The Old Man in the Cave:
Excavating Prince Charming’s Caverns and What Lies Beneath
by Fallen Matthews
illustrated by herc.ridamai
My proclivity for dramatism and film language was foreshadowed by my very name. I was named after Fallon Carrington: a deuteragonist in Richard and Esther Shapiro’s Dynasty, a 1980s soap opera that conceived a likeness of the rich and semi-famous. A supposed resemblance to her is how my mother justifies the namesake. Apparently, I looked like my hair was combed like hers the moment I arrived. Mom decided to spell my name with an ‘e’—Fallen—which leads to many mispronunciations although it actually has Fallon’s elocution. Style is how my mom justifies this spelling: I’m her fallen angel, which sounds sweet, but is retrospectively—even comically—unflattering considering the literal meaning of a “fallen angel” in Abrahamic scriptures.
Our family scraped by, but we were bereft and elders would hoard trinkets in an attempt to fulfill themselves. This left me with a profound hatred of clutter and tight spaces. Resolved that I would somehow ascend our class bracket, they urged me to study hard after teachers discovered my knack for English. Educators would then place me in select literature and essayist breakout groups. This was the furthest my ‘genius’ could be afforded since I was entrusted to care for my younger sister as work beleaguered our parents. Once I started university, I modelled to embody the magnanimous prowess and vogue of my namesake. Photographs from this period immortalize a conspicuous woman whose eyes and lips appear incandescent, thrown into relief by theatrical lights. There is also a defiance that flares beneath. Few know that the woman in effigy parallels the girl she once was; the girl who refused to be called a princess because she insisted she was a queen.
Except she lacks the immodesty and stridence of the original. Fallon Carrington expected to get what she wanted because she usually did. She found the artifice of those she encountered to be not only painfully obvious, but banal—and therefore, gauche. Debutantes were sold as all the rage, but she knew better. They lacked flair and insight. The gents were likewise, if not more insipid since they were easier to break given their fragile masculinities. And, the elders? They were simply sanctimonious elegies of their younger selves. Fallon also had several affairs on a whim. All were amorous. Some included married partners. Few involved intimacy. I don’t know if intimacy was something Fallon could accept, let alone share. She was insufferable in many ways, but she knew everything was bound to fall apart in the end. This is how—and perhaps, why—she was unapologetically selfish and cynical. Her characterization [in any version of Dynasty] declares that no matter how much or how high someone builds themselves, they are essentially alone in their convictions. Dynasty would primarily foreground her emergence from an immaculate, yet harrowing estate: immense acreage, manicured foliage, and shallow valleys that sprawl over the odd thicket of perennials. Her father, Blake Carrington, was an infamous magnate. He was also known to spoil her.
Not much is conveyed about Fallon’s childhood, but I remain haunted by mine. My mother had violent mood swings. My father was idealistic and incorrigible. Most of my classmates thought I was ugly. The precarious loyalties that defined the playground politics made me wary of my few friends. Everyone else strove to impart and oblige hypocritical metrics of respectability. Worsening imbalance, memory loss, and pain were ever present. These have been lifelong symptoms which I can now attribute to a neurodegenerative disease my previous doctor refused to acknowledge.
Now, I can’t help but think of all the times Fallon fell apart even as she appeared to be callous and impassive. She personified the avarice and cultural illiteracy of the Reagan era whose acolytes were married to antiquated values and divorced from the realities [that their policies exacerbated] which afflicted marginalized positionalities. She remains a glamour icon and prima dona that contemporaries aspire to. Her legacy is one of many which invoke how the series became immortalized as a sordid dynasty constellated with sex and secrets not unlike the real-world regimes the name conjures. At its peak, Dynasty held 10 million viewers weekly. Since its 1981 debut, Dynasty spawned a line of luxury fashion products, spinoff series, reunion specials, and a 2017 reboot.
The series’ extravagant sets and sensibilities actually relay how the comfortably, blissfully ignorant lives afforded to [and by] the elite are bound to be fractured by the priceless inconvenient truths of ennui and self-loathing. There is something eerie within the long shots of naked land that complements the vacant personalities of their proprietors, all of which were pared to perfection. There is the milieu of the neo-liberal nightmare which favours private spheres over public ones. Even though not much stock can be gleaned from the elite’s concurrent scorn and dependence upon agrarian, mercantilist, and domestic workers: it is fearful how easily the latter can be bought or engineered to their own detriment. Which is not unlike that of which foregrounds many horror stories.
But it attenuates many fairytales.
The Perfect Storm
The worlds of fairytales and Dynasty are alike in this sense if one critically considers that the lack of morals in key characters cultivate the morals [of the stories] of each story arc. What marks the distinction between these worlds is how the romantic politics that they generate often cannot support the suspension of disbelief required to sustain them. The Prince—he’s not even mine; I can’t even call him “My Prince”—is almost identical to Prince Charming as a testament to the quality of interpersonal partners. He makes for a subtle point about the dangers inherent in compartmentalizing the pros and cons of potential partners.
I say all this to say that maybe—just maybe—these distinctions play into a cosmic order which oversees the comedy of errors that governs life. What are the odds of an Afro-L’nu woman having a namesake like Fallon Carrington, whose spelling is stylized in the interest of a fallen angel, with proclivities for the social sciences and humanities which span a decade-long academic career in sociology, gender, and media studies, and just so happens to be an avid reader and wishful cinephile?
When I wrote my personal essay—“The Prince”—years ago, I never expected anything to come of it. I purposed it to be an essay that denounced the hypocrisy and corruption of the colonial amata-heteronormative ‘fairytale’ tradition: a tradition allegedly founded upon vague albeit chivalrous values of love and honour; but in reality, ruled by social and material capital where conformism disparages actual honesty. I thought that “The Prince” vindicated lovers who found themselves at odds with this tradition that whimsically ennobles or degrades them.
It’s not really hard to explain exactly how [and why] I came by the Prince. In university, I became interested in the social sciences and humanities but was unable to date or make friends. I initially lived very far from campus. By the time I could afford to live nearby, I was engrossed in my studies albeit bereaved. I was also drifting apart from my roommates, one of whom I’d known from high school whose privileged positionality and increasingly toxic codependency on her partner just widened the chasm that grew between us. I didn’t have any healthy relationship models to follow or understand. There were my parents, relatives who were embittered likewise, hasty unions and messy breakups of friends, and the impending train wreck of my roommates. I found myself nursing countless wounds of love for these people for both brief and prolonged and aftermaths. I was too busy and despondent to hope for...anything. If I ever dared to, the object of my desire would never reciprocate. I came by every prospective partner online and in the interest of validating that I wasn’t bad to look at.
One night, I was cruising an online dating site. I found a very handsome profile. Then, I found myself meeting the person behind it some hours later.
After that, I was wrapped around his finger.
In more ways than one.
After a rebranding to centralize reparations initiatives [for Black marginalized genders (MaGes)]—which I wholly support and think is amazing—it was ultimately scrapped by the platform which originally published it. By then, I’d re-uploaded it to my Publications page as a PDF and credited the platform in the byline. Oddly enough, this is when most people read it according to the metrics of my website. Which makes sense since this was also when I received several queries from visitors and publishers through my ‘Contact’ form. Sometime later, “The Prince” was then cited by reviewers who awarded me a local bursary from a support network. But listening to reader accounts of “The Prince” is like hearing a story of indoctrination. Readers talk as if the titular character leads a cult; as if he could persuade me to swear off my worldly possessions and toss back a lethal cocktail.
A Smile of Light
People always ask me: “Whatever happened to the Prince?”
The answer is, I don’t know. All I know is that I could relate to my namesake once he materialized. I only wrote “The Prince” to avow some semblance of joy away from tropes of Prince Charming most imagine. He emerges from my mind’s eye as much as an anomaly as an obsession. Whenever I ask why—why—he’s retained contact for this long, I don’t know if he consciously withholds the answers I seek or simply cares less, if at all to consider. When I feel down (amongst other things), I find my mind wanders to the anomaly of it all. I am inclined to broach the Prince whenever I sink to a new low because all I can remember are good times…
Until I start thinking and stop remembering.
I think of how I refused to allot him any tears when he emerges only to disappear.
I think of the uppers I abstain from and how I can’t sleep unless I plunge into vallies.
I think of tidal terrors which crash over me and reaffirm the forces of this world are beyond my control, but force me into the safety of familiar habits nonetheless.
I think of every time I have clawed away my demons; every time I have narrowly escaped and surmised that I should cherish my life, play it safe[r], only for the Prince to reappear and remind me that I’m just a slave to my vices and doomed to repeat my mistakes.
I think that no matter how hard I wish, how deeply I dream, how much I believe in them, they’re still just lies in the end.
I think that no matter how high I climb, the truth is that I’ll always be defined by my lowest moments.
I remember the Prince as someone casual and serendipitous, but I realize that he carelessly incised a permanence into my skin.
I remember how badly I envy him, wishing that I could see nothing of myself but a mere body purposed for a tryst.
I recede to the iniquity that was, is, and always will be life as I know it. I swallow hard and train my eyes to the darkness that eclipses this waning sliver of light. How proud and stoic I force myself to be—I have to be—lest I fall apart. Because tears mean nothing. Neither can he. These punctuate that what morsels of happiness I glean, against the harsh grain of reality, are entirely imagined. It isn’t love. It isn’t personal. I admit that I wish it was. What connects us is impersonality because we are cognizant of the world’s perpetual conflict and how solitude [and to an extent, anonymity] is the only ideal. I can’t speak for him, but this is a rather obvious conclusion to reach since I realize that we can spare ourselves any tumult if we simply—and quite easily—sever ties.
There is a very clear reason that epics like Dynasty, heteronormative institutions (reinforced by fairytales), and glitches like “The Prince” endear people. In our heart of hearts, we all know that life will invariably inhibit what we desire. It is safer to project our hopes and dreams upon entities, people or personae, lest we be destroyed. What devastates us most are not the antics of our adversaries, but those of our beloveds whom could destroy us on a whim. We find ourselves keen to sacrifice whatever we must to minimize harm and rejection—not because we grew up as who we truly were, but because we grew up as actors whom play parts. Nirvana awaits those who strive to unpack which parts they really are and which parts they have contrived for acceptance. This is the righteous thing to do, but there are no tangible incentives. The older we grow, the more we see what chasm gapes between how we see ourselves and what others see. In my few optimistic moments, I like to think that maybe “The Prince” signifies that good things are in store.
Again and again, that optimism shows itself to be misplaced.
Life is short, yet so much of it is wasted on performativity: acting like what we envision or desire the perfect character to be. There are no Princes, Princesses, or romantic saviours. There are just people who have realized—or are bound to discover—their inability to bond so, they strive to charm themselves into the graces of others and balk when they are tasked to—and often fail to—cultivate the barest emotional intelligence.
I don’t claim to be any exception.
Movies are the only means through which I can imagine an end. I seldom share my feelings. To do so seems to undermine the personae for whom I truly care. It feels trite to admit how I feel because I am muted by the weight of my emotions. Admissions themselves pale in contrast to the intensity they elicit.
When it comes to the Prince, all I can admit is that life and time has parted us. I tell myself that we are strangers. It takes nothing to sever or unravel the fickle ties that bind. But I will never discern the love that murmurs within and unfurls in my darkest hours.
Why can’t this be right? Why can’t we be together? Why can’t I be worthy of love?
I admit that I will always carry this, no matter how many or whose paths I will cross.
One of the gravest ironies is how countercultures attribute colonialism with modernity. Human rights, cosmopolitanism, and contemporary secularism purport to champion sexual freedom. However, the ruse is evinced in what disbelief and erasure continues to prevail over disruptions to heteronormative models. My positionality as an Afro-L’nu woman who is queer affords me lived experience and many anecdotes which speak to the fallacy of Western progressivism. As aware as I am of this, it’s still hard not to internalize these models. Romantic prospects—and a lack thereof—heavy my heart because I conflate sexuality with intimacy; and I’m cognizant that the latter is more often than not a destructive force despite the countless mass media maxims which impart intimacy to be a trope of euphoria and idyll. A concentration in Cinema and Media Studies culminates my academic career which now spans two decades. The more I critically consider what impassions my scholarship, the more I reconcile that the perfect worlds onscreen predate and simulate my sense of reality.
Narratives which proffer beauty and happiness is exclusive to those whom consummate in accordance to eurocentric or orientalist paradigms.
Narratives which further augment my inhibitions—even though I know these narratives rarely, if ever encompass the locus of interpersonal diversity.
Fallen Matthews: “I'm an Afro-L'nu IDPhD student at Dalhousie University. My areas of concentration are film studies, psychoanalytic theory, and history in addition to feminist studies [namely theories and methodologies within content, discourse analysis].”