One of the best things about fiction is the redemption arc. It’s an excellent trope: A baddie wants to do better, and he or she is granted one chance to do just that. Sometimes it’s in the form of one grand gesture, and sometimes the journey is a slow-moving quest.
Think Jaime Lannister starting out as one of the worst men in Westeros, then evolving into someone wrestling with a desire to become an honorable knight. Think Prince Zuko of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” who started out as the villain and ended up an
ally. Even Mr. Darcy of “Pride and Prejudice” fame had a redemption arc, turning from snooty elitist to humble, generous suitor.
Sometimes the trope arc is there, but doesn’t end up with a pristine, goody-two-shoes character. The entire Harry Potter series, for example, had as its backbone Severus Snape’s redemption arc, but he was hardly a perfect, wholly redeemed or likeable character in the end.
In the epic saga that is Philippine politics, we have on one end a strongman, the President, described by Time as “a former mayor who talked more like a mob boss than a President, on his promises to wipe out the drug trade with his own brand of justice.”
He started out a beloved character. One recalls the image of him praying after becoming president-elect, a simple man humbled by the task before him.
He had no flowery words to offer, only the endearing directness of someone with a job to do. Even those concerned about the whisper of extrajudicial killings were intrigued to see what he would do with a country like ours, laid to waste by corruption and mismanagement.
Then his assumption to power: broad promises, the freshness of a new brand of statesman, unafraid and straightforward; finally, someone who could give the country what it needs.
But in the years that followed, the strongman became one of the most divisive figures not just in local politics or social media, but to a worldwide audience.
Countries that knew nothing of our local corruption and disputes are now vocal about blatant, unchallenged and apparently unstoppable human rights violations in our streets.
Concerns have been raised about the drug war and the most recent campaign against the “tambay” as blunt instruments hitting only the poor and underprivileged, while big bosses of the drug trade are comfortably unscathed.
Add to that our territorial disputes with China, fears about federalism, fake news, ties with the Marcoses, controversial appointments, the slow but steady ticking off of detractors from their government positions, about a dozen rape jokes and even an act of lasciviousness, and we now have a villain. We thought things were bad before, but this is something else.
This would be the perfect time for a redemption arc, when stakes are high and the strongman’s villainy has ascended as far as sneering at God.
The rest of the world seems to be dwindling into anarchy — or, at the very least, violent and uncontrolled brutishness and bigotry.
A similar Age of the Brute has arisen in the United States, along with police violence and the normalization of white supremacy. Anti-Semitism has resurfaced in the west, and an immigration crisis is rippling across several countries.
We are living in a dystopian novel, and, from a reader’s perspective, it seems like we’re at the beginning, when disbelief is beginning to settle into resignation, and we have become used to fear. We are Panem before Katniss Everdeen and her posse decided enough was enough.
Would it be so impossible to hope for a redemption arc for our bully of a President, a man still so loved by many, that he will strong-arm his way into taking the reins and turning things around? To use his power to inspire rather than to intimidate, to live up to his promises, and to listen before he lets loose his trademark tirades of curses and threats?
My plea to the strongman: Don’t be like Draco Malfoy, whose character had been the focus of many a redemption arc fantasy before the anticlimactic conclusion of his journey in the Harry Potter books. By then, he was clearly no baddie anymore, but he still lost the opportunity for a grand gesture.
We can do better. It’s not too late.
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