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Art imitating Life in the Political world Then and Now

August 26, 2010

Art imitating Life in the Political world Then and Now  

The latest Australian federal election has brought a number of surprises and some of them were literary.

For example during the course of the election campaign Prime Minister  Julia Gillard featured at the launching of Blache d Alpuget’s new hagiography of her clever husband and former PM Bob Hawke. They both dutifully attended  Julia’s campiagn launch and Bob gave a rousing speech to introduce her.

Not to be outdone, on the last week of the campaign the former PM deposed by former Deputy PM  and now new  PM Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, similarly helped launch a book, this one was a novel by his daughter with as plot about the deposing of a popular PM by his female PM. You wouldn’t read about it would you, as the old ASussie saying goes.

Yes sometimes life can truly mimic art as well as the reverse. In 1960 the then President elect JFK entertained the famous author of the James Bond spy novel series, Ian Fleming.

 Not only was the newly elected President a great fan (which gave sales to all the Bond novels a jet propelled boost) of James Bond and his secret service man author, he actively sought Fleming’s advice with regards to the charismatic renegade Fidel Castro. Fleming suggested, perhaps half jokingly, that the CIA douse Castro with a toxin that would make him lose his beard, as well as other knavish tricks such as spreading quasi-religious rumours that a saviour would come to free the Cubans and oust the dictator. It is well documented that some of these bizarre ideas and theories were put into action with ultimately comic results, unless of course one factors in the later assassination of JFK by Russian defector and Castro sympathiser Lee Harvey Oswald, conspiracy theories nonwithstanding.

Washington Post editor at the time, and close Kennedy confidant  Ben Bradlee, remarked on the President’s enthusiasm for the first Bond films.
“He liked the cool and the sex…”,  he said in reference to the world’s most powerful man’s take on the hugely topical 1962 movie “Dr No”, which opened the same weeks as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold war was real and things seemed a mite safer with such an alpha male (while teaching in the UK in the early 2000’s I found many secondary students saw James Bond in a heroic light unconnected to the past) on our side. The franchise is going strong of course to this day due to this seeming ability to deal with any and all challenges at an individual level; and looking good while you’re at it.

Similarly the second Bond film, “From Russia with Love” could well have been the last film ever seen by Bond fan President Kennedy on the night of November 20, 1963 according to one of his close advisors. The title itself became blackly humorous two days later when he was cut down by a sniper’s bullets in Dallas. The prime suspect (later himself killed as all the world knows) had newly returned to Texas with a Russian wife, mother to two of their children, after defecting to the USSR under mysterious circumstances. Oswald really was from Russia with Love   if you look through the glass darkly and the turbulent, crisis ridden times  early in the rapidly changing decade of the sixties certainly lent itself to that kind of warped, mind bending conclusion. Why warped, why mind bending? I use these words to underline the text of the (pre) assassination book and film “The Manchurian Candidate”. In that narrative, read also by JFK and filmed with Frank Sinatra in the lead with the President’s active support (there might have been a bit of guilt there but that’s another story), a Korean War hero brain washed by the Reds returns to the US on a mission to kill the President. That film and the remake with Denzel Washington are as relevant today as it was before during and after the assassination of John F Kennedy. No need to go into Oliver stone’s JFK which is a compendium of conspiracy theories and a cultural artefact all its own.

     Meanwhile back in  November  22 1963 London, the first viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy of nuclear Armageddon   “Dr Strangelove…” saw the dawn of a new era and a new kind of cinema  better able to express the tenor of the post-modern era. The release of the film was delayed in respect to the slain president and even the name of Dallas (when Slim Pickens talks of R and R after the mission to bomb the Soviet Union)) was changed to Las Vegas in view of these sensitivities at the time.

The realism of the film came through because it was pitched as a black comedy and absurdist farce that really was in keeping with the insanity of the MAD or Mutually Assured Doctrine that guaranteed mutual nuclear annihilation. If the Cuban Cris had gone ballistic then 7000 magatons of explosives would have killed up to 350 million people according expert and wrtier Richard Rhodes.

 The crazy Generals in “Dr Strangelove..” , including General Jack Ripper played brilliantly by Sterling Hayden, speak casually of mega-deaths of, “30 to 40 million tops depending on the breaks”.  

Politically speaking these were shaky times for the British Isles as well. The Tory government of Macmillan had fallen the month before in October largely due to the spy and call girl Profumo scandal during the year. It turned out the soon to be martyred President Kennedy had been involved with women caught up in the     Profumo  scandal. A shell shocked Macmillan had been something of a father figure for the much younger Kennedy and naturally felt somewhat betrayed by this recklessness that had contributed to his own downfall. It was all kept quiet for quite a while but the movies caught up with it in the 80’s in the film “Scandal “with John Hurt.

I’m sure that Art shall continue to influence life and the opposite in ways we can only speculate or write novels about.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 26, 2010 4:58 pm

    Only black art could imitate real life!

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