Wednesday, March 31, 2010


In this Bloggingheads episode, Dave Weigel refers to Eric Cantor's spokesperson as a vizier. (Also, it seems to me that Jim Pinkerton takes a special thrill in saying "Piss Christ," but I could be projecting.) A vizier is like a Persian or Turkish consigliere.

Here's my question: what is the deal with viziers? I don't mean metaphorical viziers like Eric Cantor's spokesperson, although I suppose he could secretly really be a vizier. I mean viziers in art and such. Are they always evil? If they are evil as often as they are portrayed, wouldn't you eventually stop having them? "You know, now that I'm sultan, I'm just going to abolish the position of vizier, because every vizier before has been evil, trying to kill the sultan and marry his daughter and such." Seems logical to me. The daughter marrying seems like a constant, too. I guess getting princesses is why you get into the vizier business in the first place. The first vizier I ever encountered was actually from the original PC game Prince of Persia. (Let me throw my complete support behind the original, Luke Skywalker formless white sack outfit for the prince, by the way.) That dude was bad. Then of course I saw Aladdin and my view of viziers was confirmed.

Also: all viziers are named Jaffar. The PoP one is, the Aladdin one is, the one from The Thief of Baghdad is. Although apparently there's a movie called The Thief and the Cobbler and it has an (evil) vizier named ZigZag, which is pretty strange. Here's my question: if you had to pick someone to rescue a princess from a vizier, would you go with Jake Gyllenhaal? Me neither.

Also: Jake Gyllenhaal-- not Persian.


individualfrog said...

Who is the original Evil Vizier Jaffar? I saw The Thief of Bagdad the other day, and yep: an evil vizier named Jaffar trying to marry the sultan's daughter. (Conrad Veidt does give him a certain soulful quality. He did seem to love the princess, just evilly.) But did they get this from somewhere else?

I have seen the Douglas Fairbanks Thief of Bagdad but I don't remember if there was a vizier or not. I remember Anna May Wong being hot, though.

Friar Zero said... provides with a full list of examples in media of the evil vizier.

Freddie said...

Man. Friar Zero comes through.

Anonymous said...

See: If some other guy had written this, Freddie, I'd now be expecting 5,000 slick words from you savaging his thoughts along "Orientalism" lines.

See: Japs


Freddie said...

That guy was railing against real Japanese people of all shapes and sizes that he interacts with every day. I am talking about fictional characters who occupy one particular niche inside a very small range of narratives.

individualfrog said...

I thought you kind of were criticizing these Evil Viziers along "Orientalism" lines. But then Phil is a pretty lackluster troll.

Freddie said...

Well let's unpack this-- I think Phil was accusing me of Orientalism, in a jokey way. Which I think is weird, but may be I am an anti-vizier bigot. Now, sure, there's an awful lot to be uncomfortable about with "swords and sandals" movies and games involving the Middle East, but evil viziers are just a part of that. What I'm goofing on certainly does contain a little exoticism.

Phil's not a troll, though.

Anonymous said...

I'm no troll.

I think?

Or is "troll" the new "hipster"? Or vice versa? Do and deny. Show but pretend not to know.

Er, yeah.




Joseph FM said...

Wasn't the original evil vizier Haman (*boooo!*), from the Book of Esther? I'm Jewish, so he was at the very least my first exposure to the trope, not least because I loved getting dressed up in costumes for Purim.

Anonymous said...

That's GRAND vizier to you, chump.


Miwome said...

Okay, I'm pretty sure this isn't a serious post (though it's hard to tell--Prince of Persia is a serious matter, as I learned at a tender age when it taught me the valuable life lesson that skeletons can come to life and skewer your shit), so I won't go into all the reasons I can think of for why viziers are always evil, or what the word actually means in Arabic.

I will only point out that in the original 1,001 Nights story, the vizier is not very evil at all. Oh, sure, he does bring in girls to be killed by the Sultan Shahryar, but it's his job, I doubt he felt he had much of a choice, and he wasn't happy about it. When Shahrazade--his daughter, mind you--asks to marry Shahryar, he's appropriately horrified as to how his daughter has gone so completely insane as to want to marry this murdering loon of a Sultan. But then he lets her do it, because it's what she wants. And then she saves the kingdom! Now that is what I call a progressive father and a vizier who was pretty much anything but evil when you take the long view.

Freddie said...

This has been a thread for me getting educated by commenters. (Far from the first time.) Thanks Miwome!

Averroes said...

Birbal, Grand Vizier to Akbar the Great of Mughal India, was far from evil. He was the emperor's most trusted adviser. Stories of Birbal's wit are part of Indian folklore and they always portray him as the good guy.

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