“Oh? And what a strange suicide that would be!”
Fridays have always been fairly freaky on Dark Shadows, but this week they’ve upped the ante with a body swap story featuring the mad wizard Count Petofi’s hostile takeover of teen idol pop star Quentin Collins’ body. Petofi claims that he’s stolen his co-star’s face because he wants to escape from a pack of gypsies baying for his blood, but I think there are some other things at play. I know what I’d do if I suddenly looked like Quentin Collins, and I wouldn’t be wasting my time researching I Ching hexagrams.
But body swap stories tend to be light on the benefits and heavy on the downsides, a way to explain and reaffirm the status quo as the best of all possible worlds. This goes back to the first example of the trope, an 1882 comic novel called Vice Versa.
I’ve been reading Vice Versa lately, and it’s pretty funny. It’s about a pompous English businessman named Paul Bultitude who can’t stand children, up to and including his own son Dick. In the opening chapter, the winter holidays are over, and the boy’s about to go back to boarding school. Dick isn’t looking forward to it, so Mr. Bultitude delivers a pompous lecture about the joys of school and boyhood, ending with a wish that he was a boy again.
As it happens, Bultitude is holding a magic stone that his brother-in-law brought back from India, a region with a high rate of magic stones per capita. His wish is granted, and he’s turned into a perfect duplicate of his son. Delighted at the chance to skip school, Dick wishes himself into his father’s body, and then sends his perplexed dad off in his place.
The novel follows Mr. Bultitude through a very uncomfortable week at his son’s terrible punishment school. He tries to act like the mature gentleman that he is, in order to demonstrate that he’s not actually Dick — which gets him bullied by the other boys, persecuted by the headmaster, and generally ill-treated by everyone.
I haven’t finished the book yet, but I assume that it ends with father and son going back to their own bodies, wiser for their experiences, and then they go and burn down the school, to the delight of all. That’s the point of body swap stories, seeing the world from the other person’s point of view, and learning to appreciate other people’s perspectives. Except for the movie Face/Off, of course, which is about figuring out whether it’s better to be born looking like Nicolas Cage, or to be born as somebody else and become Nicolas Cage later on in life.
Continue reading Episode 859: If I Were You