Be An American Citizen

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Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where the people are themselves free. Our Govern-ment is the servan[t] of the people…The President is merely the most im-portant among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in render-ing loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Na-tion as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else. [1]
– Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America, Sedition, A Free Press, and a Personal Rule, May 7, 1918.
Fact Check it, yo!
[1] Roosevelt, T. Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star: War-Time Editorials. Scholar’s Choice, Feb 17th, 2015. Page 149 in print. Retrieved from: http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/images/research/rooseveltkansascitystar.pdf
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The Brief History of Hollywood’s Affair with Politics

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Ronald Reagan; Actor, chimp whisperer, and 40th President of the USA.

I’m not here to get political, but I am here to use history as a jumping off point to, well, make a point. Last night, in front of more than 20 million viewers [1], Meryl Streep accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes and, I guess, had something to say about it.

I love you all. You have to forgive me, I have lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year so I have to read.
Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said, you and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments of American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.
But who are we and, you know, what is Hollywood, anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey, Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls,  R.I. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio, Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy and Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates?
And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in Lon — no, in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.
They gave me three seconds to say this, so. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work.
But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good, it was — there’s nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.
It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege and power and the capacity to fight back. It, it kind of broke my heart when I saw it and I still can’t get it out my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.
Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. OK, go on with that thing. OK, this brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage.
That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood foreign press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, ’cause we’re going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.
One more thing. Once when I was standing around the set one day, whining about something, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me: “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight,
As my, as my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”
Thank you, Foreign Press.

– Meryl Streep, 74th Golden Globes Awards, Jan 8th, 2017.  [2]

But while a significant portion of the population may wish that Hollywood would use its platform for something other than political pandering, I’m here to remind everyone that this isn’t the first provocative speech nor shall it be the last in an industry which has not only campaigned with or spoken in support of, but has also held public office.

When Ronald Reagan, soon to be 40th President of the USA, was nominated to run for governorship of the state of California in 1966, a seat later to be held by another celebrated actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the world was hardly surprised to see a man whose exposure on the big screen led him to become a prominent political figure. In fact, Hollywood had recently seen itself embroiled in politics and targeted during the height of McCarthyism’s “Red Scare” tactics. During this period, members of the Screen Actor’s Guild were barred and blacklisted from performing in or writing for any Hollywood picture after being accused of participating in Communist ideological leanings. Legends such as Dalton Trumbo, famous for penning films Roman Holiday and Spartacus, were among those of the nearly 500 blacklisted from working in Hollywood. Other screen giants like John Wayne, Walt Disney, Ronald Reagan himself, and ironically even Cecil B. DeMille the namesake for the award Meryl Streep used to orate her views on national television, championed the movement to target the film industry for Communist purging as members of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals.

One thing is sure—none of the arts flourishes on censorship and repression. And by this time it should be evident that the American public is capable of doing its own censoring. Certainly, the Thomas Committee is growing more ludicrous daily. The picture of six officers ejecting a writer from the witness stand because he refused to say whether he was a Communist or not is pretty funny, and I think before long we are all going to see how hysterical and foolish we have become.
The film industry is a great industry, with infinite possibilities for good and bad. Its primary purpose is to entertain people. On the side, it can do many other things. It can popularize certain ideals, it can make education palatable. But in the long run, the judge who decides whether what it does is good or bad is the man or woman who attends the movies. In a democratic country I do not think the public will tolerate a removal of its right to decide what it thinks of the ideas and performances of those who make the movie industry work.

-Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady, from her “My Day” column. Oct. 29th 1947. [3]

Faced with the removal of their friends and peers at the height of the blacklistings, many stars like Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, and Katherine Hepburn, among others, worked to fight against what they saw as infringing upon constitutional American rights. They formed the Committee for the First Amendment and, now that everybody had a committee for something or other, went to work. You could say, that in the instance of politics in Hollywood, that politics started it first.

When it wasn’t defending itself from the supposed insurrection of Russia or defending its right to do so, stars have lent their image and influence to other political movements. Frank Sinatra spent most of his life fighting for civil, equal rights which can be summed up by punching out a bartender for refusing to serve his black friend, a fellow musician. [4] I suppose he also participated in the desegregation of hotels and casinos in Mafia run Nevada and played a benefit show for Martin Luther King Jr as well, but who’s counting?

We’ve got a hell of a way to go in this racial situation. As long as most white men think of a Negro as a Negro first and a man second, we’re in trouble. I don’t know why we can’t grow up. It took us long enough to get past the stage where we were calling all Italians “wops” and “dagos”, but if we don’t stop this “n*****” thing, we just won’t be around much longer.

-Frank Sinatra [5]

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Frank Sinatra receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan in 1985.

When Marlon Brando won his much deserved Best Actor Oscar award at the 45th Annual Academy Awards in 1973 for his role in “The Godfather”, he famously turned his acceptance speech into a less subtle political statement than Meryl Streep did. Instead of blubbering on stage and thanking a bunch of technical folks in film that the audience has never heard of as one is want to do in these situations, Brando sent instead Native American actress Sacheen Littlefinger to un-accept the award on his behalf in protest of the industry’s portrayal of Native Americans on-screen. [6] This was only the tip of Brando’s involvement in politics, however, which also included support for the state of Israel, advocacy for African American civil rights, and trying to save the world from hunger by funding scientific research into aqua farming tilapia, of all things. [7]

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Sacheen Littlefinger comes prepared on the stage of the 45th Annual Academy Awards to shake things up a bit. [8]

And though films have typically been created to entertain (and make many large bags of money) it’d be negligible to ignore their impact on war efforts during World War II when “going to the movies” was both a motivating patriotic experience and a reminder to the audience of who the reel (sorry, not sorry) enemy was. Assisting the U.S. Government by way of both educational and animated films portraying Axis forces in demeaning ways, Walt Disney of…er, Disney fame, produced over 124 hours worth of animated films which included instructional videos for soldiers all the way to Donald Duck destroying an entire Japanese airbase all by himself. [9]

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Hollywood and “not” politics…

 

So despite what your political beliefs may be, it’s hard to call for a separation between Hollywood and politics when both institutions have a symbiotic, influential relationship with one another. Hollywood stars become political advocates and voices for unpopular movements or, sometimes, find themselves targeted by them. Stars join political campaigns or are welcomed by and requested by politicians looking for national support. The government calls on favors during times of war, and, sometimes, seats in governorship, and again, even the presidency with the recent election of a reality TV star into the highest office of the country. Whether or not you agree with Meryl Streep’s speech, she’s following a long tradition in Hollywood to utilize its platform and influence to insight or defend its audience from “the bad guys”.

Besides, I’d suspect Dame Meryl Streep, frankly, doesn’t give a damn.

 

Fact Check it, yo!

[1] Variety Staff (2017 Jan. 9th). TV Ratings: Golden Globe Viewership Grows From Previous Two Years. Retrieved from: http://variety.com/2017/tv/news/tv-ratings-golden-globe-ratings-rise-1201955828/

[2] Streep, M. (2017, Jan. 8th). 74th Golden Globes Awards Cecil B. DeMille award acceptance speech. Retrieved from: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-golden-globes-2017-live-watch-all-of-meryl-streep-s-1483932724-htmlstory.html

[3] Roosevelt, R. (1947, Oct. 29th). My Day. Retrieved from: https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/myday/displaydoc.cfm?_y=1947&_f=md000796

[4] Summers, A. & Swan, R. (2010). Sinatra: The Life. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=R5SddF7R6x4C

[5] Kelley, K. (1986). His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=EnbzfyWuuL0C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=racial%20situation&f=false

[6] Brando, M. (1973, Mar. 30th) That Unfinished Oscar Speech. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/movies/bestpictures/godfather-ar3.html

[7] Mizruchi, S. (2014) Brando’s Smile: His Life, Thought, and Work. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=fLBbAwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=brando%27s+smile&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiV39LPn7bRAhUG_4MKHT7cDmoQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=brando%27s%20smile&f=false

[8] Marlon Brando’s Best Actor Academy Award acceptance. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QUacU0I4yU

[9] “Disney’s Troupe Goes to War”. Times. 15 November 1942. p. 20-21. Retrieved from: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9B0CE5D7163DE03ABC4D52DFB7678389659EDE&legacy=true

What is Fascism?

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Benito Mussolini, Leader of the Nationalist Fascist Party who became Prime Minister of Italy in 1922 until he decided Democracy was for squares and seized control of the nation as dictator.

People like to throw around words that hurt, words that no one wishes to be associated with because of the troubled history these definitions carry, regardless of their accuracy. Many of us are able to recall the stain from lived experience while others of us unknowingly feel discomfort upon hearing their whisper, ghosts of a time we were fortunate enough not to have witnessed. It’s not out of the ordinary to hear someone called a ‘Communist’ or a ‘Socialist’ for simply being disagreeable rather than because of any formal affiliation with a political faction, for example. These words used to mean something. Rather than an insult insinuating how “un-American” an individual may be, these words used to come with a benchmark of ideals and theories characterized by aggressive political leanings that have, in History, sparked revolutions. These words used to matter.

Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day. –Benito Mussolini in 1928 [1]

The sands of time are no kinder to concepts and words than they are to ruins, and so it is possible to forget or wave away its meaning as a figment of the past. Fascism, like many other features of World War II, has NOT been buried or vanquished like the Third Reich–It’s a symbiotic strain of Nationalist sentiment that still, to this day, rears its ugly head in every day discourse and goes on unnamed and, ultimately, undetected for what it truly is.

Fascism as a political theory falls on the spectrum of far-right radical leanings characterized by severe Nationalist sentiments and in opposition to Liberalism and Marxist beliefs. Fascism operates on the idea that Democracy is failing and that the true way to unite the state is under one party with a powerful, preferable, Dictator to solidify the stability necessary to combat military and economic crisis. To do this, Fascism encourages violence, war, and Imperialism, as a means to help jump start and heal the nation unilaterally and advocates an economic market with isolationist, aggressive restrictions on foreign trade to further the goal of self-sufficiency.

a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion –
Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism [2]

On social issues, Fascism attacked and categorized homosexuality as a deviant behavior, condemned forms of birth control utilized by women, [3] and relegated the roles of women as ‘reproducers’ and regarded their role in the work force as responsible for unemployment and incompatible with child bearing. [4]

Though not the creator of Fascism but certainly founder of the Italian movement, Benito Mussolini remains the world’s leading example of Fascism in action. Once a socialist, Mussolini grew despondent towards his party’s preference to remain uninvolved during World War I which he was eager to serve in and was later discharged after a wound sustained by an accidental mortar bomb explosion on the Italian Front. Upon his return, he denounced his former party and founded the National Fascist Party with an emphasis on renewed focus of Italian Nationalism. Mussolini came into power in the last week of October 1922 when, with his band of paramilitary supporters known as the ‘Blackshirts’, marched on Rome demanding the resignation of the current prime minister Luigi Facta and the right to rule–which was handed over by the king Victor Emmanuel III. Mussolini then subsequently became the youngest Prime Minister in Italy and used his authority to further his Fascist agenda by establishing, with the help of his secret police and sets of defining laws, a one-party dictatorship with himself at the helm.

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It was a long complicated road. When Mussolini took office, the Parliament was filled with many opposing political factions–leaders intent on curbing the Fascist enthusiasm Mussolini now brought with him (along with some muscled brutes for good measure). In an effort to garner support on the outset, Mussolini targeted new reforms toward the Working Class to reduce the work day which guaranteed 8 hours, ignored profiteering of the Industrial sector during WWI, catered to the wealthy by reducing death duties, and rubbed elbows with the Roman Catholic Church by mandating religious education as obligatory in all elementary schools. All in all, everyone was pleased.

Except, of course, his political enemies. To deal with them, Mussolini initiated a Grand Fascist Council which would decide upon policy reforms while shutting out any dissenters or opposing party factions. This group immediately brought forth a law known as Acerbo Law which sought to change the way members of parliament were elected into seats. Now if a political party, such as the National Fascist Party, received at least 25% of the vote in elections, they were now guaranteed at least 66% of the seats in Parliament ensuring them a solid majority.  Those brutes I mentioned before served as a useful tool in getting the law passed despite its obvious connotations for anyone not a member of the Fascist party. Once passed, the Fascist hold over Parliament was secured with more than 2/3rds of the available Parliamentary seats. Obviously, this did not go unnoticed by the concerned populace in Italy and a prominent Italian politician by the name of Giacomo Matteotti stood before the Parliament and publicly accused the Fascists of rigging the election in their favor and accused Mussolini of inviting those brutes, outside busy fiercely cracking their knuckles, to the party.

So it was no surprise when, 11 days after this declaration, Giacomo Matteotti turned up murdered and people maybe thought that Mussolini had something to do with it. Since no evidence was found in trial condemning Mussolini in the involvement of the murder, historians still debate the validity of this claim today. Regardless, the Italian public believed and upon numerous journalist outcries and calls for resignation, a number of the non-Fascist Parliament members staged a walkout in protest (Which…well, made things even more Fascist-y than before in Parliament) and begged the King, Victor Emmanuel III, to remove Mussolini from office. The King, for reasons that remain petty and politically mind boggling, didn’t much care for the protestors stance on the monarchy to begin with since they favored a republic and ‘Pah!’d them away allowing Mussolini to solidify his hold.

Swiftly, Mussolini shut down those trash talking newspapers and sent out his army of brutes to silence further dissenters. By 1926, all other political parties had been banned from Italy. A year later, a secret police was formed with the reintroduction of the death penalty to facilitate this ban. Mussolini was now free to exert full control and had no one standing in his way (unless Victor Emmanuel III ever decided to get off his duvet and do something about it). The precursory period before WWII saw the same dance of propaganda, cultural revere, and idolization of Mussolini (Apparently he could play a mean violin?)  as was usual for other growing dictatorships in Europe. This caught the esteem of Adolf Hitler. The two eventually formed an alliance with the instigation of WWII, despite Mussolini’s political allies discouraging him to do so. Mussolini was confident that Germany would soon be victorious, however, and that the war would be short lived.

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It wasn’t. Most of us know exactly how WWII plays out and I’m not going to recite it all here, though needless to say, Italy didn’t do so hot. By 1943, Italy had suffered major setbacks on all fronts, exposed itself to invasion by Allied forces, and resource output ground to a halt with factories lost in frequent bombings and food shortages starved out the population. The stress took a toll on Mussolini himself, being diagnosed with gastritis and duodenitis which both served together to bring on one helluva an IBS rager which forced him to stay home seated on the porcelain throne rather than in government.

Victor Emmanuel III was finally ready to do something. With the help of Count Dino Grandi (Member of the Fascist Grand Council and enemy of Mussolini after opposing Italy’s entry into WWII), they orchestrated the removal of Mussolini by calling for a vote of no confidence among the council which succeeded. Mussolini merely shrugged and showed up the next day viewing them mostly as advisors of which his ousting he did not care to follow. The King then invited Mussolini to his palace where he was ambushed with an arrest and was told that he was being replaced with a new Prime Minister. Mussolini was then imprisoned and moved around in order to hide his location from his best friend forever, Hitler, who was hell bent on re-inserting him to power. He was eventually ‘rescued’ by his pal and encouraged to spearhead a new regime intent on stealing back Italy. Now operating under the tutilage of German forces, Mussolini retired himself to Lake Garda where he ordered a few executions of his betrayers while sipping a bellini while Hitler ran the show on the front.

In April of 1945 (a few days before the suicide of Hitler), Mussolini was stopped along with his mistress on their way to escaping to Spain by communist partisans. The pair were captured and brought to Mezzegra where they survived their last night before being shot to death along with their entire convoy. It didn’t end there. After loading their bodies into a van and heading down to Milan, the bodies were dumped unceremoniously at the Piazzale Loreto. Civilians came out in droves to beat and abuse the corpses which were eventually strung up by the ankles and hung from a gas station so that they made for easier targets in stoning.

With the death of Mussolini and the conclusion of WWII, the National Fascist Party was outlawed in Italy. Many successor neo-Fascist parties arose instead, and some do exist in modern times around the world today though not to the same extent or level of power as Mussolini’s rise in Italy. However easy it is to kill a man or his party, remember that it is not as easy to kill an idea. Though the usage of the term Fascism is deadened by its limits in political relevance today, many policies and ideals characterized by its fervor are still very much alive and well. Fascism still means something and we would all do well never to forget it.

Footnotes:

1. Quote from Mussolini as told to Edwin L James of the New York Times. (1928)

2. Paxton, Robert. The Anatomy of Fascism. Vintage Books. ISBN 1-4000-4094-9.

3. Maria Sop Quine. Population Politics in Twentieth Century Europe: Fascist Dictatorships and Liberal Democracies. Routledge, 1995

4. Durham, Martin, Women and Fascism (Routledge, 1998) p. 15.