Saturday, February 12, 2011

Revolution as good as its people, Part 3

This article is Part 3 of my series of articles (Part 1 and Part 2) on the Egyptian revolution.

The Luzhin defense, Fiddler on the Roof, Hollywood and Egyptian Revolution
Do you know what's the difference between art in America and everywhere else? I remember reading an article in a Russian newspaper - that was long time ago, maybe in 1991 or 1992. The author was describing a movie he had recently watched on the video - it was a Russian thriller, and I honestly don't remember the name of the movie, let alone its contents. What struck me then were the comments of the Russian movie critic - I will try to reproduce them as close to the original as possible. Of course, my reader should understand that the original article is impossible to find now, so I was complelled to rely on my rather faulty (but very inventive) memory.
The main characters of this movie find themselves in a situation where there is no way out. Mind you, if it were an American movie, a "situation with no way out" would simply mean that there is a way out but you need to work really hard to find it (and kill a bunch of bad guys in the process). But it's a Russian movie, so "no way out" means - NO WAY OUT, irrespective of how much you try.
Why am I telling you this? Please, be patient, comrades, ladies and gentlemen, the explanation is forthcoming....

When I was preparing the second part of my article on the Egyptian revolution, I decided to refresh my memory on Nabokov's immortal novel "The Luzhin Defense". What's more important though, I wanted to check the English spelling of the name "Luzhin". As I discovered, they've already shot a movie based on Nabokov's novel, and this made my search that much easier. I dutifully found the link to the movie, copied the title - and then my eyes scrolled down the page and I read the description of  the movie plot. I must confess that I was a bit startled by it. Let me compare the ending of the movie and great finale of the actual novel.

Here is the ending of the Western movie based on Nabokov's novel:
Luzhin, who is in his muddied wedding suit, sits in his room as Natalia and the hotel staff try to open the door. But before they can get in, the troubled chess grandmaster throws himself out of his bedroom window and dies. The tragic death is witnessed by Valentinov who has just arrived by car.
The film then concludes in the competition hall where Natalia completes the competition using her fiance's notes. Turati does exactly what Luzhin expected and loses. Katkov and Turati then leave acknowledging the Pyrrhic victory and the genius of Luzhin.
And here is Nabokov's version (my translation from Russian to English - with deepest and most sincere apologies to all Nabokov fans). This passage (last in the book) follows right after Luzhin climbs out the window:

Now both of his legs were hanging outside the building, and he had only to release his hold on the wall and he would be saved. But before letting the wall go, he looked down. It seemed like hasty preparations were ongoing: the reflections of the windows were leveling, and the abyss was falling apart into the pale and dark squares, and the very that instant Luzhin unclenched his hands, the instant that an ice-cold air rushed into his mouth, he saw the eternity that obsequiously and inexorably opened to him.

Someone kicked out the door. Several voices started to roar: " Alexander Ivanovich [Luzhin’s first and middle names], Alexander Ivanovich! " But Alexander Ivanovich did not exist.
In the movie you get if not the classical Hollywood happy ending - but something damn close to it. By all means, Luzhin commits suicide, but his genius is vindicated. Of course, this dilutes the entire theme of the novel - actually making the novel far weaker as a work of art. In the original, the chess match remains unfinished, and the chess experts cannot decide whose position is better - making Nabokov's ending far more dramatic. But Hollywood thinks it must make people feel better - and that certainly takes precedence over art.

Where the hell am I going with this, you may ask. Fear not, my readers, I will make my point when it's ready...

About a week ago I walked into the living room and found my wife watching "Fiddler on the Roof" on TV. I was rather perplexed - I remember reading the novel "Tev'e, the milkman" back in the 1980ies, and it was a rather unsettling experience. The novel is about a Jewish milkman, who lives in the Russian empire in the beginning of the 20th century. He has 7 daughters, a wife, and he makes money selling milk and butter and other dairy products (as the Monty Python said - "blessed are the cheesemakers"). At first his affairs go up a little bit, then things get worse, then his life becomes miserable, horrible, unbearable - and finally it gets much worse again. In short, if you want to keep your spirits up, I strongly suggest you don't read this book.

Anyway, after a couple of hours, when the movie was over, I asked my wife what in the hell she was thinking - why would she watch it? "Tev'e the milkman" would make even the most cold-hearted person feel bad for the Jews. "Well, it was not that tragic, really", she replied. "I mean, sure, things were kind of hard for Tev'e, but in the end he, his wife and his daughters leave Russia and move to America. You can even say he was lucky." Her answer puzzled me a bit. Here is the dialogue that pursued (my memory is a tad hasty, but that's how I remembered it)...

HA: Tev'e leaves Russia and moves to America?
HA wife: Yes, he does, with his daughters and his wife.
HA: No, he does not. In the end of the book, he is kicked out of his house, and he has no idea where he would go. Moreover, his wife cannot possibly follow him to America - she is dead.
HA wife: That's strange.
HA: Say that again. Anyway, I am intrigued. What did the director do with his daughters?
HA wife: They are okay, most of them are following him to US, and one of this daughters is waiting for her husband to be released from exile, so they could also join Tev'e in America.
HA: Hm. How about his daughter that had an affair with a rich youngster and drowns herself?
HA wife: That was not in the movie. BTW, his daughter Tzeitel and her husband Motel are moving to Poland, but later they plan to join Tev'e in America.
HA: That's impossible.
HA wife: Why?
HA: Well, for one, Motel is also dead.

In short, Hollywood took a very dark novel describing the life of a Jewish family and turned it into a light story with a happy ending. They even resurrected a few dead people to achieve this - definitely a miracle.

"Sure, we got it, but how does it have to do with Egypt?!" - you may ask me....

Well, it's time to put the cards on the table. I believe that Hollywood and the Western entertainment industry conditioned the common public to expect a happy ending. Indeed, after watching hundreds of movies, it's only natural to notice that every time a character finds himself in a sticky situation, he must choose the riskiest path possible - and that would be his 100% guaranteed ticket to success. And honestly, it does require a certain amount of sophistication to distinguish between the work of fiction that you see on TV and the latest reports from Egypt - which you also see on TV (and which too very often contain an unhealthy amount of fiction). Seeing the jubilant crowd gather in the Cairo downtown and hysterical media reporters shouting about democracy and freedom naturally makes you believe that things in Egypt will certainly get better once the hated dictator Mubarak is gone. As a side note I must add that only a few months age Mubarak was universally described by American media as a moderate Arab leader and a staunch ally of the United States - they loved to use this description when he was criticizing the Jewish State for her treatment of the palestinian arabs. But that is all gone and forgotten - today, Mubarak is the only one who is standing between Egypt and peace, prosperity and candy. "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia".

But if I may go back to the original theme - it requires sophistication to see that Hollywood Happy Ending is a rather rare thing in real life - particularly when you leave the civilized world and move to the rest of the planet. What are chances that the latest commotion in Egypt will end well? There were plenty of revolutions in the last few hundred years, and only very few of them had a happy ending. It is quite typical to hear of a revolution which starts as a popular uprising against the oppressive regime and ends up with a bunch of psychopaths taking over the country and building an even more oppressive regime - so oppressive indeed that the people wish they never revolted against the previous oppressive regime. Let's go through the memory lane, and take a look at a dozen of significant revolutions.

Some people may reasonably say that "Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results" - but surely it is quite instructive to look at past results ("Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.") It's also fair to ask - does Egypt have a better chance to succed than numerous Soviet "stans" (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) and become a prosperous free country? While you are pondering this, here is the poll of the Egyptian population - and this poll answers all the questions you may have on how Egypt will most likely look after genuinely democratic elections (which is what many people are pushing for)....

Percentage of Egyptians that have a favorable view of Hezbollah: 30%
Percentage of Egyptians that have a favorable view of Hamas: 49%
Percentage of Egyptians that have a favorable view of al Qaeda: 20%
Percentage of moslem Egyptians that think it’s good that Islam is playing a large role in politics: 95%
Percentage of moslem Egyptians who think it’s bad that Islam is playing a small role in politics: 80%
Percentage of moslem Egyptians that think Islam’s role in politics is positive: 85%
Percentage of moslem Egyptians that believe there is struggle between modernizers and fundamentalists in Islam and identify themselves with moslem fundamentalists: 59%
Percentage of moslem Egyptians that believe there is struggle between modernizers and fundamentalists in Islam and identify themselves with moslem modernizers: 27%
Percentage of moslem Egyptians that support gender segregation in the workplace: 54%
Percentage of moslem Egyptians that support stoning people who commit adultery: 82%
Percentage of moslem Egyptians that support whippings, cutting off hands of people for theft and robbery: 77%
Percentage of moslem Egyptians that support death penalty for people who leave Islam: 84%
Egyptian demographics: 90% of the Egyptian population is moslem.
Last but not least – about 95% of Egyptian girls suffer genital mutilation.

And if you are a bit more sophisticated than an average lamestream journalist and you want to know who are those people standing on the streets and fighting against Mubarak - I can tell you right now. These are the people who mutilate Egyptian girls, who support death sentence for apostasy, who stone couples for committing adultery and yes, they would also cut off hands of the people for theft and robbery. Who wouldn't wish such a crowd to run a country, right? Heck, an average Egyptian makes taliban look moderate.

Last but not least - in 2009 and 2010, liberal activists and their lackeys in the mainstream media were counting percentages of black people among the Tea Party (apparently they were not enough blacks according to the voluntary government diversity standards updated daily in the New York Times). There were unconfirmed reports that someone shouted "Nigger" at a black congressman - and that was considered to be the conclusive proof that the entire Tea Party was scarily evil. Egyptian protesters draw the Star of David on the photos of Mubarak (apparently it means he is evil) - and the media yawns.

Imagine the outrage if it were revealed that 10% of the people in the Tea Party (not 90% as in Egypt) were mutilating girls? Or what would the journalists say if they discovered that 10% of the Tea Party activists supported the murder of anyone who renounced Christianity? God Almighty, we would have heard non-stop stories about the evil, racist, misogynist, and fundamentalist Tea Party monsters. And yet, same journolistas find nothing alarming about the views of Egyptian people. Why is that? Is it because they are so conditioned to the Hollywood Happy Ending? Is it political bias? Is it because Egyptians are "the  other", the "noble savage" - and it's "politically incorrect" (i.e. blasphemous) to be critical of them? Or maybe, it's all of the above - the perfect marriage (in California and 5 other states - perfect civil union in the rest of the nation) of "Hollywood Happy Ending", "Political Correctness" and political bias.

And here is my conclusion:  infamous Hollywood Happy Ending plays a critical role in the current inability of the American cultural and intellectual elite to correctly estimate the inherent risks of the Egyptian revolution. In short - the guys who claim to be the smartest people in the room are stupid. And anyone who thinks that Moslem Brotherhood is a "largely secular group" is a f*cking moron who ought to have his head examined with a baseball bat - that would be the Russian-style Happy Ending.


commoncents said...

THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS! I always love visiting your blog...

Common Cents

Quite Rightly said...

Outstanding post!

One very dangerous tendency of many Americans is to blindly believe that all cultures are created equal.

It just ain't so.