I have yet to read Simon Sebag Montefiore’s acclaimed Young Stalin. Now I might not have to. According to the Guardian, Montefiore has signed a contract with Miramax, producer Alison Owen of Elizabeth fame, and screenwriter John Hodge of Trainspotting to do a celluloid version of the book. Not a bad follow-up to receiving the Costa Book Award for Best Biography of 2007.
The real question is who should play the young Stalin? If it was up to Montefiore, Koba’s salad days in the revolutionary underground would be played by none other that Johnny Depp. “If it’s not done in Georgian, Johnny Depp would be perfect for the lead role,” he told reporters.
Given the supposed attention Montefiore gives to Koba’s many love affairs, Depp sounds like a perfect choice to play the Georgian Don Juan turned Communist dictator.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Though the following has little do with Russia, (though one might think of it in terms of the Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy forced down historians’ throats in the Soviet period), it concerns my profession and thus my livelihood. The state of Florida has passed and Jeb Bush has signed a bill banning “revisionist” history from Florida public schools. New York University professor Jonathan Zimmerman takes the bill to task in a column in the LA Times. Essentially, the bill prevents the teaching of “revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth.” American history is not to be taught as “constructed,” but based on historical “facts.” Forget that these nimrods in the Florida Legislature haven’t a clue about what they are talking about. I don’t think passing intellectual judgments on philosophy and complicated historical methodologies should be left to legislators. But references to such charged terms like “postmodernism” and French post-structuralism are enough to incite fear in those who are trying to protect the sanctity of American history. By sanctity, I mean a history that not only tells the story of the powerful in historical terms (usually a history where white, wealthy males are the primary historical agents), but more importantly reproduces their hegemony in the present. The rich and powerful’s right to rule is thus naturalized in history. The only role for history is, as Althusser suggested, to “reproduce the means of ideological reproduction.”
History in Florida public schools is not taught so students can challenge how there are many pasts, and a multiplicity of understandings of them. They are taught that there is a singular historical narrative for America. This of course is the worst aspect of “revisionism” in that it’s state sponsored. In addition, as Zimmerman cogently points out the bill is based on a misconception about the history of the historical profession:
“Ironically, the Florida law is itself revisionist history. Once upon a time, it theorizes, history — especially about the founding of the country — was based on facts. But sometime during the 1960s, all that changed. American historians supposedly started embracing newfangled theories of moral relativism and French postmodernism, abandoning their traditional quest for facts, truth and certainty.
The result was a flurry of new interpretations, casting doubt on the entire past as we had previously understood it. Because one theory was as good as another, then nothing could be true or false. God, nation, family and school: It was all up for grabs.
There’s just one problem with this history-of-our-history: It’s wrong.
Hardly a brainchild of the flower-power ’60s, the concept of historical interpretation has been at the heart of our profession from the 1920s onward. Before that time, to be sure, some historians believed that they could render a purely factual and objective account of the past. But most of them had given up on what historian Charles Beard called the “noble dream” by the interwar period, when scholars came to realize that the very selection of facts was an act of interpretation.
That’s why Cornell’s Carl Becker chose the title “Everyman His Own Historian” for his 1931 address to the American Historical Assn., probably the most famous short piece of writing in our profession. In it, Becker explained why “Everyman” — that is, the average layperson — inevitably interpreted the facts of his or her own life, remembering certain elements and forgetting (or distorting) others.”
As one UCLA historian said to me when I told him about the law, “Isn’t revising history our job!?” Indeed. I wonder if American historians will have to one day perform the American equivalent to Soviet historians’ “Lenin sandwich” to get around the censors. For those who don’t know what the “Lenin sandwich” was, it was when Soviet historians in the 1960s and 1970s would begin and end their works with a quote from Lenin to evade censors and basically write decent histories in-between.
Such is the present strength of anti-intellectualism in American political culture. To think I thought all these tired debates about “revisionism”, “postmodernism,” “relativism,” and historical “facts” were sorted out in the 1990s. God I hope that this isn’t a sign of their return, especially since the above terms have been so watered down and popularized that they hardly retain any of their former intellectual rigor.Post Views: 96
By Sean — 9 years ago
RIA Novosti is featuring a six-part series on the history of Russia’s religious sects, their leaders, and particularly, asks why “Russia has proved such fertile ground for the growth of new and bizarre beliefs.” It is estimated that there are 300-500 religious sects in Russia with a total flock of around a million people. They range from small occultist and pagan groups, to more controversial new “religions” like Scientology, foreign imports like Jehovah Witnesses, Baptists and other Protestant groups, homegrown Old Believers (and their offshoots), the small and rather strange Khysty, Skoptsy, Molokans, the Dukhobors, and the flourishing of new cults and the popular practice of magic and divination. And though Russian law ensures the freedom of conscience, some wonder if Russian Orthodoxy under the politically proactive stewardship of Patriarch Kirill is becoming Russia’s state religion. “One has to wonder,’ writes Brian Whitmore, “given these trends and Kirill’s rising influence, if Russia’s much-discussed diarchy of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin is on the way to becoming a de facto troika.”
Perhaps Kirill’s political flexing is a direct response to the fact that Russian religious sects are flourishing. Many argues that the religious vacuum produced by Soviet communism has resulted in spiritual revival often devoid of rhyme or reason. I often wonder if this “spiritual vacuum” is overstated, because frankly we don’t have the historical studies to prove it, and most works looking at the promotion of atheism show that it didn’t really take among most Russians. After all, Russia is hardly alone in the spiritual revival department. I suspect the increasing search to spirituality has more to do with general global collapse of secular ideologies’ ability to explain our present historical moment. Nevertheless, in her summation of Susan Richards’ observations on Russian religious faith in Lost and Found in Russia, the Guardian‘s Lesley Chamberlain writes:
What then of the actual spiritual life? Susan Richards . . . sees the Russians as emerging from a long period of addiction to unfreedom, with the result that many have lost their spiritual bearings in the relative personal freedom they now have. They don’t know what to believe in and reach for extremes. Travelling in the provinces during 1992-2008 she came across a remote settlement of Old Believers, a sect devoted to a 16th-century form of Orthodox worship, with new converts still joining. In another remote area she found a young couple building a new life for themselves based on self-sufficiency, sensitivity to nature and chastity. At the same time she met scientists keen to measure the ungraspable life-force and intelligent individuals captivated by fortune-tellers and UFOs.
Perhaps this quest for the spiritual in post-Soviet Russia is the reason why Russian religious sects have increasingly become the subject of historical study in the American academy. Sergei Zhuk’s Russia’s Lost Reformation: Peasants, Millennialism, and Radical Sects in Southern Russia and Ukraine, 1830-1917, examines the spread of radical Protestantism in their Russian countryside; Heather Coleman looks at Russian Baptists life and survival in late Tsarist and early Soviet Russia in Russian Baptists and Spiritual Revolution, 1905-1929; Laura Engelstein’s Castration and the Heavenly Kingdom: A Russian Folktale delves into the strange faith of the Skoptsy; for a broad scholarly examination of the occult, there’s Bernice Rosenthal’s edited collection The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture; and finally, for an explication of magic and divination see W. F. Ryan’s mammoth classic The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia.
Religion in Russia is a rich and complex subject. RIA Novosti‘s series proves to be a good primer into a present world neglected by most Russia watchers: Russia’s multi-confessional culture and the large number of religious sects it has spawned over the centuries. So far four of the six parts have been published:Post Views: 311
By Sean — 10 years ago
Is there a link between dictators’ brutality and facial hair? This is the question Rich Cohen explores in his article “Becoming Adolf” in this month’s Vanity Fair. And come to find out, the “Hitler mustache” as we now know and love it was not always the property of the world’s most renowned murderer. Nor was it some strange style Hitler dreamed up in a Bavarian beer hall. The toothbrush mustache as it was called at the end of the 19th century was a fad that swept Germany via the United States. And people wonder why anti-Americanism is so widespread.
There has been much specutlation as to why a young Hitler decided to don the toothbrush one day in 1919. Some speculate it was Charlie Chaplain’s fault, who, Cohen tells us, began wearing it in 1915 when he did his Mack Sennett comedies. Maybe the real imputeous was to emulate Hans Koeppen, a Prussian lieutenant who was a sort of a pop star on the European continent. Or it could be argued that Hitler could have thought that growing the hairy blot on his upper lit paid good nationalist homage to William Hohenzollern Jr, the son of the last Kasier who is shown with a Toothbrush in photos taken in 1918. Or Hitler’s labium might have had more instrumental purposes. As Cohen writes:
According to a recently re-discovered essay by Alexander Moritz Frey, who served with Hitler in the First World War, Hitler wore the mustache in the trenches. Because he had been ordered to. The old bushy mustache did not fit under his equipment. In other words, the mustache that defines Hitler was cut in a shape to fit a gas mask. Which is perfect. Because Hitler was the bastard son of the Great War, conceived in the trenches, born in defeat. He inhaled mustard gas and exhaled Zyklon B.
As we all know, the Toothbrush didn’t survive Hitler in name or as fashion accessory. The earliest reference Cohen could find of the Toothbrush becoming the Hitler mustache was from 1942. It was then that Norwegian premier and Nazi sympathizer, Vidkun Quisling, issued a decree forbidding stage actors from donning Hitler’s ‘stasche as a way to parody the dictator. “The purpose of this singular ordinance is,” as the NY Times reported at the time, “to halt ‘actor-pranks’ that have been ‘stopping the show’ by affecting a Hitler mustache.” It sounds like the NY Times quip caught on because after that the “Toothbrush” was lost to the historical ether.
Facial hair, as Cohen argues, is not without its political costs. Hitler’s big problem when his little mustache was concerned was not so much that it was a fashion don’t, it was because of Charlie Chaplin. Sharing the ‘stashe with the Little Tramp, Cohen says, had ramifications in the political realm. Ramifications which in hindsight might have bolstered the Allies appeasement of Hitler.
Ron Rosenbaum argues that the presence of Chaplin’s ‘stache on Hitler’s face encouraged Western leaders to underestimate the Führer. “Chaplin’s mustache became a lens through which to look at Hitler,” he writes. “A glass in which Hitler became merely Chaplinesque: a figure to be mocked more than feared, a comic villain whose pretensions would collapse of his own disproportionate weight like the Little Tramp collapsing on his cane. Someone to be ridiculed rather than resisted.”
That is not all in terms of the Toothbrush now Hitler mustache’s political impact. Since WWII facial hair has all but become verboten among America’s political elite. No American president has worn not so much as a five o’clock shadow since then. The last President to sport a hairy lip was Teddy Roosevelt. Looking at Teddy’s flush upper lip now in comparison to the baby faced Executives since, you come to realize that ol’Theordore was perhaps the last real man to live in the White House. Somehow more recent attempts to pump political machismo fall flat, no matter how many times Reagan wore that cowboy hat or cameras show Bush the Younger workin’ down on the ranch.
But it is no wonder that after WWII facial hair fell from grace among American leaders. Because if Hitler’s Hitler didn’t signify pure evil in every bristle, then Stalin, the other great mustachioed dictator of the 20th century, picked up the slack. In fact, it now appears that facial hair on leaders is only relegated to the “rouge” or “failing” states of the Third World. Think about it. There was Saddam and his thick caterpillar; Osama Bin Laden’s, not to mention every Muslim badguy, old growth beard; and though he’s an American ally, I’m sure some in the State Department wonder if Pervez Musharraf pencilstache might hold a hint of evil just waiting to jump out. No, in American political culture the ‘stache stinks and rightly so. In fact the only place facial hair can be found in America is among the bohemian bourgeois, the Hollywood soul patch cool, cops, pimps, Ranchero club goers, country music stars, and leisure suit wearing slime balls. If anything, this list is a reminder that the Hitler mustache is not alone in the pantheon where bad people come with bad facial hair.Post Views: 129