There seems to have been a lot of rioting recently. The Greeks are rioting over government spending cuts. Hockey fans rioted in Canada’s nicest city. Soccer fans staged a riot in Argentina. And…uh-oh, what’s this? Riots all over the USA: in Washington, DC, in Peoria, IL, in Philadelphia, in Chicago, in Philadelphia again….What’s going on?
Rioting is a pretty normal state of affairs. Ancient Alexandria’s inhabitants were, the historians tell us, “always riotous.” The Gordon Riots in 1780 London destroyed the city’s two main prisons and damaged the Bank of England, as well as several embassies.
Speaking of London:
He had come prepared to incite a riot. The elements were there. The men already in the bar agreed with him and his friends that the barrier was a bloody shame. A silence spread among them, like the thickening in the air before a storm. One man poked a hole through the screen with his cane. A cadet gave it a shove. Someone else kicked it, and it moved. In a flash the whole crowd, suddenly excited and infuriated, rushed at the flimsy encumbrance and demolished it. Amid the din X shouted: “Ladies of the Empire! I stand for liberty!” It turned out that there were no ladies present, soiled or otherwise; the prostitutes had prudently decamped.…
Sordid stuff. A London music hall (i.e., vaudeville theater) named The Empire was laid out with a promenade space alongside the men’s bar so that ladies of the town could “describe their specialties and cite their prices in stage whispers.” A crusader against vice had persuaded the city council to erect a barrier between bar and promenade. This was the barrier destroyed in the riot on Saturday, November 3rd, 1894.
But who was X, the riot’s ringleader? None other than 19-year-old Winston Churchill, later to become Sir Winston Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, PC, DL, FRS, Hon. RA, twice Prime Minister of Britain, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. (The quotes above are from William Manchester’s The Last Lion.)
Not many of us have incited a riot on behalf of street hookers. Well, I know I never have. I can’t even recall ever having been in a riot, though I had a close brush with one once.
It was around 1970 in Nottingham, England. I was visiting the place on business and went out drinking with some colleagues in the evening. We heard a disturbance in the street outside our pub and went out to look. A mob of young men, more than a hundred, were storming up the street, yelling wildly, and swinging out with their fists against passersby. It was terrifying. We ducked back into the bar and the mob flowed past. I have no idea why they were rioting—something to do with soccer, probably. (Where was the sheriff?)
A few years before that, English seaside family vacations were being ruined by the mods and rockers wars. Rockers were English bikers. They had greased hair, sideburns, leather jackets, and motorbikes. The mod was the metrosexual’s evolutionary precursor. He blow-dried his hair, wore natty suits, and rode a motor scooter. Mods and rockers hated each other. They came out in force on summer weekends and fought pitched battles on England’s few decent beaches.
ISLE OF ISCHIA—On a bright, windy June morning this beautiful island’s church bells rang out to welcome the most ostentatious concourse of sailing boats to have arrived at its shores since Commodore Thomas Troubridge sailed into the bay of San Angelo in 1799. Troubridge, dispatched by Lord Nelson to quell an island revolt, had brought great distinction to the family. They upheld that distinction for 200 years until in a moment of madness “Poor Tom” Troubridge was lured into marriage by the highly ambitious daughter of an Australian librarian and an Austrian POW guard, Marie-Christine Reibnitz, presently known as Princess Pushy and then some. Poor Tom’s liaison with the Australo-Austrian bitterly disappointed Ischia’s people, who consigned the Troubridge name to a cheap and watery grave. The Ischians, however, are a forgiving lot, and ever since Marie-Christine found another sucker, the Troubridge name has been revived and restored to its proper place.
Thus on that bright and windy morning last week the crowds gathered to watch the annual Pug’s Club regatta, with enough moolah in that bay to pay off the Greek national debt. The big favorite and defending champion was billionaire Bob Miller in his trans-Atlantic record-setting Mari-Cha III. The evening before the race we met onboard the magnificent 260-foot Talitha, owned by Mark Getty and acting as the committee boat, where Mark laid down the rules, the course, and the handicaps. Just as well everyone was drunk, because the long-shot underdog Tim Hoare threatened to boycott the race after balking at the defending champion’s generous handicap. That is when the president of Pug’s, Nick Scott, deftly changed the subject and brought up club business.
The business was easy to deal with but extremely unpleasant. It was about a man’s appalling behavior toward HRH Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece, wife of a Pug member, at Arki Busson’s charity party the week before. Someone who shall remain nameless had the gall to put the man, art dealer Larry Gagosian, up for membership. All 17 of us blackballed him at once, which tied the record for blackballs held by Jeffrey Epstein, child molester and friend of Prince Andrew. What egregious act had Gagosian committed? While looking for his seat he had pushed the Greek princess aside and had failed to excuse himself. Princess Pavlos may look fragile, but she knows how to defend her territory. She called him a nouveau vulgarian who should learn manners to go along with his billions. Gagosian didn’t know what hit him. Back in the Big Bagel, billionaires such as Gagosian are allowed to push poorer people and women aside; in fact, it is a sine qua non of having new money.
Ego olere ergo sum. (I stink, therefore I am.)
Such could be the motto of the unpleasant and unwashed who these days routinely appear on a whim to riot in London’s streets. I suspect that this summer and autumn will see an upsurge in their antics. And all the while, supine and ineffectual, the police will be following from a safe distance as the rioters break glass, spray their paint, and terrify bemused and cowering onlookers.
They are all of a type. Like worms dropping from a dog scraping its rear on a carpet, violent thugs regularly break free from peaceful but left-wing-inspired demonstrations and embark on a frolic of their own. London has become a playground and free-fire zone for the freakish and the angry.
Now that the spoiled and subsidized public-sector workers are threatening strikes (thus sparing the nation several days of their slothful incompetence), the lunatic fringe will be gearing up. Locations will be chosen, banks and hotels and other evil centers of capitalism targeted, and the balaclavas donned. Here we go again. They bear a grudge and feel they must express it. Besides, rioting is fun. The greatest aspiration of misfits and inadequates is to spread fear and cause damage, to inflict grievous bodily harm on the society and system that feeds, houses, and indulges them. Give nonentities a cause or a boilersuit or a loose brick, and life becomes sweet for them and hell for the rest of us. National Socialism, anarchy, or holy war—recruits can always be found.
What so often marks out these protestors is their level of self-importance, their disregard for others, and their sheer aggression. They belong to a modern tribe that believes shouting the loudest makes them right. Even the peaceniks are insufferably belligerent. So it was with that odious and recently deceased “campaigner” Brian Haw, who took it upon himself to protest a variety of issues for a decade at Parliament Square. And, my, did the self-promotion go to his flannel-hat-covered head. The cause is largely irrelevant, as most of these professional megaphone-beatniks are actually working something out in their own wobbly psyches. Give them a platform and they’ll chain themselves to it. The rest of us have lives.
Regarding her old rival Joan Crawford, it was Bette Davis who allegedly pronounced:
You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good….Joan Crawford is dead. Good.
Now it is Brian Haw’s turn to pitch off this mortal coil. Good. Rest in peace, Brian. Some called him courageous, while I believed him to be deranged. I encountered him while being interviewed for radio on Parliament Square in a conversation he rudely and loudly gate-crashed as though he owned the site. He called me scum and claimed I had “the eyes of a murderer” (if only he knew), and I told him to fuck off. I felt a duty to maneuver this disturbed little Hitler in front of the microwave communications dish in order to sterilize him. Ah, happy memories and quite an insight into the fascistic and threatening mindset of the all-too-average protestor. Believe me, there is nothing warm and humane in those who espouse love and peace and the brotherhood of man.
Protestors rarely march for the common good. Observe those strident public-sector workers as they beat their drums and wave their placards and lay siege to London in the coming months. We are all supposed to be moved by their plight. Sod them, their generous pensions, their long holidays, their early retirements, their easy lives, and their constant whining. These are the favored and protected, the people who produce nothing, who add to the national debt, whose salaries and pensions and inflated bureaucracies have brought us near bankruptcy. Yet still they parade and complain that they might have to work to the same age as the rest of us. They blub that they will be forced to contribute to their own pensions. Never has there been a more vociferous special-interest group. And never in the field of human inertia has so little been done by so many for so few.
NEW YORK—I used to ride a bicycle in New York when it was still the Wild West out there.
We cyclists were so hated by cabdrivers that a lot of them—and I’m sorry to be racist about this, but it was always the Middle Eastern guys—would try to see how close they could get their front bumper to your rear wheel, so that if you were doing, say, 20 miles an hour, which is not uncommon if you’re hustling, you’d be in constant fear of your foot slipping off the pedal and causing a slight slowdown, which would get your bike flattened like a pita and your body churned into tahini paste.
The problem was, if you had to bail out of a situation like that—let’s say a sadistic Russian limo driver is pushing your ass up First Avenue and you’re waiting on that second wind to kick in and it’s not kicking in and the United Nations headquarters building is looming on the right and they have a security cordon on the left and they’ve got police vehicles and security vans and all kinds of spooky Men in Black bullstuff forming an obstacle course so that you’re afraid of, among other things, snipers—let’s say you’re in that situation and the Russki is not gonna let up, he’s not gonna slow down, you know he’s gonna run that gauntlet like Smokey and the Goddamn Siberian Bandit, then you have one choice and it’s not pretty.
What you’re gonna do is you’re gonna take the curb like Evel Knievel going over the Snake River Canyon—hopefully with more success than he had.
First, you need to execute as much of a complete 90-degree hard right turn as you’re capable of at that speed, which means you’re immediately gonna be in danger of going into one of those long slides underneath somebody’s car that ends up getting a million and a half views on YouTube. But if you do stay vertical and hit the curb straight-on, you’re gonna need to jerk your handlebars straight up so that you can avoid taking a header and making your spine a permanent part of the 12-foot UN security fence.
Then, when you’re actually on the sidewalk, you probably need to avoid hitting any babies in strollers or legless street performers, because at this point your principal liability is no longer physical but legal. Bring the bicycle to a complete stop as quickly as possible and ignore the half-dozen people who will now be yelling, “Get that bike off the sidewalk! You can’t ride on the sidewalk! What idiot rides his bike on the sidewalk?”
Pay no attention to these people who hate you almost as much as the Russian limo driver does. You’ve achieved your purpose. You’ve saved your life. Now your gaze should go immediately back to the limo, because you’re gonna watch him until he’s out of sight. What you’re hoping for is that he’ll get all gummed-up in traffic at the next red light. If this happens, you’re gonna make the most aggressive move a bicyclist ever makes. You’re gonna find a lane that goes straight to that red light. You’re gonna put your bicycle directly in front of his stopped car. You’re gonna rest your foot on his front bumper. And you’re gonna look into his eyes. You’re gonna do that for five seconds. I personally don’t like using the single-finger salute. Most bikers do use it, but I prefer the five-second stare—five seconds in which he wonders whether I’m going to block his car from proceeding. If you wanna add a little flair, you can get off the bike and check your tire. And if he has a livery license, stare at his license, too, as though you’re memorizing the number. I’m not gonna turn him in; I don’t have time to go to whatever bureaucratic hearing they have in whatever Brooklyn hellhole they have it in, but I figure I get four, five days of him wondering whether his phone is gonna ring.
Like I said, that’s how the situation was in the days of yore.
In 2007 Mayor Bloomberg appointed a new transportation commissioner named Janette Sadik-Khan, and she made it pretty clear pretty quickly that she was opposed to permanent spinal injury and brain-squashing on the city’s streets. This woman is a goddess. She has done more for the cyclist in four years on the job than anybody did in the previous one hundred. By sheer force of personality she’s managed to install 250 miles of dedicated bike lanes on the New York street grid.
Let me pause for a moment and repeat that:
In one of the world’s most notoriously bureaucratic cities, where it takes two years of hearings and community board meetings to get a new swing set on the park playground, Janette Sadik-Khan has authorized enough bicycles-only pavement to stretch from New York to Washington, DC, and beyond. By comparison, in the bike-crazy city of Austin, Texas, they have something called the Lance Armstrong Bikeway Project. It was authorized in 1999 and they still haven’t finished it, and when they do it finish it, it will be…six miles long.
So this woman is a rock star. If I knew where she lived—and I’m sure it’s somewhere bicycle-friendly, since she sometimes bikes to work at City Hall—I would organize the old bike-messenger gang, the guys who used to stack their bikes on the last subway car and talk about how much we hated the sneering Pakistani cabbies, and we would deliver her morning frappuccino in a spill-free thermos. I would volunteer to go scratch out the name of Robert Moses on every monument they’ve ever erected to him and pencil in Sadik-Khan’s name instead. I’m in awe of Janette Sadik-Khan, and one reason I know she’s doing the right thing is…
Watching the misanthropic comedy Bad Teacher, I was reminded of how my late father-in-law, who supplemented his careers as a tuba player and union boss with a day job in the Chicago public schools as the world’s most cynical substitute teacher, liked to tell this old joke:
“I can’t get a date, Doc,” the new patient griped to his psychiatrist. “See, I sweep up the circus elephants’ droppings and can never wash the stench off me.”
“Perhaps you should get a different job.”
“What, and quit show business?”
The second least glamorous job in showbiz is teaching schoolchildren. It’s standup comedy for the risk-averse. The government employs truant officers to make sure you have an audience, and they can’t fire you if you’re not funny.
For years, resentment of teachers has been mounting. Public-school teachers have health insurance and pensions, but they still can’t get American students to outscore Koreans. If only they’d work harder!
Idealistic young teachers willingly sweat for their students, but once they have kids of their own, their priorities change. Hence, the most common solution that societies have come up with to get their educators—such as Jesuits, nuns, and Eton schoolmasters—to care passionately about other people’s children has been celibacy. (Of course, celibate teachers sometimes wind up caring a little too passionately for their charges.)
The conventional wisdom in America is moving toward informally demanding celibacy of teachers. In 2007’s Freedom Writers, heroic Hilary Swank divorces Patrick Dempsey when he suggests that maybe she should come home from school before he falls asleep so they could someday have a baby.
Yet from the Hollywood perspective of screenwriters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (is that a real name?), teaching sounds like a gig for losers. Compared to the starlets they know, most teachers appear underpaid and undersexed.
Thus, they anticipated how shocking and titillating today’s audience would find Bad Teacher’s high concept: Cameron Diaz plays a lazy gold-digging teacher in stiletto heels.
Their intuition proved accurate: Despite a budget of only $19 million and angry reviews from offended critics, Bad Teacher enjoyed a $32-million opening weekend.
SEXTING A CHEF
I am a 58-year-old woman and I still feel young. I am married to a 65-year-old man who does not feel so young, meaning his sex drive has wilted like an old flower drooping out of a cracked vase. I recently made a friend—a male friend—chatting on the Internet about recipes and cooking (I love to cook). We ended up exchanging numbers to talk about recipes on the phone, and one thing led to another, which eventually led to sexting. Do you think that is cheating?
—Love Sexting in Singapore
Dear Love Sexting in Singapore,
Obviously you are not physically cheating on your husband. But ask yourself this: Would your husband be hurt and angry if he found out you were sexting with another man? Would he leave you? If the answers are yes, there you have it—you are cheating.
If you want a more in-depth analysis, it depends where you and your husband stand on “emotional cheating.” Can he look at other women, or do you consider that a betrayal? If you have an erotic dream about another man, do you tell him? Does watching porn make you or him upset or cause fights? Maybe you are a very open couple and go to swapping parties on a regular basis. It is hard for me to say if sexting is cheating without knowing more about your personal life. Do you fantasize about the messages as a warmup for your husband, or do you wait for a night when your husband isn’t home so you can go all-out with the sexting chef?
It depends on perspective and context. For example, if a father killed the man who raped his daughter, I would call it justice; others would call it murder. So even if cheating feels like justice, it might wind up with murder.
If we want to be technical and leave emotions alone, then sexting would not be considered full-blown cheating but rather a courting technique. So that would make you a married woman engaging in a provocative courtship with a man who is not your husband and who has a common interest. Very dangerous! So if you don’t want to become a bona fide, no-doubt-about-it cheater, be very careful! Start sexting with your husband and store the chef’s messages somewhere special where your husband will never find them.
SHAFTING A SIRE
My father was a real son-of-a-bitch, and I guess I really do believe in karma and that everything you do will come back and bite you in the ass, because now my father is alone, 73, and suffering from Alzheimer’s. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to send him to a dark, gloomy old folks’ home and forget he ever existed, but my wife, who had a great dad, is making me feel guilty about letting him die alone in one of those places. She wants me to take him in, feed him, give him a bed, and let him use our shower. I’d prefer to leave him unwashed, then hang him out to dry.
—Home Care? in Honolulu
Nostradamus, whose name means “nose of massive proportions” in Latin, is a famous prognosticator who, if he were alive today, would probably command speaking fees equivalent to what Jesus Christ or Muhammad’s agents could get them, if they were alive today, too. Out of 942 cryptic quatrains the dead French prophet set to parchment with a quill nearly 500 years ago, it’s astounding that at least four, and possibly as many as six, of his predictions sort of seem to have come at least somewhat partially true.
No one disputes the fact that Nostradamus correctly predicted George W. Bush would repeatedly use the term “Freedom fries” in place of “French fries” in the wake of 9/11; that a poor German child named Adolf Hitler would have only one testicle and no more; that Princess Diana would be more handsome than her husband but still rather butch; that FDR would ride around in a wheelchair and use a cigarette holder; that Gary Glitter would be exiled to both Vietnam and Cambodia; or that Joey Buttafuoco would be a car mechanic on Long Island.
It’s not as if any of his predictions were purposely vague or subject to broad interpretations. It’s all out there for anyone with a mind to see. So we decided to smear our eyeballs with his ancient droplets of prophetic pre-cum to see exactly what he predicted for this year. What we predict is that you will be astonished—just like we were.
NOSTRADAMUS PREDICTED THAT JOHN BOEHNER WOULD BE ELECTED SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE
The great shameless, audacious bawler,
He will be elected governor of the army:
The boldness of his contention,
The bridge broken, the city faint from fear.
—Century III, Quatrain 81
John Boehner will not only cry at the drop of a hat, this “audacious bawler” will burst into tears even if your hat stays snugly on your head! “Governor of the army” was Nostradamus’s sly way of saying “Speaker of the House,” because they didn’t really have parliaments per se in France back then, and his many fans may have been confused if he had just come out and said “Speaker of the House.” The “bridge” of civility Boehner was supposed to build between Republicans and Democrats has been “broken,” and the entire city of Washington, DC, quakes in “fear” that he will suddenly start crying again.
NOSTRADAMUS PREDICTED CONGRESSMAN ANTHONY WEINER’S DOWNFALL
Lightning in Burgundy will perform a portentous deed,
One which could never have been done by skill,
Sexton made lame by their senate
Will make the affair known to the enemies.
—Century II, Quatrain 76
Congressman Anthony Weiner allegedly used a BlackBerry to transmit his now-famous penis pics, and if you pronounce “BlackBerry” with a French accent, it sounds exactly like “Burgundy.” And it was certainly “lame” when Democrat “senate” member Nancy Pelosi made a big deal of his “Sexton” (which is what they called sexting back in the 1500s) and his “enemies” such as Andrew Breitbart made his “affair known.”
NOSTRADAMUS PREDICTED THAT RYAN DUNN OF JACKASS INFAMY WOULD DIE IN A CAR CRASH
The Gauls Ausonia will subjugate very little,
Po, Marne and Seine Parma will make drunk:
He who will prepare the great wall against them,
He will lose his life from the least at the wall.
—Century II, Quatrain 64
If you run the phrase “Gauls Ausonia” through Google Translate in French, then Vietnamese, Sanskrit, Chinese, back to Sanskrit, and then back into English, you get “Johnny Knoxville,” star of Jackass and the man who made Ryan Dunn famous for doing things such as inserting small toy cars into his rectum. Dunn recently got “drunk” and, at a speed estimated to be around 130MPH, he crashed his car over a roadside guardrail, “losing his life” and that of his passenger’s. A two-foot guardrail isn’t quite a “great wall,” but it suits our purposes just fine.
NOSTRADAMUS PREDICTED THE ARAB SPRING AS WELL AS (POSSIBLY) THE RAPE OF LARA LOGAN
New law to occupy the new land
Towards Syria, Judea and Palestine:
The great barbarian empire to decay,
Before the Moon completes its cycle.
—Century III, Quatrain 97
“The great barbarian empire” is, of course, all of Western Civilization including its quirky little sidekick Israel, which is why Nostradamus purposely squeezed “Judea” in between Syria and Palestine—EXACTLY how those nations are positioned geographically even to this day! “New laws” will be enacted after the dust settles in “new lands.” There’s a remote possibility that this quatrain’s final line did not portend the highly publicized rape of Western reporter Lara Logan in Cairo, but it seems almost inescapable for impartial observers to conclude that she was at a particularly fertile point in her “Moon…cycle,” and that this drove an already frenzied mob of Egyptians over the edge.
Centuries before William James coined the phrase, men have sought a “moral equivalent of war,” some human endeavor to satisfy the jingoistic lust of man, without the carnage of war.
For some, the modern Olympic Games have served the purpose, with the Cold War rivalry for medals between the United States and the Soviet Union, and, lately, between America and China.
But the Olympic Games, most of which involve individual athletes competing against each other, have never aroused the passions of soccer, where teams serve as surrogates for the tribe or nation.
Perhaps the most intense rivalry today is between Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona, teams representing Spain’s largest cities, with the former a stand-in for nationalism and centralism and “Barca” a surrogate for Catalan separatism. During the Civil War, when Catalonia was a bastion of loyalist resistance, the head of F.C. Barcelona was executed by troops loyal to Gen. Franco.
Early this month, Etgar Keret of The New York Times attended a match between Beitar Jerusalem, which is associated with right-wing Israeli politics, and Bnei Sakhnin, the only Arab-Jewish team in Israel’s first division.
Keret volunteered to a loud, visibly anxious Arab he met, “It’s only a game,” and got this blistering reply: “For you, maybe, because you’re a Jew. But for us, soccer is the only place we’re equal in this stinking country.
Throughout the game, Israeli and Arab fans shouted ethnic slurs and curses in the other’s language to be sure they were understood. As Keret writes, “The bad blood between the two teams has caused many of their matches to end in rock-throwing brawls.”
“Soccer is often more deeply felt than religion,” says Franklin Foer, author of “How Soccer Explains the World.” “I don’t see tribalism ever really disappearing. … People are almost hardwired to identify as groups. And … group identity always runs the risk of being chauvinistic.”
Which brings us to Saturday’s match in the fabled Rose Bowl, with 93,000 in attendance, between the United States and Mexico.
According to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, when the U.S. team took the field it was “smothered in boos. … Its goalkeeper was bathed in a chanted obscenity. Even its national anthem was filled with the blowing of air horns and bouncing of beach balls.”
How did U.S. coach Bob Bradley respond to the reception his team received in America’s largest county? “Obviously … the support that Mexico has on a night like this makes it a home game for them.”
“A home game” for Mexico—in Pasadena?
“It’s part of something we had to deal with,” said the coach.
Hitler is all over the news again. These past few months, you can’t throw a rock without it careening off the head of a public figure who put his/her foot in it by saying something about Der Führer—often something surprisingly complimentary, which only increases the Ick Factor for much of the general public.
Some of the more newsworthy examples:
For the heterosexual males in the audience, John Galliano is a famous fashion designer. He is currently being tried in France for an incident in which he drunkenly slurred “I love Hitler” to some random bar patrons for no discernible reason and went off on a subsequent tangent of racist and anti-Semitic insults. He appears to have had not one but two separate incidents of the same nature. The diminutive fashionista now faces a €22,500 fine for “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity.”
The actress was allegedly fired from her job on the set of the new Transformers movie after Steven Spielberg objected to her comparing director Michael Bay to—you guessed it—Hitler. I hate to make light of such a lapse in taste, but this would appear to suggest that Spielberg is the last person on Earth who hasn’t been notified that comparing bossy and dictatorial people to Hitler has been commonplace for the past, oh, five decades. (Why is it invariably Hitler? Why never, say, Nicolae Ceausescu? What’s Ceausescu—chopped liver?)
LARS VON TRIER
Von Trier had already made a name for himself not only as a director of difficult films but also as a wind-up merchant even before this year’s Cannes-troversy. Having previously been accused of fairly routine stuff such as misogyny and anti-Americanism, and perhaps sensing that these first two accusations weren’t nearly inflammatory enough to garner further media interest, he took a stab at praising Hitler during this year’s Cannes Film Festival. After a bizarre, rambling, and seemingly tongue-in-cheek monologue which culminated in the statement, “OK, I’m a Nazi,” he was banned by the festival and declared persona non grata. The festival organizers then issued a press statement that outdoes Von Trier’s original outburst for sheer incoherence:
The Festival de Cannes provides artists from around the world with an exceptional forum to present their works and defend freedom of expression and creation…[and] profoundly regrets that this forum has been used by Lars von Trier to express comments that are unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity that preside over the very existence of the Festival.
Got that? The Cannes International Film Festival defends freedom of expression and is deeply distressed to see that Von Trier has used the festival to express himself freely. Or as The Clash more succinctly put it:
You have the right to free speech/
As long as you aren’t dumb enough to actually try it.
So is the problem that there’s suddenly an inexplicable resurgence in Nazi chic rearing its swastika-tattooed head in the entertainment industry? Or is it that people who would ordinarily take a rather blasé attitude toward darker verbal provocations suddenly turn very serious when Hitler is the subject?
The answer may be somewhere in between. Don’t assume that I’m trying to defend Hitler, who caused so much devastation and misery. Von Trier’s comments were ill-considered and rather stupid. The only thing that might possibly be said in his half-hearted defense is that the director speaks English with all the ease and comfort of an amputee trying to use a prosthetic limb for the first time, so it’s possible that this was a case of black humor being lost in translation.
Hard to believe though it may be, another scandal involving A-list actors is rocking Hollywood. There are all the usual hallmarks of moral decay—big-name stars (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tobey Maguire); illicit activity (in this case high-stakes gambling rather than sex or drugs); a high-profile lawsuit; and tut-tutting from the professional tut-tutters.
Granted, this affair is tame by contemporary local standards, shaped as they have been by the antics of Charlie Sheen, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan. It is also a bit silly, since Maguire is being sued for having won from a sucker who allegedly embezzled to pay his gambling debt; the poor schlub might as well take the Devil to court for tempting him. The State of California rarely prosecutes this kind of gambling. After all, if the incompetent attorney general who is now governor did not feel like defending Proposition 8 in court, what chance could his successor have against the kind of legal muscle that participants in such games could afford? The worst thing for a politician is to have his or her inadequacies proved in a court of law. Then again, the fact that voters allowed Brown to rise from the dead indicates that we Californians do not require ability from our leadership.
Scandal has always surrounded the film community out here. As recounted in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon books and in films such as L.A. Confidential, beneath the surface tinsel has boiled and bubbled a cornucopia of sin and satisfaction. “Anything you desire” was the motto of the latter movie’s fictional Fleur-de-Lis call-girl service. Although I do not know any major stars (though a friend of mine did babysit Leonardo DiCaprio when that future high-stakes gambler was a tot), even I have encountered that world’s peripheries in my lifelong ramblings around the Big Nowhere.
Given the innumerable premature deaths and ruined careers that such goings-on have wrought (think Marilyn Monroe, Fatty Arbuckle, Brad Renfro, River Phoenix, or anyone else you like), one might well ask—why? Why would people who seemingly have it all try to risk it on, well, in the purse-lipped brigade’s argot, risky behavior?
First, access to money and power, and its attendant pressures, has always driven people in these directions. If Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, Hollywood is Washington for beautiful ones. But since the land’s highest lawmaking body does not reside here, the age of consent cannot be lowered to 16, as it is in DC, to suit the local elites’ tastes.
Second, unlike our rulers, our entertainers and their packagers and parasites cannot delude themselves into thinking that what they do is essential to the common good. One way to quiet the roar of internal self-doubt and guilt over high wages is to plunge into “good causes,” sane or otherwise. Another is to indulge oneself however one is bent—be it sex, booze, drugs, or even gambling.