THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Corsair, 2015)
Vietnam was a war that was technically won by the Viet Cong but which American are reluctant to concede to having lost. The unnamed Vietnamese Army Captain narrating this tale has sympathies with both sides but this only serves to place him between a rock and a hard place.
As a reluctant revolutionary he pleads guilty to the charge of being westernized, admitting: “If longing for riches made me a Occidentalist, I confess to it”. As a uncomitted communist he sees no attraction in the authentic “rustic realities” of village life in Saigon.
While not being blind to the faults of the US, he recognizes that there is more freedom of speech than in his homeland. This, together with air conditioning, an efficient traffic system and the modernist novel are among the other things that he admires. On the down side, he reviles the American knack for putting a positive spin on defeat and for hyping up the benefits of individualism. Continue reading
I read this passage today and, although it is from a book published in 1996, I was immediately struck by how topical it is. What do you think?:
“Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country to shout ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ as if it were obvious to all people what it wants to mean, this word. But look: it’s not as simple as that. Your freedom is the freedom – from; no one tells your precious individual USA selves what they must do.[……..] What of freedom – to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child’s greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not know how to choose?”
pg 32o - Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
LA LA LAND directed by Damien Chazelle (USA, 2016)
Movies don’t exist in vacuums. La La Land is the ideal antidote to the ongoing carnage of Trump.
It presents a cloud cuckoo land where the American dream is alive and skipping with a populace ready to burst into song at the drop of a hat.
Here, a traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway is an excuse for a spontaneous party.
Here is a glossy world where the chief concerns are the demise of traditional jazz and the difficulty of breaking into Hollywood.
A world in which romance is not dead, racism doesn’t exist and where gender roles are well-defined. For two hours, we can pretend that all is well with the world and can exit the auditorium gushing that they do, after all, still make ’em like they used to.
It’s a movie that forgets it is a musical half way through and remembers just in time to concoct a grande finale but, just to show its post modernist edge, denies us the satisfaction of seeing our hero and heroine dancing off into the stars hand in hand.
In short, the mega-hyped La La Land is plastic, superficial and dumb. The perfect entertainment package served up as opium for the masses. An escapist yarn with the flimsiest of plots that the critics and audiences, desperate for distraction in these desperate times, are gleefully lapping up in their droves.
Not me! I stand with the party poopers.
A strong leader stands in an un-drained swamp.
“It’s so easy to laugh,
It’s so easy to hate,
It takes guts to be gentle and kind”
Lyrics by Morrissey to ‘I Know It’s Over’ by The Smiths
A recent survey carried out by the newspaper La Repubblica found that 80% of Italians think the country needs to be run by “un uomo forte” (a strong man). In 2006, only 55% of the populace subscribed to this view while 60% held this belief in 2010.
This rising trend is worrying and depressing on many counts. It indicates that more and more voters are willing to be represented by leaders solely on the basis that they adopt strong opinions and maintain a posture of decisiveness.
On the surface this may seem logical and uncontroversial. After all, who would want a leader to be weak and indecisive? The problem lies with what exactly is meant by the word ‘strong’. Continue reading
Boardwalk Empire may have been set in the 1920s but what it has to say about megalomania and wheeler-dealing has strong resonances in today’s squalid political climate.
One of my favorite quotes (in Season 3) is when industrialist, banker and US ambassador Andrew W. Mellon (James Cromwell) takes the stand at a Senate hearing and is asked whether it’s gross incompetence or widespread corruption that’s making prohibition a legal joke. Mellon replies deadpan: “It is my experience that human nature leaves ample room for both.”