Enjoy this article by guest writer Jason Rhode!
The Genie is a Threat
When I was a kid, there were plenty of things that didn’t make sense to me. The kind of puzzler every child asks, the kind of puzzler easily translated into a rhetorical question for the backing chorus of a country song. For example, “Why in God’s name we would send dogs and chimps into space when there were perfectly good children and men willing to do the job for cents on the dollar?”
However, one aspect of the universe that did make sense to me was the really astonishing rate at which Disney villains plummeted to their death. Justice was gravity, all was well with the moral clockwork of the cosmos.
But even with Disney’s ethical authority, I was deeply suspicious of Aladdin of Agrabah’s life choices. I don’t mean the questionable vest, I mean his choice to free Genie at the end of the movie, a selecting-Palin-level megabad error in judgment. A slippery slope, of the sort that turns goofs into megagoofs.
Why? Because the Genie from Disney’s “Aladdin” is not a bemusing entertainment for children, but in fact a supremely dangerous, pathological being who rises to the level of an existential threat to all mankind. By loosing the blue ghost, Aladdin has doomed us all. The genie is not a delightful frolicsome spirit, like Beetlejuice-era Winona Ryder, but a dangerous world-ending psychotic, like modern Winona Ryder.
How Solomon Got His Groove Back: Genies are Rough Trade
Before we talk about Aladdin, we need to see why Genies are inclined to destruction.
In Arabian cosmology, pre-Muslim, genies or djinns were already on record as being the third creation, the strawberry ice cream in a Neapolitan trio of reasoning beings which included man and angels. Djinns were rogue spirits, mischievous and profoundly ungodly creatures of potent magical force. Among the many feats accomplished by King Sulaymān (Solomon, in the Hebrew Bible) when he wasn’t naming mines or living as a big know-it-all, was to chain these fabulous beasts in lamps, the Tupperware of the era, the go-to “killer app” for djinn containment.
Containing a supernatural being means you have power. That’s where the entire wish dynamic comes from, see, in the old world.
If you think this sounds ridiculous and exploitative, you’re correct. The mythology of the Near East is a screwover Olympics of humans, monsters, ghosts, wizards, giving each other the shaft. And the book The Thousand and One Nights itself is like Larry King or God: very old, pretty sexy, full of questionable tricks, and very famous everywhere. I assure you it’s a splendid moshpit of what-the-hell every single page. Here’s a favorite example:
So they dived; and the ape, seeing them do this, loosed himself from his cord, leaped from the vessel, and dived with them; whereupon Aboul Muzaffar exclaimed, “There is no strength nor power but in God, the High, the Great. We have lost the ape, with the luck of this poor youth for whom we bought him!” They despaired of the ape; but when the party of divers came up, lo, the ape came up with them, having in his hands precious jewels; and he threw them down before Aboul Muzaffar, who wondered at this, and said, “Verily, there is a great mystery in this ape!
And this is one of the milder stories; this is the equivalent of a sitcom episode arc where Murphy Brown loses her apartment key. Whatever you imagine to be in this book is probably there, including your parents’ approval for your godless Internet lifestyle. My God, there are primates taking center stage with all of the pageantry that their species has longed been denied. There is a great mystery in this ape. It’s the Medieval Silver Age of Comics. This is where the Genie grew up. Sulayman trapped these supernatural beings in a loveless marriage of genie to lamp, thereby seeding the ground for a thousand misunderstandings between immortal wish-granting spirits and various sorts of begging-to-be-killed-ironically mortals.
Only Kanye should have all that power… and Genie is no exception
Aladdin squares with this entire account of geniehood. The Genie is on record as being nigh-omnipotent, and the “nigh” part he could probably get past if he wanted to. When he discusses the ultimate taboo of raising the dead, he says that he “doesn’t like doing it.” So he can. Either he’s done so before, prior to his captivity, or he can even after his imprisonment, but he won’t. His aesthetic fancies be damned, he has the power. Here is a list of some of what the Genie does, a woefully incomplete list of blue’s clues:
- Breaks the fourth wall; he seems to be aware he’s in a fictional work. This is commented on by Wondermark, above. Long story short, Genie is aware he’s in a Disney work, and that he’s in the past, and probably has some kind of multi-dimensional awareness. Disneytheory, among others, has pointed out that Genie may be in fact on a different time scale than the rest of us:
Genie’s schizophrenic persona may not be from centuries trapped in a lamp (though that can’t help), but could actually be a symptom of the madness that Disney’s magical characters suffer thanks to their ability to perceive events outside of a linear timeline.
By now, any student of Disney knows that each of these universes are connected, putting aside the extended universe of Disneyworld, where all these fictional characters mingle together like freshman week at the rock ‘n’ roll section of purgatory. There’s already an established connection between Frozen and Tarzan, and possibly The Little Mermaid and Tangled. Sort of.
- Stages elaborate song-and-dance numbers.
- Can change his dimensions and own substance.
- Makes cultural references from events centuries in the future.
- Can bestow geniehood on other beings.
- Establish princeliness like a Mongul Khan herding emperors from kingdom to kingdom.
- Can break his own rules, such as construing Aladdin’s unconscious head-nod as a giving of assent.
The Genie is a chained god, and is not human as we understand it. Is this really a being who would roll according to our square Dragnet rules? No. I realize this reference is about ten years too late, but Genie is Rick James, with all that implies. Genie loves to break rules like white people love Hey Ya, and with just as gruesome results.
Consider what captivity — cramped, neck-cricking imprisonment — would do to your mind, a mind which can cross over dimensions. We know what it does to humans (and probably Pokemon too). Wired discussed this:
Solitary confinement isn’t merely uncomfortable, they say, but such an anathema to human needs that it often drives prisoners mad. In isolation, people become anxious and angry, prone to hallucinations and wild mood swings, and unable to control their impulses. The problems are even worse in people predisposed to mental illness, and can wreak long-lasting changes in prisoners’ minds.
There have been many official studies of the ol’ sol-conf. Peter S. Smith writes for Crime and Justice, Vol. 34, No. 1, in an article titled “The Effects of Solitary Confinement on Prison Inmates: A Brief History and Review of the Literature”:
Solitary confinement can have serious psychological, psychiatric, and sometimes physiological effects on many prison inmates … [symptoms include] confusion to hallucinations and outright insanity has been documented.
True, Genie is not human, but his consciousness is bigger than ours. Genie has been contained in the Geo Metro of lamps for ten thousand years, the entire span of human history from the invention of agriculture to the Zune. We’ve seen how isolation works in the real world of the Internet, and result is persons who draw endless libraries of Sonic fanart which delight us at a distance but would whiten our hair at close-range. What does that say about Genie, who was born to rakishly perform in front of an audience but in this story has been walled off from the male gaze? What happens to a guy like that you when you wall him off, Amontillado-style?
You Cannot Die, MacLeod: What about immortality?
Additionally, there’s a long curve in fiction that goes like this: What does one do with immortality? There’s a school of thought that goes “Oh, immortality is dandy; all the compound interest you would ever need, none of the turning into a withered husk like the fabulous monsters we see undulating on the benches of Your Supreme Court.” But there’s an alternative doctrine which says, in essence, becoming an immortal is essentially setting a countdown clock to going total, the-juice-is-loose, Bo-Knows, craphouse-rat crazy. We can’t measure human immortality, but we can measure other extreme human states – fame, wealth, power. Our modern culture’s equivalent of a god — a being whose power is not limited — would be celebrity. And we know how rational they are.
However, I suggest the best analogue for the Genie is The Doctor. Since I know the audience reading this, I will spare us both the indignity of my having to explain, and your having to read, an explanation of where Gallifrey is.
The Doctor’s immortal, likes people, has power, and loses it, from time to time. Like when he declared himself Time Lord Victorious, in the episode “Water of Mars.”
Thing is, The Doctor doesn’t get more power in “Water of Mars” than he does in the rest of the series. He has the same amount. What changes? His priorities.
Aladdin and Rose Tyler have to follow rules. They’re mortals without magic powers, living in law-abiding societies. The Doctor and Genie don’t actually have to follow any rules, if they’re not inclined to; they’re on the near side of gods. I’m not saying The Doctor and Genie have no morals, they’re just likely to act according to their strongly-held tastes at the moment. And their tastes are liable to change.
If Rule One of traveling with the Doctor is that he lies, Rule Nine-Hundred-Twelve is that The Doctor Forgets. The “Waters of Mars,” and other Doctor-loses-it episodes, happen when the Doctor travels without Companions. He doesn’t just like humans, he needs them. They’re reminders of appropriate moral priority. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about rich people in Gatsby, “they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
It’s the Euthyphro dilemma: is God constrained by the rules, or are the rules constrained by God? What if God didn’t have rules? When you don’t have rules, when all you have is inclination, what happens when that changes? Humans help keep the Doctor caring. I suggest it’s the same for the Genie. We know the Doctor constantly gets new Companions, keeping him sane. What about Genie?
After Freedom, a Cleansing Rain
Ladies and gentlemen, we know Genie is powerful, unpredictable, and was deliberately chained by a higher power, or an agent acting on behalf of a higher power. We know he operates according to non-human standards of consciousness. We know there is ample evidence for a highly developed mental disorder, exacerbated by captivity. We know that power is a dangerous tool even more the most stable personalities, and beings like Genie are liable to go awry and dangerous if they do not have anchors.
We assume that Jasmine and Aladdin are going to want lives of their own at some point, and even if they are granted immortality through some means, they will eventually want to raise their family. Either they die, or they go off and do their own thing. At some point, there will be a freed Genie without any moral compass or reminders of the rules. What will happen then?
Consider that Genie, for a being that can see through time and cite 20th-century celebrities and pop culture references, doesn’t go beyond the late eighties/early nineties in his allusions. There’s no “Show Me The Money!” or “If We Don’t Do ____, The Terrorists Have Won.” All his references have a termination date, about 1992 or so. Therefore, in the continuity of Aladdin, by my reckoning, Genie destroys the world by the mid-nineties, at the very latest. Is there hard evidence? No. Is there circumstantial evidence? In abundance.
For these reasons – historical, psychological, Doctoral – we must consider the Genie an extinction-level threat. Yet the blame is not his.
Whose, then? Aladdin. After experiencing the monstrous primeval power of the Genie race, and seeing how it could tip over the cosmos, unhinge the sky, bring down planets and stars into the desert — what does Aladdin do? He frees him. When he has firsthand evidence that Genie is insane on a transcendent plane of madness accessible to only the omnipotent and the harder core of Japanese pornographers, he lets the Blue Beast of the Cosmos off his chain.
For this reason, Aladdin, not Genie, is history’s greatest monster. Truly, we never had a friend like him.
In the world of hair, we are often advised to keep it business up front and party in the back. Jason Rhode could have both business and party up front and in the back, but out of respect, he keeps it all business, all the time, in the world of hair and life. He can be reached through yelling his name to the sky, or at jasonrhode AT gmail DOT com.
Someone’s Team Iron Man…
Very thought provoking – did you consider all of this as a child and merely articulate it better now, or did child-you find something else about the whole “genie in a bottle should stay in a bottle” idea upsetting?
I’m not sure I agree with your conclusion, though. Since the genie has already shown himself to be outside of linear time, we know he’s got infinity to wait – which means he was never not going to be released from that lamp. His lamp is going to rust into dust or get squished into nothingness by pressure from a cave-in or the genie will jst decide to trick his next master into releasing him or whatever – infinity is a long time, and a lot of random chance things could happen destroy a lamp even if it has lasted 10k+ years. The point is, eventually that lamp-chain is going to be history and the genie’s going to be completely unfettered.
Isn’t it better for everyone if the genie’s freedom is a gift and he’s happy and grateful instead of annoyed/frustrated/bummed that it took so long and no one helped him? In that case, Aladdin freeing the genie could be the best possible outcome. Sure, the genie’ll destroy everything by the end of the 20th century, but it’s not like keeping him in the bottle would’ve prevented that. Maybe if the genie had had to wait until he got released by chance or until he got frustrated enough to trick his way out, he’d’ve gone Apocalypse Everywhere the very same day he got out instead of waiting a couple hundred years. Keeping him enslaved until after the end of the world date wouldn’t work either, since the genie’s not affected by linear time. So even if he didn’t get free until the 41st century, he’d potentially still be able to retroactively destroy the world in the 1990s.
Really, once you’ve got an atemporal genie with phenomenal cosmic powers there’s just no getting around the end of everything. Since it can’t be avoided, there’s no utility in Aladdin being a jerk and refusing to help his friend; Aladdin might as well be kind because either way the world’s going to end.
Something about the way this line of thought really makes me think of ChronoTrigger.