Saturday, January 5, 2008

King Tries-to-do-Right

Many people ask me, "What is the answer to all the troubles of the world?" I reply, "Fear not, and cheer up; the answers are all around." Then I direct them to (among other things) the movie, The Princess Bride. Because one of those answers is to smile, and sometimes the first step to an answer is to ridicule those who caused the problem.

Here we have a tale of art reflecting life, only as a satire, so we can laugh at it. And humor, to steal a phrase from Ray Bradbury, is a Medicine for Melancholy (although in his story the Medicine for Melancholy didn't have anything to do with laughing, although once you find out what it is, it will make you laugh. So it does have something to do with laughing. Or at least sniggering.).

But I digress, which I do a lot. Most of the time, actually.

In the movie, which is based on the novel of the same name by William Goldman, we have a King who is good-hearted and sincere, but senile. Ha ha! I know what you're thinking! You're thinking I'm going to compare him to Dubya! And you know what? You'd be right!

Except I don't consider Dubya to be senile, just an uneducated and incurious Ivy League bumpkin, one who, somehow, became President. I suspect even he's puzzled how it happened. No, I take that back. He's not puzzled. Like the Kings of old, he thinks God chose him.

But in the movie, the King, being senile, doesn't have a clue that the Evil Prince is plotting both war and the overthrow of the King. Yikes! That sure sounds familiar, doesn't it? Here we have a President who apparently has little clue what the Prince Wannabees around him are doing. (Incidentally, in the movie it's not the King who can't talk straight – it's Peter Cook as the Impressive Clergyman.)

Okay, you caught me. The Evil Princes are the neocons. But it was pretty obvious, wasn't it? But it is still a little scary (and a little funny, too) that what is going on in the administration can be discerned from a satire about a King and a Prince and a Princess and a Hero and a Villain! (Aesop and the Brothers Grimm were right: the whole world is just a fable and a fairy tale. Figure them out, and you have the Key.)

The Main Villain in the movie, one Prince Humperdinck (Christopher Sarandon), wants to rule his home country of Florin, which is currently ruled by the senile geezer King Lotharon. I'll make it easy here: Humperdinck = neocons, Florin = US, and King Lotharon = Dubya.

Prince Neocon, oops, I mean Humperdinck, tells his subjects, um, I mean citizens, that the neighboring Kingdom of Guilder is evil. (Of course, Guilder = Afghanistan and Iraq.) His sheeple, I mean citizens, believe this, as they always do.

I have a theory about sheeple, which I got from cartoons (honestly, I did). Cartoon Villains, who always want to conquer the world, always have an amiable but stupid sidekick, who does their bidding. These sidekicks represent Mass Man, because the more people you get together, the less the intelligence. Worse, mobs don't operate by the same rules as individuals. They're more demonic than human (I am always reminded of the quote, "My name is Legion, for there are many of us.").

Humperdinck hires a Minor Villain named Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) to kidnap Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) and blame it on Guilder. Now, let's see, who could Vizzini represent? Arrogant and stupid, overconfident and incompetent, interfering in the affairs of foreign Kingdoms . . .the CIA, maybe?

Vizzini hires two men to help him: the drunken Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patikin), who is bent on revenge, and the hulking but good-natured brute Fezzik (Andre the Giant) who really doesn't want to hurt anyone. The most important thing about them is that they switch sides in an instant, thereby turning against their former employers. That's wisdom the CIA should have listened to before unloading oodles of cash on those Afghan warlords! And for that matter – heh heh heh – before they created Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Humperdinck plans on marrying Princess Buttercup and strangling her on their wedding night. He believes these two outrages, which he will blame on Guilder, will incite the sheeple to war against Guilder. And, you know, he's right. Tell the sheeple some Evil Kingdom has done terrible something to them, and they'll go to war every time.

One of Humperdinck's Evil Advisors is the cruel, heartless Dr. Mengeleish Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), who is all brains and no compassion. And in the long run, no guts, either. I suppose you could say he's an example of how those in thrall to power and the State see others as guinea pigs on which to experiment.

The parallels of the part of the movie dealing with the machinations of the attack with today's situation are not exact. But they're pretty darn close. Past (and the present) administrations didn't purposely goad other Kingdoms into attacking us. What they did, Vizzini/CIA-like, is interfere in the affairs of other lands until some of the people got upset enough to send a little blowback our way.

The parallels, however, are more precise in the past, as when Woodrow Wilson loaded munitions onto passenger ships until the Germans sank one, and even worse, when Roosevelt goaded the Japanese into attacking us by cutting off their oil and sending the Flying Tigers against them in China. So the satire holds up, as all good satires do.

Something exists in the movie that rarely exists in real life. That's a Hero. In the movie, it's Westley (Cary Elwes), a lowly farmboy turned Hero. Now what can that mean? A lowly farmboy becomes a Hero . . . not someone from Harvard or Yale . . . not any of the "Best and Brightest" who got us into World War I, and World War II, and Vietnam. Dang, that sure sounds like a smack at egghead academics who spell out all three of their names.

Westly is humble, competent and brave, unlike Humperdinck and Vizzini, who are various combinations of Hubris, cowardice, incompetence and stupidity. To this I say: uh oh, because the point is that those who want to conquer the world (like our necons) are arrogant, incompetent, stupid, and cowardly.

Westly, being a Hero, defends the weak against the strong (who in this case, just also happen to be evil, which is an example of that saying, "Power is the horse that evil rides."). And the reason that Westly rescues the Princess Bride is because of Love, something that none of the Villains have the slightest clue about.

Along the way Westly unfortunately falls into the claws of Count Rugen, who turns him into "mostly dead." He is resurrected by the magic of Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), a gnome of a wizard who brings him back to life with a bellows in the mouth and a gooey pill twice the size of a golfball. ("Hey, you in there," Max asks Westly's mostly corpse, "What you got to live for?" "True Love," Westly replies. And what Wesley said is one of the answers to one of the problems.)

Okay, so if Dubya = King, Florin = US, Guilder = Afghanistan and Iraq, neocons = Humperdinck and Rugen, Vizzini = CIA, Inigo and Fezzik = CIA turncoats, then who exactly is the Hero today?

Since Humperdinck and Rugen want control of the State, and to conquer their little section of the world, then the modern day Heroes are those who oppose the State. They're the ones who see through the war. But that's what Heroes always do, though.

Heroes will always be underdogs (like Underdog) because they always have to contend with Mass Man, who in their enstupidiment generally fall for the spells of the Villains. It's not that the Children of Darkness are more clever than the Children of Light. It's that the mass of people can't tell one from the other. Get enough people together, and they couldn't find their collective butt with all their hands.

The Heroes will always have problems before them – scaling the Cliffs of Insanity, battling Rodents of Unusual Size, and facing torture in the Pit of Despair. Not to mention the Shrieking Eels. But, like Westly, they always say, "I can take it." That's what the Hero on a Quest always encounters, and what he always says.

Because, in the long run, the Villains are always defeated. They will, like Humperdinck, give up, or like Count Rugen, run away.

There's no such myth as "the Villain on a Quest." They've got no place to go, even though they don't know it, and certainly won't believe it. They're always at a dead-end. It's always "the Hero on a Quest."

The Westlys of the world understand this. The Humperdincks and the Rugens, never.

1 comment:

Daniel Ford said...

when Roosevelt goaded the Japanese into attacking us by cutting off their oil and sending the Flying Tigers against them in China.

Hm, but the Tiger's first combat was 20 December 1941, twelve days after Pearl Harbor (local time). For more about all this, see Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford