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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Caesar and Trump

This article reminds me: I need to get something off my chest about the production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar which everyone is talking about -- the one in which Caesar is made up to look like Trump.

The whole idea is idiotic.

I don't say those words because this staging shows disrespect to the current occupant of the Oval Office. We all know that right-wingers embraced a History Channel miniseries about Jesus in which the devil just happened to look like Obama. That exercise in cheap propaganda was broadcast throughout the world. If the right-wing nutcases now take offense at a production confined to a single stage in New York, I say: Fuck 'em. Treat the evil fascist bastards as they have treated us. If they demand civilized comportment at all times, they should clean up their own acts first.

(Here's your first lesson in reciprocity: You want me to apologize for that "evil fascist bastards" remark? I'll be happy to do so -- the moment I am assured that no right-wing site will ever refer to "Libtards" or "DEMONcRATS." Don't expect to live in a world where you get to punch me but I never get to punch back.)

One reason I decry the Trump-as-Caesar staging has to do with my general distaste for productions in which subtext upstages the text and modern reinterpretation overwhelms the author's intent. Art lasts; contemporary concerns are fleeting. Don't give me a Caesar unless it's a toga party. I also like my Wagner with heldentenors in animal skins and Wotan in a horned helmet.

(You may want to check out my commentary on this excerpt from Parsifal. The replies were gratifying.)

Some of you may now be yearning to give me your rationalizations for absurd "modern" re-imaginings of the classics. Don't bother. I've heard it all before. Mindless repetition of the usual predictable post-modernist drivel isn't going to change my stance.

(Yes, I know that Orson Welles once staged a Caesar which he intended as a commentary on Mussolini. That, too, was a stupid idea.)

My main objection to staging a Trumpified Julius Caesar comes down to this: Trump and Caesar have almost nothing to do with each other. One could argue that we're dealing with two populists who demonstrate the ease with which democracy can devolve into autocracy, but that's the only point of similarity.

These two men could not be more different. 

After an early political conflict cost him his inheritance, Caesar worked his way up from a position of reduced means. Caesar was intelligent. Caesar was brave. Caesar spoke in complete sentences -- in fact, he was very eloquent. Caesar was a superb leader, respected even by his enemies. Caesar wrote his own books. Caesar did not avoid military service. When Caesar ran for Pontifex Maximus, he comfortably won the popular vote. When Caesar ran for Consul, he comfortably won the popular vote. Nobody ever accused Caesar of being the puppet of a foreign power. Caesar favored serious wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor, and nearly lost his life in pursuit of that goal. In the play, Caesar bequeaths much of his personal fortune to the Roman people -- something which Trump will never do.

Likening an oaf like Trump to Julius Caesar insults anyone who knows anything about history.

In the play, Caesar dies at the beginning of Act 3, roughly the half-way point of the work. Nothing that happens afterward has any parallel to our current situation.

Many would argue that Brutus is the true protagonist of the play. Who is our modern Brutus? Shakespeare portrays him as a tortured, noble soul who loves Caesar but loves the Republic even more. Is there anyone similar to Shakespeare's Brutus on our current political stage?

Who is our Anthony? Who is our Cassius? What modern confrontation could possibly function as a parallel to the battle of Philippi? 

Nothing about this theatrical enterprise makes sense. The metaphor completely falls apart -- hell, it isn't even a metaphor.
Comments:
Spelt Caesar rong in headline . . .
 
Typo. I kept telling myself not to do that, and I did it anyways. God, I hate myself.

Thanks. I've made the correction.
 
I still think "Clueless" was a delightful re-imagining of "Emma".
 

E.Pax, me, too!

Joseph, good post...it is an absurd and appalling non-parallel. And thanks for an idea....
 
True that Caesar wasn't accused of being the puppet of a foreign power, but he was of course accused of being a catamite to a foreign prince.
 
Caesar generally gets a bad rap from people who don't know much about Roman history. He was, first and foremost, a reformer (like his uncle Marius) - and entrenched interests always hate reformers. A minor nit, however:

Nobody ever accused Caesar of being the puppet of a foreign power.

In his early years, Caesar was frequently dogged by unsubstantiated accusations that he was overly attached to King Nicomedes IV of Bythinia and that he and Nicomedes were lovers while the young Caesar was on a diplomatic mission to the Bythinian court. In later life, his dalliance with Cleopatra led his opponents to assert that he had fallen under the spell of the "Serpent of the Nile" and had succumbed to a very un-Roman taste for "oriental luxury" as a result.
 
I'm not a Shakespeare scholar by any means but I've viewed many plays and think that the plays are timeless so I can usually always apply my own interpretation of today's events through Shakespeare's lens if applicable. Macbeth comes to mind.
 
Mr. Cannon,

The series you refer to, in which the Devil looks similar to President Barack Obama, was not aired or sponsored by HBO. It is a series called 'The Bible', which aired on The History Channel. HBO is an agitprop/propaganda outfit of the Democratic Party, it is totally servile and sycophantic about President Obama. All of the talking heads on HBO, whether that's John Oliver or Bill Maher, have a cultish attitude toward President Obama. No way in hell would they criticize President 44, let alone portray him as 'the anti-Christ'. Never mind the fact that there is no singular 'AntiChrist' in the Bible, but many AntiChrists, plural. The History Channel is a propaganda outfit for the American Far-Right. And I do mean far, far, far-right. Which is to say, 'so far from being right about anything'.

Also, I just want to say. President Trump is an idiot.
 
Mr. Cannon & Cannonfire readers,

Please check out this article Die Welt, one of Germany's largest newspapers.

Trump's Red Line
"President Donald Trump ignored important intelligence reports when he decided to attack Syria after he saw pictures of dying children. Seymour M. Hersh investigated the case of the alleged Sarin gas attack."
https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article165905578/Trump-s-Red-Line.html

Something in this article which really stood out to me:
"Everyone close to him [President Donald Trump] knows his proclivity for acting precipitously when he does not know the facts," the [intelligence] adviser said. "He doesn’t read anything and has no real historical knowledge. He wants verbal briefings and photographs. He’s a risk-taker. He can accept the consequences of a bad decision in the business world; he will just lose money. But in our world, lives will be lost and there will be long-term damage to our national security if he guesses wrong. He was told we did not have evidence of Syrian involvement and yet Trump says: 'Do it.”’

 
Joshua, I am ashamed. I knew full well that the History Channel showed that miniseries -- in fact, I caught a snatch of that thing when it was first broadcast. That particular miniseries marked the moment when the History Channel ceased to be the "default" teevee channel in this household. (I didn't make that decision -- everyone here just made the decision silently all at once.)

Too bad. The History Channel used to be quite good. I liked it better when it showed so many WWII documentaries that some nicknamed it the Hitler Channel.

Apologies; I've made the change in my post. TWO thoughtless mistakes in one story! God, I really do hate myself.

I just called up the piece in Die Welt but have not yet read it.
 
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