Seven Ways Criminals Would Use Magical Powers to Wreak Havoc on the World

Where there is a human problem, someone has devised a magical incantation to deal with it.

If it actually worked, magic would be the easy way out. Human beings love the easy way out, the simplest route around an obstacle. I know I do. If I had a choice between working hard to get what I want and flicking a wand and having it appear, I’m not ashamed to admit I’d flick that wand.

I’d use spells to clear acne, stop a stomachache, ensure safe passage for traveling relatives, or make me speak another language fluently. I’d definitely use the one that allows me to teleport or be invisible. I wouldn’t think twice about it.

And because I’m a (relatively) good person, I’d like to believe that, should I be blessed with magical powers, I wouldn’t use those powers to do bad things, like curse those who scorn me with dandruff, bunions and red traffic lights.

Let’s imagine for a moment that magic is a natural ability one is born with and can’t acquire. This ability is gifted randomly, meaning to both good and bad people. It’s a chaotic and unpredictable ability, wielded by creatures with free will in a society that values individual rights.

Think of all the extra precautions and security measures that would have to be in place to prevent magically-facilitated crimes. Citizens could never let your guard down or relax, because at any moment anyone could be victimized.

And you know the victims would most certainly be the easiest, most vulnerable targets: people who were not blessed with magical powers and can’t really fight back.

As wonderful as Harry Potter makes it look, I think a world with magic would be an absolute nightmare. In that world, anyone could get anything they want, any time.

Including criminals.

A world with magic would be a world rife with crime, because the obstacles preventing or stymieing crime wouldn’t exist. Magical powers meant for good would also be used for evil.

With this philosophy in mind, I’ve devised a rather grim list: seven hypothetical spells/incantations/charms that would most certainly be used to commit crime.

A Spell To Overcome Barriers

Without magic, burglars have to pick locks, break windows, or pry open doors to gain access to your home. That trail of destruction is a trail of evidence, leading back to the perpetrator.

Imagine a world where this criminal can just mutter a few nonsense words and the lock to your door simply unlatches for him. Or perhaps the window glass silently melts away and climbs right in. I couldn’t sleep soundly in such a world.

A Spell That Makes Objects Come to You

I’d use this one to fetch the remote control without getting up. Because I’m lazy.

The more criminally-minded would use it to lift your wallet from your pocket. Float your laptop off your desk and through an open window. Surreptitiously steal your prescription narcotics right from your medicine cabinet.

If a magical thief wants something, and there’s an open path to get it, he’d certainly use this spell.

A Spell To Slow People Down

In a foot chase with police, a criminal would have an advantage thanks to this spell. He could just flick his wand over his shoulder and recite the words and boom–the cop’s legs buckle beneath him and he falls to his knees. The criminal’s escape from the law is assured.

Or, alternately, a criminal is attacking a victim who’s just a little too feisty for his own good. He just uses this spell to slow him down and the victim is unable to defend himself. Perfect. The criminal is free to complete his felony without further impediment.

A Spell To Teleport Or Become Invisible

I would use teleportation to travel. Think of the money saved on airplane tickets!

But once again, being able to teleport from one location to another in a split second would just make the criminal’s life easier. With this power, he can leave the scene of a crime without a trace. He can get out of dodge, mid-misdeed, as soon as the police arrive.

As to being invisible–the advantages there are obvious. How easy would it be for a serial killer to stalk a victim if the killer couldn’t be seen? How hard it would be for a victim to fight back against an invisible attacker? And forget about witnesses. They can’t report what they can’t see.

A Spell to Wipe Memories

This is the perfect power to cover your tracks. If, somehow, the criminal’s powers of invisibility don’t work, he could simply wipe the witness’s memory. He could wipe the memories of the victims who remember critical details or the detectives close to tracking him down. He could wipe the memory of everyone who ever knew him and navigate society anonymously.

A Spell To Cause Pain

The violent magical criminal could cause physical pain in one of two ways, neither of which would require him to lay a hand on his victim. Unless that’s his thing, of course.

He could inflict pain that doesn’t leave a mark, igniting his victim’s sensory receptors and nerves from a comfortable distance, as much or as little as he wants. Or he could recite a spell that slashes and cuts and stabs flesh, or restricts airways without using his hands.

No physical contact means no physical evidence. It would be as if his victims were killed by a phantom.

A Spell to Control Someone’s Mind

While you could use any other of these spells for benign reasons–to lazily fetch the remote, travel to Paris, or cut veggies–this one doesn’t have an innocent application. If you want to manipulate someone else’s mind, no matter the reason, you’re simply up to no good.

Such a criminal could convince a detective to investigate another suspect. Force an innocent person to commit crimes for him. Create more willing victims. Or convince others that his crimes aren’t crimes at all.

So, to conclude, I don’t wish for a world filled with magic. If somehow mankind evolved enough to develop magical abilities, I think that would spell apocalypse. Call me cynical, but mankind must be limited.

Without the benefit of magical powers to make his plans easier to achieve, mankind has already wreaked havoc and destruction upon himself and the planet.

Let’s not give him magical powers, too.

Photo Courtesy Pexels

Click here to read the first three chapters of my book, “Wicked Innocents.”

The Allure Of Other People’s Lives: Why We Can’t Mind Our Own Business

You never know what goes on behind closed doors.

My mother said this often when I was growing up, usually after learning something unexpected about an acquaintance, co-worker, celebrity–whomever.

The thought always frightened me and I often studied friends and strangers with suspicion, wondering: “what do you do that no one knows about?”

Perhaps they did drugs. Or their house was unimaginably filthy. Or their family had nightly, ritualistic fist-fights. I usually imagined abuse of some sort, and I think this is what my mother was alluding to.

As I’ve gotten older and society has become so open, I’m often aghast when I learn what people do in their private lives, from the obscene to the bizarre. And I’ve only grown more interested.

But why do I care about what other people are doing? Why do people care about what I’m doing?

Why can’t we all just mind our own business?

You Won’t Believe What He Did!

Talking behind each other’s backs is hard-wired into our brains, so it seems. Where there are groups of people, there’s gossip.

Anthropologists think gossip is the glue that bonds people together. We also use it to exclude and isolate people who aren’t contributing to the well-being of the group. Think of a group of hunter-gatherers like an ancient version of an office. There’s always that one berry picker who doesn’t pull her weight, taking breaks while the others fill their baskets. Gossip may be a way to motivate her to try harder. If she doesn’t, she’ll end up alone.

In other words, we bond over shared frustrations and sometimes hatred. It’s a survival tactic. If we align with other people, we have a better chance of surviving. If we tick off the group and become the subject of gossip, we may just die.

Underlying gossip, of course, is judgment. And this common human habit also serves a purpose: it’s much easier to judge than it is to understand.

Who Does He Think He Is?

We judge because we don’t have time to figure out why everyone around us is doing whatever it is they do. We don’t have time to figure out their motivations.

It’s easier for us to conclude someone is being rude to us because they’re a jerk than it is to figure out why they may be acting like a jerk in that moment. It’s a difference between situational versus personality attributions; the former is the understanding kind, the latter the judgey one.

In order to truly understand someone else, we have to know the actual motivation behind their actions, which is a very complicated thing. In the absence of that, we draw our own conclusions. So being judgmental is just plain lazy.

As part of this laziness, we speculate, we offer opinions based on our speculations, we condemn and demean based on those opinions.

But we never actually look behind that closed door.

He Should Be More Like Us

People like to tell me the intimate details of their lives. I have one of those faces, apparently. Or maybe they can sense I’ll actually listen.

The other day, a perfect stranger told me about his lifestyle choices. He has a kid he barely knows, but never wanted kids at all. He divorced his wife after seven years of marriage. He has no interest in getting married again, but has had lots of girlfriends.

He wisely acknowledged two things about himself: he doesn’t want to negotiate every decision in his life with another person, and he’s selfish. Good for him, I thought, for knowing this about himself. He knows what he can give to another person, and what he can’t. Most of us don’t understand ourselves this well.

But people judge him, brutally, for his lifestyle choices. They think he should live like them, and if he doesn’t, something is wrong with him. “Like them” means the heterosexual, nuclear family. Mom, Dad, two kids.

I listened to this man explain the “why” behind his choices. It was simple: he just doesn’t want the same things as everyone else.

But the people who judge him don’t ask why. They compare his life to theirs, and determine theirs is better. They isolate him through gossip, because he’s not contributing to society by adhering to its norms. Perhaps their beef is with the fact that he’s not reproducing. Perhaps they feel he’s not doing his share or he has it easy. Unlike them, he’s not struggling through life to support a family, but instead coasts through with freedom and plenty of money and no responsibilities. Regardless, what this man decides to do with his life is still nobody’s business. He’s not hurting anyone; if anything, he’s hurting himself.

But despite all the natural drives that explain gossip and judgment–which make sense–I’m still left wondering why we care how other people live.

With some exceptions, what other people do behind closed doors doesn’t affect us. So are we interested out of morbid curiosity? In general, we’re afraid of what we don’t know–not knowing the private lives of our neighbors is a scary thought if they’re evil people. What about insecurity and jealousy? We have to know that what we’re doing and what we have is better, so we can live with ourselves and, theoretically, be happy.

Perhaps the human habit of “not minding our own business” is a way to measure ourselves. Alone, without anything to compare ourselves to, we’d have no idea how we’re doing. When we pry into the lives of others, we’re really searching ourselves.

YOUR TURN

Why do you think we’re so interested in other people’s lives? Have you ever been the subject of malicious gossip? Have other people ever openly judged your lifestyle choices?

Photo Courtesy Pexels

Beware the Quiet Ones: A Look Inside the Mysterious World of Shy People

I have always hated the saying, “it’s always the quiet ones.”

After a mass shooting or a despicable murder, this is a common refrain. Reporters interview neighbors who knew the suspect and they usually mention how unassuming the killer was. He was quiet and kept to himself.

I can’t recall any specific events or words spoken, but what I do remember is the anger I always feel after hearing others agree.

“It’s always the quiet ones,” someone inevitably says.

(Forgetting the extroverted charm of Ted Bundy, of course).

And the audience at home, listening in rapt tension, generally agrees with this. They start looking at the quiet people in their lives and wonder: is he quiet because he’s plotting something?

Chances are the answer is no. Chances are that quiet person is simply that–just quiet–and wants to be left alone. That person is either suffering from social anxiety, is an introvert, or doesn’t like to make a spectacle of himself.

Personally, I’ve never been victimized by a shy or quiet person. Quite the opposite: it’s  people who can’t shut up who bother me. They run their mouths until they say something offensive. They can’t take no for an answer. They bully and tease. They steal the spotlight, interrupt, and berate.

But it’s the quiet ones who are suspect, who are carefully watched for any signs of psychopathy, But why, other than the methodical plotting of serial murder, would someone be shy or quiet?

Fear

Shy and quiet are not the same thing. Shy means you’re afraid to talk to people (generally), while being quiet means you just choose not to speak.

There are many reasons why a person may choose not to speak to others, but if you’re deciding every single day to keep your mouth shut, there must be a reason for it. As a quiet person myself, I can provide some insight into two reasons.

Insecurity and ineptitude.

As I said earlier, I’ve found that most people don’t trust the quiet. And the quieter you are, the more suspicious you appear. A quiet person leaves everything up to interpretation. They are a blank slate. People are natural gossips and always curious, and so they fill in that blank slate with assumptions and opinions and details, many of which aren’t true at all and are usually negative.

Exacerbating this truth is another: talking to people is difficult. Choosing topics and the right words to express them. Reading your audience. Figuring out what other people want from you or how you should act. Balancing talking with listening. Some quiet people simply can’t navigate all of this trouble.

The quiet person knows he’s different and lacking something fundamental to being human–the easy ability to communicate. He listens to the conversations around him, perhaps wishing he knew what to say. He can tell the people around him think he’s weird and awkward, heightening insecurities he already has.

He’s probably tried and failed to talk to people with ease and charm, and so now the prospect is frightening. And most people avoid their fears. In the end, it’s just easier just to keeps his mouth shut.

Modesty

In college, I took a sculpture class. (Side note: I suck at making sculptures).

My professor was young, maybe in his mid 30s, and handsome for a professor. He was “hip.” I think he had a nose ring. He found out one day that I liked the band Kings of Leon (a brand-spanking new band back then) and burned their most recent album on a CD for me.

He was a man of few words, always watching and listening, smiling to himself. I sensed that he was always thinking about something deep and fascinating, but would never share it with anyone.

He was a good professor and from what I could tell, a talented artist. He was intelligent and interesting and paid attention to the people around him. He was quiet but not cut off from the outside world.

One day in class, he said to no one in particular that most people talk and talk and talk, but rarely say anything at all. Truer words were never spoken, and they bring me to the second motivation for being quiet–modesty.

Some people put themselves on display. Every thought and feeling is expressed, every achievement and talent boasted about, every opinion shared openly. A quiet person like my sculpture professor doesn’t like to impose themselves on others.

That person understands there’s a time to say what you think, and a time to keep it to yourself. Or maybe he doesn’t think his thoughts, feelings, achievements, talents, or opinions are interesting enough to share with the world. Or he just wants to hide, averse even to positive attention.

Introversion

Introverts and extroverts don’t really understand each other.

I can’t comprehend someone deriving energy and excitement from being around other people. Other people tire me out–and that’s how introverts function.

To an introvert, the outside world can be a bit too over-stimulating at times and when that happens, they retreat into the inner sanctum of their own thoughts. They are comfortable with being quiet and are always thinking about something, real or imagined.

The introvert has an internal energy meter. When she goes out into the outside world, with all of its stimuli and people, that meter is full. With every conversation, no matter how minor, the meter decreases, like a battery. Eventually, there’s no energy left and the introvert needs to recharge.

At this point, the introverted brain literally loses the ability to form words and sentences, or listen to the words and sentences spoken by others. It’s a crushing fatigue, pulling the introvert down into quiet oblivion.

Energy returns only in an environment of solitude, quiet, and stillness. A calming, familiar place, a solo activity, a nap. And once the energy bar is full again, she can go back into the world, fresh-faced and ready to speak.

I’ve never understood why quiet, shy people inspire such suspicion and distrust. Of course, this depends on the person and their overall attitude and behavior. A quiet person with an intense, borderline inappropriate stare is a creep. A quiet woman with an air of confidence is a snob.

But are they secretly plotting something sinister? Likely not. More likely they simply don’t know how to start the conversation.

YOUR TURN

Are you an extrovert or introvert? How do you feel at the prospect of talking to people? And if you’re not shy at all, what is your impression of people who are?

Photo Courtesy Pexels and  Himanshu Sharma

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Criminal Character: Tommy Shelby, Walter White & The Audience Who Loves Them

Movies and TV have made the gangster kind of…sexy.

Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Tommy Darmody in Boardwalk Empire. Billy in The Departed (no, not a gangster, but pretending to be one). Ray Liotta in Goodfellas (yes, I’m serious…) Johnny Depp in Public Enemies. Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire…

No. I’ll stop right there. Sorry Steve Buschemi, but ewww. Not even for a second.

The gangster as presented in movies and TV is physically magnetic and alluring, fodder late night fantasies. The bad boy who needs a good woman to tame him. The man who takes what he wants, without hesitation. Who comes home from his latest brawl with boo-boos that need to be mended…

But the appeal of the gangster is far deeper than that.

I was pondering this question as Cillian Murphy strutted down the gritty streets of early 20th century Birmingham in the second season of Peaky Blinders. I’m now in the fourth season and I absolutely love this series, like everyone else. And it dawned on me that I’ve been this place before–enraptured with a story about gangsters.

Some of my favorite movies and TV series revolve around this law-breaking characterBoardwalk Empire, The Departed, Public Enemies, Goodfellas, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, The Untouchables, Breaking Bad. Even Oscar (and if you haven’t heard of or seen this movie, your life is not complete).

I have a thing for criminals, apparently.

As I was admiring Tommy Shelby’s beautiful face, I asked myself: why? Why do I enjoy movies and TV shows about criminals? Why does anyone, because I am definitely not the only one.

Gangsters Reach for the Stars…By Breaking the Law

The first answer that came to my mind was that the gangster–or generally, the criminal–as dramatized in movies and TV, rises above society’s rules to take what he wants in life. We enjoy watching his successes because we, here in the real world, are tamed and obligated by those same rules.

And the gangster, of course, wants exactly what we want: happiness, achieved when our dreams are fulfilled and our daily struggles are over.

The beautiful house and a comfortable life. Freedom from a hated job, and the obligation to work that hated job. The safety and contentment of the people we love, and providing for those people. The ability to snap our fingers and get what we want or do what we want. Money often achieves all of these things.

In our normal, everyday lives, there are obstacles everywhere, preventing us from reaching these goals. We can’t get the job we want because of nepotism in the workplace. The bank won’t give us the loan we need to buy the nice house. Rules prevent us from moving forward as quickly or as easily as we want.

The trouble is, we all have our place in this world, based on where we were born and into what family and circumstances. Often, we only have so far to move from the place we start from, especially if that starting point is closer to the gutter. How far we go depends on our grit and determination. Only the extraordinary person can rise above challenging circumstances to reach their apex of their dreams. Legally, that is.

Not so for the gangster. Those rules don’t exist for him. He rises above society and its trappings to make his own rules and capture success on his terms. That is very appealing. Seen from this viewpoint, a life of crime is a kind of freedom (fictionally speaking).

Take Walter White in Breaking Bad. He spent his whole life doing things the right way, following the rules, even as he faced a terminal cancer diagnosis. Society put up a wall that he could not climb. So he went around that wall.

On the other side is something we rarely enjoy in real, everyday life: being on top and in control, a master of your own fate.

How Movies & TV Explore Light & Dark, Good & Evil, & Everything in Between

In all the gangster-themed TV and movies I’ve watched, such characters are used in two ways: to expose man’s utter cruelty and inhumanity, or to confuse the audience by revealing his many contradictory sides.

The gangster can do very bad things. But he’s also human. He wants what we want, and despite his evil acts we can empathize with him. It may be uncomfortable to admit, but the bad man can also have a good heart.

Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire is a serial killer. Let’s not mince words. He’s killed dozens of people and does so seemingly without hesitation or remorse. But when he’s alone in his room at night, he cuts out pictures of happy families and pastes them into a scrapbook, dreaming about what he believes he can never have: a normal life. Service in World War I stole that normal life from him, turning him into a sniper who couldn’t switch off that killer instinct when he got home. It also gave him a ghoulish face wound, which he covered up with a rather eerie prosthetic mask.

He’s a fan favorite, I believe because he was a contradiction. He had an evil side and yet he was a tender, broken man, who loved and cared for a young orphan, fell in love, and created a little family just like he dreamed. We rooted for him.

For this very reason, I’m excited for Tom Hardy’s upcoming Al Capone flick, Fonzo, which I expect will paint an unexpectedly sympathetic side to a famous psychopathic gangster.

This contradiction of good and evil is fascinating, because it lies in all of us. We all want simple, normal things, to be surrounded by people we love and to protect them,  and to achieve our dreams. But we could also become killers, if the circumstances were right. Light and dark is in all of us.

Of course, fiction gives us a miraculous gift: the ability to see and analyze all these different sides and hidden motivations. We aren’t afforded the same access in real life. We rarely know why people do things, and so are resigned to watch life unfold from the outside and shake our heads, utterly confused by the events around us.

But stories give us a good window into understanding inscrutable people. It allows us to empathize, to walk in the shoes of someone we normally wouldn’t understand, to find common ground.

And yes, it’s possible to find common ground with a criminal.

Featured image courtesy United States Bureau of Prisons [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Your Turn

Can you think of any other reasons why the gangster character is so appealing? If you  disagree, I’d love to hear why. If you have a favorite fictional criminal, tell me about him or her.