My apologies for yet another lacuna in what should be a regular stream of blog posts. Sick again (and this blog now more resembles a series of House than a series of West Wing!) although only flu this time. Which seems to be going around, I caught it on twitter, apparently.
Any way, while suffering from “just the flu”, wrapped in blanket, huddled on the lounge, sneezing and coughing, I watched some DVDs. One, for about the fifth or sixth time in my life, was of that ultimate comfort food movie “Charade”. I originally saw it as a new movie, just out (a staggering 49 years ago. It was made fifty years ago, a fact, like so many fifty-year anniversaries including the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys, and my starting university, I find impossible to believe. Why it was only yesterday … But yesterday’s gone, back to the story). It starred of course, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and some lesser lights, a marvellous pairing. After a silly beginning (I mean, who is going to believe that the husband has really left Hepburn for another woman? Yeah, right) it turns into this terrific kind of murder-crime-mystery-game, where the murder and crime are just kinda cartoony and incidental. Both the hero and villain (yes, ok, Walter Matthau is in the movie too. And George Kennedy. And a young James Coburn) change identities, in opposite directions, as the movie progresses. Grant has 5 different identities, if I didn’t lose count, each one perfectly believable, and the transitions logically explained. Even the glittering prize, the stolen money, is hidden in a quite different identity (no, I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it). And the wonderful, insanely addictive theme (yes, Mancini of course), also suggests shape-shifting identity in the way that a piece by Bach does. So there you are, if you haven’t seen it, get hold of it, do. Oh, it has the odd clumsy moment that reminds you it was indeed made half a century (gulp) ago, but just drift along in the stream with it and you will be rewarded.
Apart from taking my mind off the viruses, identity changed since the last flu outbreak my immune system adjusted to by the inexorable force of evolution, seeing Charade again made me think of modern politics. Once upon a time, says Old Man Watermelon (just keeps rollin’ along), you knew where you were with politicians, what you saw was what you got. Think of the presidents from Roosevelt right up to and including Bush 1. Agree or disagree with them, allow for their secret activities (especially Nixon of course), but you knew what they were. Take Eisenhower’s mask off and underneath he was Eisenhower. Ditto the others. Same with British and Australian politicians up to about the same time.
But starting with Blair and Clinton we saw the new “Third Way” (Blair) or triangulation. Billed as seeking an intermediate path between left and right extremes, this approach led to even more identity changing than Cary Grant. Both Blair and Clinton tried to be all things to all people, shifting identity depending on the audience, and consequently were nothing to anybody. GW Bush was both a compassionate conservative and a gung ho warrior, Obama was an agent of progressive change and a saviour of the big banks (as are they all, secretly, hiding that identity). In Australia first Rudd and then Gillard followed the same recipe. In Britain Cameron and Clegg seemed to morph into each other, separated only by tie colour, as they sold the most conservative government since Thatcher as being soft and caring. In the current US election year Romney went all the way to the Tea Party and beyond in portraying himself as the worst right wing bastard in the Republican Party (against stiff competition) while pretending he had never been a relatively progressive governor of Massachusetts, and now, having won the nomination, is sliding back again. Obama, one day launching predator drones to kill mostly innocent poor people, the next is talking health care to save other innocent poor people. In Russia, spared by the Russian equivalent of Diebold from having to do much to win elections, Putin and Medvedev don’t bother changing personalities, but actually change personnel as they waltz through the decades taking it in turns at top and second top jobs. At least this is an honest version of what happens elsewhere.
The US, Russia, UK and Australia, just like China and North Korea are not going to change much as President Tweedledums and Prime Minister Tweedledees revolve through the top jobs. But in Europe at least the chance of change, the chance of choice, seems to be at least partly active in the Mediterranean fringe of democracy. The removal of Berlusconi and Sarkozy from their respective countries seems to have had some impact in changing the identities of those countries. Greece recently had an opportunity to make a change but squibbed at the last minute and finished back at the place where they had begun. The danger for all those countries in financial trouble is that they have become places in which there is government of the banks, by the banks and for the banks. In fact it would be easier if the “financial markets” simply allocated banker technocrat leaders to each country. I guess they have been doing that for years anyway.
Hiding it under multiple disguises like the characters in Charade. Hiding the money trail as cleverly as the ex-husband hid the loot. But, in the end the bankers are revealed as the ones in charge in every country these days.
And democracy is the charade.