Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Democracy, Death and the Maiden

As you know, Minnesota caucuses take place on Tuesday, February 5, 2008, at 7 p.m.

Since I've never participated before, I needed help even finding where mine will be held. If you need help, too,
click here:
Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party
or Minnesota Republican Party.
(Independents and Greens, etc., have their own caucuses too.)

I'm joining in for my first time, and I've been of two minds about it.
Some people tell me caucuses are fun, and some tell me they are the most dreadfully boring things ever. I expect I will be in the latter category.

Any holdout temptation to stay home crumbled today when I heard that MdT's father told him that what this country needs is a "benign dictator."
"This country" being our own--and his--USA.

I hear the same sort of blithe, toss-off, "What this country needs..." prescriptions for violence from romantics on the left too.
We talk this way, I suspect, because we don't know what dictatorship or revolution is really like.

I recommend Death and the Maiden (1994) as a primer for how dictators "suppress the opposition" (such a benign term) and what this does to individuals.

I'd first heard about this film by director Roman Polanski when I researched Chile. It's based on a play by Chilean Ariel Dorfman, who went into hiding after the military ousted President Salvador Allende on 9/11 (1973).

Sigourney Weaver plays a woman in Chile who was tortured under the "benign" dictator Pinochet, head of the army.

(Some people said he wasn't all that bad when he died last year. How bad do you have to be before you're not in the "benign" category anymore?)

Fifteen years later, after the fall of the dictatorship, a man (Ben Kingsley) gives this woman's husband a ride home when his car breaks down.
When he comes in for a drink, the woman recognizes him, by his voice and his smell, as the doctor who tortured her while she was blindfolded, setting the stage for a psychological and political ..."meditation" is too benign a term.

[Note: there aren't any graphic visual flashbacks.]

I don't know about you, but when I hear about dreadful things happening to hundreds or thousands, much less millions, of people, my mind and emotions kind of blank out at the enormity.
A movie like this, about two people caught up, face to face, in political violence, makes what's at stake really real to me.
And one of it's themes is how civilized people give in to the thrill of violence--how quickly we will sign up for violent "solutions."

There're plenty worse things than being bored by democratic processes.

P.S. "Death and the Maiden" is part of Franz Schubert's String Quartet in D minor, which the doctor played while he tormented the charges he was supposed to be helping.

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