The Voiceless Raphael

I did not watch much of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a child. A little here and there, as any child of the 80s and 90s found them inescapable, but I didn't really get into them until college, when a couple of my roommates hooked me up with the online version of the original comic book and one of the video games.

Leonardo: I'm more disciplined, more organized, and most importantly, I'm BETTER than you.
Raphael: Well, bro, I would have to disagree with you on that one.
[draws weapons]

Anyone who knows the TMNT has a favorite. Everybody picks one of the four turtles as a personal totem of sorts--we relate to that one more than the others. For lots of my friends, the favorite was always Donatello--smart, brainy, often misunderstood and gifted with electronics; a whole generation of geeks viewed him as their 'representative' among the big four.

Leonardo: Raph... don't do this...
Raphael: I'm done takin' orders.

But for as long as I've known anything about the characters, I've always identified most with Raphael. I know I can play the goofy class clown (Mikey) often, and that whenever there is work to be done or a crowd gets together, I'm expected to lead the way and have a plan (Leo) and yes, I'm 'smart' and computers bend to my will unbidden (Donatello), but it was Raph's quietly boiling rage--his disgust and impatience--that I always felt said something about me.

Leonardo: I never said I was your great leader.
Raphael: Well, you sure act like it sometimes.
Leonardo: Yeah? Well, you act like a jerk sometimes, you know that? And this attitude of yours isn't helping anything.
Raphael: Yeah? Well maybe I'll just take my attitude and leave.
Leonardo: Why don't you?
Raphael: Good. Great.

Sure, I can take command, and I can fix things, and I can make people laugh. . .these are public truths. I believe I secretly identify with Raphael because he is the unvoiced part of me. He is there, just as thoroughly a part of me as the other three, but I never let him out. My friends rarely see him and my family thinks of me as a casual, happy-go-lucky kindof guy. A few of my lovers have seen his edges. They've heard his voice begin to kindle in the back of my throat. Some have even felt the first few poison barbs that sling from my tongue without warning when he slips (ninjalike!) from the cage in which he normally sleeps.

Master Splinter: There is no place for excuses when you are the LEADER!

I have come to accept my place within certain communities. I no longer resent that I am often expected to be the one with the plan, that others want me to make and carry out the decisions and are shocked or disappointed if I do not. I am aware that when things go wrong, they will look to me and wonder at my failure. Leo is a strong voice and he sees daylight often. My friends and peers expect him whenever there is work to be done.

Raphael: You guys must be studying the *abridged* book of Ninja fighting.
[Fights the Foot Soldiers with ease]
Raphael: I mean, come on, how do you guys expect to beat me?
[more and more Foot Soldiers arrive]
Raphael: Good answer. Good answer.

Raphael is a liability. He has great power. He is the most gifted of the fighters, the most impressive force, but he is limited to his physical ability unless he can rely on his brothers. Isolated he can still be defeated if he is challenged by wave after wave of the enemy. If I only unleash him at his most feral and vicious he will destroy the work I have done--cutting through it all, seeking only to inflict damage on the things he hates--injustice, dishonesty, laziness, apathy, cowardice, evil. Raphael has no discretion, no grace, no gentle touch.

Master Splinter: Raphael. Kneel!
Raphael: I did something... I did something really stupid, Master Splinter.
Master Splinter: Go on.
Raphael: I know why you chose him now. I know that there's a reason why he's the better son, and I'm not.
Master Splinter: Raphael, you always bear the world's problems on your shoulders. It is an admirable quality when you are a protector of brothers. But you must realize that while at times you might not be my favorite student, it does not mean that you are my least favorite son. You are strong, passionate, and loyal to your fault. These are the merits of a great leader as well, but only when tempered with compassion and humility.

I carry Raphael with me everywhere I go. Secretly, I admire his strength and dedication. My friends rarely see him, but he is always there. I cannot be the rest of them--Mikey, Donatello, Leo--without Raphael alongside.

Raphael: But Master Splinter, I messed up big tonight. I mean... big.
[Reveals Leo's broken swords]
Raphael: They took him.
Master Splinter: Leonardo...

But in the end he is only a part of the process, and I must integrate him and sustain him as a facet of myself. In the new movie, His purpose as a sustaining force in the team is clearly brought into sharp relief by Leo's vocation--leadership--and the challenges come with it. Leo needs Raphael to keep him sharp, but Raphael needs Leo to give him control and focus his ferocity. Leo must direct the maelstrom and keep Raphael from destroying himself. Raphael must be directed so that he does not obliterate the good and noble things that often stand between him and the evil he seeks to destroy.

No matter how much I may try and give him voice though, it seems Raphael will remain, for the most part, a secret. He is uncivilized, inconsiderate, mean. My friends turn a blind eye to him, or treat him as a flaw in my character rather than an ever-present and valuable asset. The world does not understand why he should be a part of me, but I'll maintain him through that. In the end, he is the core of my passion, the vital spark that lights a fire behind my eyes is his.

Quotes from TMNT (2007) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Dirty Little Secret

Wow. This is totally me: Floor Tiles.

Sunday, April 08, 2007