Tag: #harveyweinstein

I, Claudius

Decadent Rome.  Decadent America?

I don’t really remember how I, Claudius got on my Netflix radar.  I think it was my sister who suggested it.  But in any event, it took months, even years, for it to work its way to the top of my queue.  But I’m glad-I think-that it eventually did.

1976 BBC TV series, the show depicts the early days of the Roman Empire.  From the Pax Romana of Augustus, to Tiberius, and then to Caligula the Empire sank ever further into corruption, depravity, luxury and ruthless violence.  There’s a brief respite when Claudius, who escaped assassination only by playing the part of a harmless idiot, assumes the throne.  But at the death of Claudius (probably at the hands of his wife Agrippina), the loony excesses of Nero lead the Empire over the cliff to ruin.  And so, with a whimper, ends the line of emperors that began with the mighty Augustus.

Allowing for dramatic license, the show actually seems pretty accurate.  Moreover, the show was a huge commercial success and was voted by others in the British film industry as the 12th among the 100 best TV programs of all time.  

Fine.  But what’s ancient Rome got to do with us?

Good question.  But, unfortunately, I fear that the excesses of the Roman actually have quite a lot to say to the America of our day.

Start with something simple: the relative burdens of “empire.”  Ours, with its globe girdling military presence, dwarfs anything Rome ever ruled.  The Pentagon “estimates” that we have 5,600 bases around the world.  Which, when you’re fighting perpetual wars, isn’t all that surprising.

And the sheer cost of our military?  The U.S. spends more on arms than the next six countries combined.  And four of those six could be considered allies.  Keeping the Empire’s barbarian hordes at bay eventually bankrupted Rome.  What makes us think we’re any different?

As depicted in I, Claudius, the Legion’s elite Praetorian Guard routinely interfered with politics, making and unmaking Emperors and even assassinating some, such as Caligula.  Now, under Trump and for years before him, key cabinet posts are filled by generals and admirals.  Are we to the point of having our own version of Rome’s lawless and cosseted Praetorian Guard?  Perhaps not yet.  But who can make a persuasive case that is not the direction in which we’re trending?

And then there’s Harvey Weinstein

weinstein sketch

By today’s standards, I, Claudius is pretty tame sexually.  But what it lacks in today’s explicit, pornographic images, it makes up for with suggestion and imagination.

For example, there’s the scene where Caligula (who’s declared himself the incarnation of the god Jupiter), suspends his nude, very pregnant wife by golden handcuffs.  (She‘s also his sister. And, as is only fitting for a god’s consort, is a goddess herself.) As her nervous titters morph into horrified awareness, he proceeds to disembowel her because the unborn infant “might become a threat to my rule.”  Which, judging by the standards of the rest of this despicable bunch, is a reasonable prophesy.  

At the outset, we only see the woman’s back.  And, fortunately, the relatively prudish 1970’s era camera diverts its eye even further at the end of the scene so that we only hear the woman’s hideous screams from the other side of a closed door as she’s butchered.

But no such luck with the low life Harvey Weinstein and his vile film, Pulp Fiction.  Harvey and the film’s director, Quentin Tarantino, hold nothing back: gore, graphic sex of all varieties, drug fueled orgies, you name it. (I couldn’t bear to watch this stinker through to the end.) Sure, I know most critics fawned over it.  But so what?  The cowering sycophants around Nero and Caligula did the same for their “gods.”

But what’s really troubling about Pulp Fiction isn’t so much the film itself, but what it’s enthusiastic reception has to say about our larger culture.  What can you say for a nation that celebrates all the varieties of perversion and violence that were on display in this movie?  Probably the same thing you’d say about a decedent Roman empire that did very much the same thing.

Is it too late for us to draw back from this yawning brink?  I’d say no; it’s never too late.  But I’d say that this is equally true:  those who fail to learn from history, are condemned to repeat it.

In other words, I, Claudius is a show all concerned Americans should watch.  Carefully.  And learn from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Know How This Movie Ends

weinstein sketch

And It’s As Ugly As Harvey Weinstein

The road must be my muse.  At least, my recent, solo trip from Denver to Spokane to visit my daughter and her family gave me plenty of time to think.

Several days into the trip, I drove by a lonely place on I-84 between Boise and Pendleton called Farewell Bend.  It’s the spot where the pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail left the dependable water of the Snake River before turning west and heading into the arid, rugged country of eastern Oregon so they could skirt the even more treacherous terrain along the Snake.

At Farewell Bend, the hilly county on the Oregon side of the river looked like a tablecloth that’s just come out of the drier: all folds and gullies covered by sere, end of summer grass.

Holiness or Hypocrisy?

Decades ago, an uncle of mine, Bob Lee, with his wife, Anne and their six kids, lived in a tiny ranch house tucked away in one of those gullies.  During the school year, Bob was a teacher and a coach in nearby Ontario, Oregon.  In the summer, he irrigated alfalfa in one of the swales that empties into the Snake there.  Year ‘round, he raised cattle.

When I was a kid, my family made annual summer pilgrimages to Idaho to visit our many relations there.  One year, my mom threw my brother and me in the car and we drove the extra 60 or so miles from Boise to visit her brother and his family at the ranch.

Our family has deep roots in the Nazarene church. At one point, “holiness” was church dogma: no smoking, drinking, dancing or movies.  My dad’s father, before he died of TB as a young man, was a professor at Nampa Nazarene University just west of Boise.  My parents met and got their degrees there. My mom’s brother, Byron, was also a graduate before he became a Nazarene Army chaplain; he was killed by “friendly” fire in the Korean War.  The athletic complex at the school is named after him.

Bob and his family were still staunchly, old school Nazarenes when I was there that summer.  Several of his kids and grandkids have remained Nazarenes to this day (the “holiness” rules, however, have been relaxed in recent years).  Many have graduated from the University, worked at the school, and have pastored Nazarene churches.

On that visit, my mom dropped me off so I could see what life was like on the ranch for a few days before she came back to pick me up.  I think the deal was that if I liked it, I could come back for a longer visit and help Bob buck hay bales and move irrigation pipes.  I didn’t do it-something I regret.

Perhaps in reaction to his mother’s cast iron morality, my dad went badly off the “holiness” rails after his father died.  He took us to the much more freewheeling Presbyterian church when us kids were growing up.  He smoked like a chimney, enjoyed two martini lunches, and had nothing against the movies.  He didn’t dance only because he didn’t enjoy it.  But I certainly never saw him indulge any of these habits in the presence of his mom.

And then he left organized religion altogether; he prided himself on being agnostic.

So, as my dad’s son and a “sophisticated” adolescent from the “big city” of Denver, the holiness that I saw up close in the front room of Bob’s little house struck me, at best, as quaint.  And, even more, silly.

They had a TV, but it was pretty much off limits-even in TV’s “golden age” with shows like “I Love Lucy” and “Leave It to Beaver.” Shows that now seem so improbably innocent.  But that didn’t make much difference anyway-cascading snow was about all you could get that far out in the country from the foil enhanced rabbit ears that sat atop the TV.

One of the older girls had, somehow, managed to get her hands on a Beach Boys record that she put on the record player. I stood up, said, “Let’s dance!” and began gyrating my hips and arms in an awkward imitation of the “Twist.”  My cousins tittered-and stayed well away from the dance floor.  I wonder where Bob and Anne were when I was carrying on like this?

It’s easy to make fun of the likes Bob and Anne and the Nazarenes.  What hicks.  What boobs.  What rubes.  What hypocrites.

But who was closer to being on the right track?  The Nazarenes and my cousins with their holiness rules?  Or me with the Beach Boys and the Twist in my uncle’s front room?  Or my dad with his cigarettes and Scotch behind his mother’s back?

In his short poem, The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost ponders the choices we make and how, at the beginning, there doesn’t seem to be much to choose between them.  But, over time, and because “way leads on to way,” the roads we travel lead to dramatically different destinations.

The Road to Weinstein

Now, “way leads on to way” has lead this country and its people to the hideous likeness of a Harvey Weinstein.  What started with “I Love Lucy” has, way on to way, led us to the appalling pornography of some of the films that Weinstein funded and promoted, including the violent, sleazy, but critically acclaimed “Pulp Fiction.” (Confession: somehow made aware of the buzz around this film, I watched it on NetFlix until the drugs, violence, sex and general anomie made me turn it off about halfway through.)

And now it comes out in a New Yorker article that Weinstein hired thugs, formerly of the Mossad, Israel’s security service, to blackmail his accusers to prevent them from coming forward to expose his serial sexual predations.

In his famous novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde tells the story of the handsome Gray who strikes a Faustian bargain that allows him to pursue his life of dissipation while, apparently, neither growing older or having his life of corruption manifest itself in his appearance.  He does so by way of a magic portrait of himself hidden in his attic that reflects what is really happening: year by year, the picture grows increasingly decrepit and hideous.

It is plain that Harvey Weinstein, despite all his money, power and Botox, doesn’t conceal a similar magical portrait in his attic.  Now exposed for what he truly is, his face betrays all the ravages of a life poorly lived.

Of course, Weinstein is now also an easy target; once the dam burst, everyone is piling on.  Which isn’t a bad thing.  I would be perfectly content to see him behind bars, assuming he gets a fair trial-which is probably a stretch, given his enormous power and ability to tilt the scales of justice in his favor.

But Weinstein is almost besides the point.  He is only one of the numerous, aggressively malignant tumors that have metastasized into a body politic besotted with Hollywood culture.

I wonder what the picture in our national attic looks like?  Sure, we may look good (sort of) on the outside.  But how many of us would be appalled if we came face to face with that portrait of ourselves?  Or, even more scary, show it to the world?

Am I suggesting that we, as a nation, go back to that remote ranch house on the Snake River with its holiness rules?  That might not be an altogether a bad idea.  But, way leads on to way, that fork in the road is a nearly infinite distance behind us.

But failing that, what do we do?  A good place to start would be to take a long look at our own personal attic portrait.  And, feature by feature, and as God gives us the strength, begin by giving ourselves a spiritual facelift.