|Zelig and Fascism|
- Sunday, May 6 2012, 19:35:29 (UTC)|
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One of my favorite films, among many, of Woody Allen's is Zelig (1983) in which Allen plays Leonard Zelig "a nondescript enigma who, out of his desire to fit in and be liked, takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him. The film, presented as a documentary, recounts Zelig's intense period of celebrity in the 1920s and includes analysis from present day intellectuals....Set in the 1920s and 1930s, the film focuses on Leonard Zelig, a nondescript man who has the ability to transform his appearance to that of the people who surround him. He is first observed at a party by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who notes that Zelig related to the affluent guests in a thick, refined accent and shared their republican sympathies, but while in the kitchen with the servants adopted a ruder tone and seemed to be more of a democract. He soon gains international fame as a "human chameleon".
When asked by a critic what Zelig was about, Woody simply said: Fascism.
Which takes me back to a book written by the man who introduced me to the works of Marx (not the brothers) but the sociologist, revolutionary Karl Marx. The book (which I allowed a beautiful hippie girl to borrow, who porbably never read it but instead rolled joints on it) is Marx's "Concept of Man" by Erich Fromm -- I'll never see that book again...or the girl, but the full body massage was well worth it...I think... ahh, who cares, I'll find it in a second hand bookd store just as I did twice before).
Now, I wish to add this from Fromm's "Escape From Freedom", (man's fear of his free will to be responsible for his actions, and therefore, his submission to a leader to give him, make him, think and do, follow orders, since he/she is in a constant state of "Escape From Freedom" (I highly recommend this book).
Psychology of Nazism
The success of the Nazi's in gaining adherents and eventual control of a powerful and intellectually stimulating nation is one of the remarkable twists of history. Nazism replaced the Weimar Republic, one of the most democratic and freedom inspiring governments of the western world. The virulent nationalism, militaristic spirit and call to patriotism of the Nazi regime serve as a reminder that totalitarian philosophies can gain control of a democratic nation. "It seems that nothing is more difficult for the average man to bear than the feeling of not being identified with a larger group. However much a German citizen may be opposed to the principles of Nazism, if he has to choose between being alone and feeling that he belongs to Germany, most persons will choose the latter."
Freedom and Democracy
American democracy has freed its citizens from many external restraints; sexual, economic, social. religious, etc. Democracy has given them opportunities to expand their lives and express themselves in many areas. Has it given the citizens true individualism or only an illusion of individuality?
"We are proud that we are not subject to any external authority, that we are free to express our thoughts and feelings, and we take it for granted that this freedom almost automatically guarantees our individuality. The right to express our thoughts , however, means something only if we are able to have thoughts of our own; freedom from external authority is a lasting gain only if the inner psychological conditions are such that we are able to establish our own individuality."
Original thinking, spontaneity, emotional expression, and deep feelings are often subdued in American life and replaced by making 'truth' relative, "a matter of taste." Thoughts and feelings are internalized, placed within from the outside, leading to the necessity to conform and to an eventual loss of identity.
"By conforming with the expectations of others, by not being different, these doubts about one's own identity are silenced and a certain security is gained. However, the price is high. Giving up spontaneity and individuality thwarts life...positive freedom consists in the spontaneous activity of the total, integrated personality."
Escape from Freedom
Times of emergency (which is most times) demands careful thought, natural expression and freedom to think and act. Yet, at these moments, freedom becomes limited. A tendency to autocratic control of expression, followed by an almost sadistic need to inflict damage upon others and a masochistic urge to allow damage to be inflicted on the self, often occur. Destructiveness of home life and foreign populations by military adventures are easily accepted by a public that automatically conforms.
Fearful of being isolated from the larger mass of citizens, from losing attachment to the nation, and of being accused of not fulfilling the patriotic duty, many escape from freedom, surrendering their power and self fulfillment to prevent aloneness. They allow erroneous policies to endanger their lives and the lives of their fellow citizens. Their involvement in victory is often a disguised re-adjustment of previously damaging failures.
Those who retain their convictions and respond with spontaneous certainty retain their self. Those who strive for a more careful examination and positive criticism of policies, and place thoughtful expression before misguided patriotism, diminish identification with the popular image, but exhibit a freedom 'to' and maintain a unique identity.
"The victory over all kinds of authoritarian systems will be possible only if democracy does not retreat but takes the offensive and proceeds to realize what has been its aim in the minds of those who fought for freedom throughout the centuries. It will triumph over the forces of nihilism only if it can imbue people with a faith that is the strongest the human mind is capable of, the faith in life and in truth, and in freedom as the active and spontaneous realization of the individual self."
Note: All sentences in quotes and bold are from Escape From Freedom by Erich Fromm, first published by Holt, Rineheart and Winston, New York, 1941.
(Are we there yet? Most of us are... and those of us who question and analyze the whys? and hows? are labeled communists, Jews, strange, terrorists, fags, and the list goes on... hope you read the book and watch the film, Zelig by the only prolific filmmaker around today and ever!)
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