The time traveler's hit list

click to enlarge Jim Morrison - Dread83/Wikimedia Commons
Dread83/Wikimedia Commons
Jim Morrison

Sci-fi fans and devourers of mainstream entertainment are familiar with the time paradox, the cause-vs.-effect conundrum that often crops up in stories concerning time travel. It goes something like this:

If you went back in time and did something — consciously or not — that led to the death of your grandfather before he met your grandmother and conceived your father, how could you eventually be born to grow up and go back in time in the first place?

The idea of changing the present by altering the past is tenacious, for obvious reasons. (Not the least being how much easier it might be than actually working to change the present in the present.) But it unavoidably inspires questions about the nature of time itself. Is the past still happening somewhere? Would such a history-changing action birth a new and separate timeline, or even a new and separate universe? Could Doctor Who really happen? Armchair physicists the world over just love to debate this stuff whenever they take a break from discussing the latest crop of superhero movie adaptations, or lamenting the fact that cable channel Syfy's lineup consists almost completely of reanimated CGI dinosaur bones.

Personally, I tend to think that the time paradox proves in and of itself that time travel is impossible. The past has already happened; were someone in the future to go back and assassinate Hitler, it would be in our history books already, because it would already have happened in the past. The present would not be constantly reshaping itself as more changes were made — no matter how many or how often, those changes, to us, occurred way back when, and we'd have history books that said shit like, "On the third day, as the Continental Congress prepared to disband, a strange young man wearing odd clothes and hair like a maiden appeared in a flash of light and advised them to 'Keep hemp free.'"

If time travel were possible, however, and people were going back and changing the past, somebody would almost certainly beat me to a successful Hitler assassination, as well as all of history's other big baddies. Which begs the question: If I could go back and change the past, and all the major cretins were taken care of, and I didn't want to, you know, actually spend years back there teaching and imparting and shaping the direction of America's development, and thought I could play God and make sweeping revisions without a whole lot of effort, just to see what would happen ... well, then, who would I kill?

Here's who:

Jim Morrison. I would totally kill Jim Morrison. Jim Morrison ruined rock 'n' roll by turning all of its darkness and dissatisfaction and alienation into a safe marketing pitch for suburbia. He was the first real rock singer who allowed himself to be sold as a pop pinup, and his band was fucking terrible.

The grandfather of Westboro Baptist Church's Fred Phelps. Come on, you know that guy didn't get that twisted by himself; best go back a couple of generations, just to be sure.

The sperm that would become Dick Cheney. Is it illegal to hypothesize about irradiating Dick Cheney's father's joybag? Because Dick Cheney sucks. Dick Cheney is at best a treasonous war profiteer, and at worst a demon with the ability to literally transform the blood and tears of brown people into gold coins. (But look, I would never really try to assassinate Dick Cheney. I have a car payment.)

Aaron Burr. Just to see what might've happened had Hamilton lived. If it's too gnarly, I could just go back and not kill Burr, right?

And, of course,

David Caruso. I'll club him to death just before he was going to depart for the meeting that would lead to CSI: Miami. And I would stand over his body, and I would say, "Looks like I caught you ..." [Puts on sunglasses] "... just in time." And the Who would play, and the world would be a better place.

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