.

  28. Anyone remember the Disney channel movie Phantom of the megaplex?………….. honestly the only version you could say I’ve seen of phantom 😅😅😂😂😂

  29. 32:46 "In times of stress there is a tendency to fall back on narratives that feel familiar. And if we keep seeing narratives of a certain people being othered enough, eventually it makes sense to start conflict with these people, even if there's no benefit to either side in doing so… save perhaps the political."

    :glares at X-Men franchise:

  30. I have a couple issues with this…(1) Middle Eastern people, and Armenians like the actor you name-checked, are caucasian/white. White doesn't mean devoid of culture. White doesn't mean "mainstream American culture." You can be white and also hispanic/latino for example. You can be white and come from the former USSR and be considered "ethnic." (2) You talk about slavery in the US in the 1850s but France and England abolished slavery before then. Like if these characters are supposed to be French, as in the original book, they have a leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing slavery.

  31. Hi Lindsay (Lind-Say)
    One of your Best! Videos.

    (Though you're more woke than me)
    I'm a subscriber and a fan. (My friend Victor too.)
    I share and like.

    With killer brains🧠 and the best lips💋 and lipstick💄on YouTube (and soo much booze "drinking" on camera🍾🥃🍹🍸🍾)–who could resist you?

    Would a movie🏵⚘ star like you ever consider subbing a weird channel noobie like me? I fear I seem to have No female subscribers or even regular viewers.

    95% of the comments I get aren't macking on me, still it's awkward and not very balanced.

    Would love to have a female viewer.

  32. Big fan of yours from Iran here,
    I love your Disney/literature analysis videos, and appreciate your effort and care all the way from the Nostalgia Chick reviews to your specials, but just had a slight issue with something you mentioned that I'd like to share:

    To put all Persian monarchs of the past 200 years in the same category as Naser al-Din Shah, and the current regressive dictatorship ruled by the Ayatollah is inadvertently stereotyping every good ruler the same way that films like 300 do. For instance, the Pahlavis (both Reza and Mohammadreza Shah) were exceptionally decent, progressive monarchs that basically created the modern Iran, granting women their right to vote, building the natiuon's infrastructure, revitalizing the culture, etc. .

    Again, thank you for doing all this.
    We salute you.

  33. Firstly: Monkeys are ALWAYS relevant. Second, replace ALL Andrew Lloyd Weber characters with monkeys, particularly the damned cats…

  34. Things i expected from the Video: Phantom of the Opera and Transformers
    Things i didn't expect: The american left picking up on the dangers of the far-right re-emerging in my homecountry again.

    By the way, fuck AfD.

  35. 15:03 Why such an old map? That's obviously not what the world looked like in the 19th century and the "Persia which he comes from there is the Ummayad Caliphate.

  36. Wearing a feather headdress is akin to Stolen Valor, honestly. A feathered headdress is EARNED in those societies. Whereas wearing a kimono is not a problem, it is not earned it's just fancy dress, in fact they encourage it in Japan. BUT dressing up specifically in Geisha makeup IS problematic, because again that is something you have to earn. Context really, really matters.

  37. As an islamic studies graduate bitter and dried-up from the Orientalism Discourse tm in our field, during which some "academics" still manage to be super fucking orientalist… thank you, Lindsay, for doing a much better job at explaining Orientalism than most of them.

  38. The most whitewashed character in literature is Jesus Christ. He was born in Bethlehem to Israeli parents of course he was black/brown

  39. Meanwhile, I’m just still salty that I didn’t re-sell my two copies before that damn book went back into print. Found both at used bookstores, could’ve made a mint… people were spending crazy money to get their mitts on a copy back in the day. 🤦🏻‍♀️

  40. I'm not sure if the persian it's the most whitewashed character in literary history. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure Lindsay Ellis it's the most adorable and bright character in YouTube history.

  41. You were once one of my favorite Youtubers, but I've since unsubbed and left you for The Critical Drinker. Thanks for the memories.

  42. As an Arab I always wondered why "Arab" women are often depicted wearing belly dancer outfits… guess now I know

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