October 12, 2014

Jean-Claude Duvalier

Jean-Claude Duvalier


It was one thing to have a good idea, however, and another to obtain a commission from a television channel. At that time I hadn”€™t owned a television for more than twenty years (now it is more than forty), and I knew nothing of television’s methods. What I experienced gave me a fixed and no doubt irrational aversion to people who work in television channels.  

I went by appointment to the commissioner for one such channel. She was a young woman with, I suspect, the power to say no but not to say yes. I was with the two owners of the production company, who struck me as very decent sorts desirous to make good, intelligent, nontrivial programs. She treated them with a disdain that I found utterly repugnant. When they entered her room, she was on a swivel chair pointed away from them. Though they had come by appointment and she knew that they were there, she did not turn round until one of them cleared his throat very loudly. 

“€œWho are you?”€ she asked rudely, on eventually turning to face them. 

What was so repellent about this was that these two men were utterly powerless and had to tolerate her behavior if they wanted to obtain a commission, and she knew it. They told me afterward that such behavior was standard for the industry, indeed they had to put up with it almost daily. Though the young woman must have known about their proposal”€”they had sent it to her, after all, which is why she had given them an appointment”€”she made them go through it again as if it were entirely new to her and they were naughty schoolboys. Then, Solomon-like, she pronounced. 

“€œWhat worries me,”€ she said, “€œis that you will give a platform to the dictators to justify themselves.”€ 

I thought it preposterous that such a patently ambitious but probably frustrated woman should be worried by so small a thing as an ethical scruple. I saw red.

“€œMadam,”€ I said, “€œI have every respect for the stupidity of the British public, but even the British public doesn”€™t have to be told that eating children is wrong.”€ And I stormed out. 

Actually, this wasn”€™t the first time something like this had happened to me, or that I had reacted thus. Once, just before the implosion of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, I put forward a proposal to a publishing company to visit countries such as Albania, North Korea, and São Tomé and Príncipe, and to write about my visits. 

The commissioning editor, a very superior woman, said to me:

“€œI don”€™t see what the theme of your book would be.”€ 

“€œMadam,”€ I replied, “€œif you don”€™t see it, then nothing that I can say will be able to explain it to you.”€ And on that occasion too I stormed out. 

Dictatorship, or the urge toward it, is not confined to heads of government, indeed it probably lies lurking in all or most of us; nor is the worst stupidity the most obvious stupidity. If anything, the stupidity of the bright and well-educated is the worst, because the most self-confident. As usual, Shakespeare said all that needs to be said:

But man, proud man,
“€¨Dressed in a little brief authority,”€¨
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,”€¨
His glassy essence, like an angry ape
“€¨Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven”€¨
As makes the angels weep.

The world is full of intelligent little Jean-Claude Duvaliers, and Jean-Claudisme reigns supreme. 


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