Friday, August 22, 2008Have you ever spoken to someone who lived through a fascist regime? If and when you do, you might be surprised at what you hear, especially when it comes to the relatively benign remembrances of daily life in places like Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal. Videla’s Argentina, Vargas’s Brazil or Bordaberry’s Uruguay.
Most Americans who’ve lived abroad have, at one time or another, had the experience of talking with a foreign friend who, though never having lived in the US, is pretty well convinced that they understand the cardinal elements of our culture. Why? Because for years, that person has consumed a non-stop diet of Hollywood movies and programs. When, after fully acknowledging cinema’s great value as a tool of cultural knowledge, you try and help them become aware of the many social realities this medium cannot or, as currently constituted, will not convey, they often become annoyed or indifferent. They have their story and they are going to stick with it.
It seems to me that our culture’s relationship to fascism has much in common with this. Over the last sixty years, Hollywood has given us constant stream of images about life under authoritarian regimes. As a result, most Americans are generally pretty confident of their ability to not only recognize the basic contours of this socio-political phenomenon, but also “do the right thing” should the authorities begin pursuing their neighbors for no good reason. Of course, this presumes that fascism almost always looks the way Hollywood, with its intense Germanic fixations and penchant for clean morally unambiguous story lines, tells us it does, you know, with armed checkpoints, draconian curfews, dimly-lit streets, grey skies and a complete absence of joy.