Sunday, December 14, 2003

I've been saving this column from La Vanguardia's Culture or Lack Thereof section on Wednesday. It's by Xavier Antich and its title is "The Ghost Ship".

There are actors who seem to be thermometers of their times. Maybe against his will, this is what has happened to Russell Crowe. In 2000, he was chosen by Ridley Scott to play Maximus in the movie "Gladiator". Apparently, just one of those movies about Romans. Beneath the surface, a hagiography of the virtues of the Roman Empire conveniently mixed in with the ambitions which in the 21st century the American democracy tries to incarnate: undisputed and undisputable hegemony, and the will for the universalization of its own system, even if it has to be done with blood and fire. Maximus's final speech in "Gladiator", obviously in English, not in Latin, responded to the new challenges to America as an empire: bringing to the whole world their own dream of liberty and democracy. In the movie, the enemy was inside the empire, and its strength was rooted in the fact that it was able to defend itself, regenerating itself by producing those Maximuses who, in the long run, always put things in their place.

Just a few points: 1) "Gladiator" is just a movie, people. Trying to read anything more into it than a swords-and-sorcery swashbuckling thriller is nuts. That's all it is. And an excuse for some cool special effects. 2) The US government (democratic republic with division of powers and rule of law) is just a little different from that of the Roman Empire (absolute tyranny). That there difference is a lot more important than any bullshit similarity that this dope dreams up. Just for example, we don't usually wait until the President is on his deathbed to decide who's going to succeed him, and the President never gets killed in RFK Stadium by one of his generals in hand-to-hand combat. 3) I think it's hilarious that the Latins repeatedly accuse the Americans of being psychologically dependent on the "man on the white horse" who, Messiah-like, will come to save America and redeem it from its sins. I mean, like, we've had 224 years with no dictators so far. No Latin country except Costa Rica has anything like a democratic tradition, not even the French, much as they like to brag about the Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789 (while conveniently overlooking the Reign of Terror of 1793, in which the D. of the R. of M. was punctually observed and respected, mais non.) It's the Latins who keep elevating generals and populist politicians to the post of dictator or Caudillo or Duce or tin-pot Emperor. I think this is what Freud would have called projection.

However, very shortly after the movie's premiere, in the new context of the attack on the Twin Towers and the so-called Project for the New American Century of the redefinition of political and military dominance, the movie becomes almost a manifesto. It's enough to have basic ideas of history to understand that Augustus's imperial model--humanized by the figure of Marcus Aurelius--is not a neutral argument. What we saw afterward--Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq--seems to confirm that the movie had a functional and almost propagandistic purpose: this is who we are, this is what we want.

WHAT? Is Xavier Antich saying that the movie "Gladiator" was some kind of CIA-Dr. Goebbels black propaganda job? This guy has read way too much Derrida and Foucault and made the mistake of taking it seriously. Just a point: the Project for the New American Century, in case you haven't heard of it, is a manifesto written up sometime in the late Nineties and signed by several leading Republicans and conservatives. It is basically what we'd call hawkish in the States. It's in favor of, like, a strong military.

Xavier Antich, though, like so many Spaniards, is a Gnostic (he probably doesn't recognize this about himself), which means that he's always looking for the hidden structure behind the barrage of seemingly random and unpredictable events that happen every day. Xavier doesn't feel comfortable, see, unless there's something behind it all. That's why otherwise sensible Spaniards believe in a Masonic conspiracy. Too many of them believe in some sort of Jewish cabal--almost all of them believe in some sort of Israeli lobby that controls or at least strongly influences the US government. And a whole bunch of people over here have seized on the Project for a N. A. C. as the conspiracy that's behind everything that happens--and it doesn't hurt that several of the document's signers are Jewish, including the obviously evil Paul Vulfovitch, as he's called over here.

Curiously, Russell Crowe is also the protagonist of "Master and Commander", the well-done adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's novel that is so successful on our screens. You already know the story: Captain Jack Aubrey, in command of the frigate Surprise, of the British Royal Navy, crosses the Atlantic and, rounding Cape Horn, chasing through the Pacific, beyond the Galapagos, the Acheron, the fearful French (curious!) ship that is sabotaging English interests. The Acheron always appears as a surprise and, in sneak attacks, wipes out all the Royal Navy ships that try to eliminate it. The whole movie is based on this chase of the Acheron to the other side of the planet. As Crowe / Aubrey says before the final battle--in a call to warrior passion worthy of Shakespeare's Henry V--they have gone to the other extreme of the world to defend their people. There, in the decisive moment, the ship "Surprise" is England. The crew is on the verge of mutiny because they don't understand their captain's obsession: but, in the end, the blind chase has meaning. And even the dead for honor and for the cause have meaning, too.

Curious that a movie set in the age of the Napoleonic Wars should have a French ship as the enemy of an English one? I'd call that minimal historical accuracy. What does Mr. Antich want, the Royal Navy to go fight the Austrians or something? And what's the deal? I thought this was an American-Hollywood-Jewish-Israeli conspiracy. Why are we making the English the big heroes? Is this how we bought them off? Did Tony Blair go to Bush and say, "OK, we'll send troops to Iraq, but only if you make England look heroic in the movie " 'Master and Commander'?" Was Patrick O'Brian on the take from the Great Gnostic Conspiracy the whole time he was writing those novels, all thirty years or whatever?

And, by the way, it's just a movie, people. It's an excuse for some swordfights and some of the macho posturing that Russell Crowe is so good at. And some cool special effects.

In the movie the captain of the Acheron is never seen, and the crew is almost never seen; it's barely a specter. the Acheron is pure threat. A threat that must be pursued, though it be far from England. Because, upon its defeat, depends the peace of the English. A curious message that of the movie. A curious lesson in the times of the new imperialism. A curious parallelism with the American adventure of chasing ghosts in order to preserve its security. That ghost that has no face, but whose destruction demands deaths that do have a face and a history. Stories not to sleep by. (Punctuation sic.)

OK, Mr. Antich, finished with your idiotic moral posturing? Jesus H. Christ, this guy managed to get a four-paragraph newspaper column out of an analogy between two Russell Crowe adventure movies and real life. Hey, you people at La Vanguardia, why don't you hire me as an editor? I'll make sure you don't print any more idiotic embarrassing crap that makes you look stupid in the eyes of whatever portion of your readers has access to other sources of information.

And, by the way, with 20/20 hindsight, agreed, since Mr. Antich probably wrote this at about four in the morning on Wednesday, just in time to get into that morning's edition, and we didn't find out they'd gotten Saddam until Sunday: Scratch one ghost.

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