A week or so ago I was told by a friend who lives in the United States (for those who are interested in such matters, he calls himself English of Irish descent if he bothers to define himself at all) that the film was going to be remade, substituting Bush’s America for Honecker’s German Democratic Republic. We spent some time discussing as to who might play the Berlin Wall but came to no conclusion. Surely, I thought, this was just a rumour.
Alas, no. According to an article by Sheila Johnston in the Daily Telegraph last Saturday, the film has been acquired for remake by American movie moguls Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Well, acquired for remake does not mean being remade but it is an ominous message.
What does the Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, he film’s writer/director think of that East German theme being transferred to Bush’s America?
For the first time in recent memory, the American government has been given a lot of power. And one of the first things a government will do then is to start spying on its citizens, especially when it feels it's using it for the good of democracy.To some extent he is saying nothing very much or positing a truism – governments want more power. But that last sentence, if he did say it, indicates that either he really is not all that interested in the subject of the remake or he has been imbued with the Hollywood luvvie psychology in the short amount of time he spent there.
Sadly, these things that the film is about will happen all the time and everywhere.
Who is going to play the Berlin Wall? How will they show the all-powerful nature of the secret police? Not by that idiotic Valerie Plame story, as retailed to all and sundry by Our Val and hubby Joe, I trust. What of the fact that even the best known author cannot just up and leave the country? Or of the fact of there being no opposition and criticism of the party (except within certain limits) is not allowed? Above all, the very fact of making such a film, let alone the constant shrill anti-Bushism that those fruitcakes indulge in makes something of a nonsense of the claim that Bush’s America is similar to Honecker’s East Germany.
The story reminded me of one stay in Washington DC a couple of years ago. I came down to breakfast in my hotel and found that people sat around a big table and chatted. I was pleased as I was on my own and joined in. I must admit that national stereotypes played true to type. The Australian lady talked cheerfully about her travels and did not want to get involved in any other conversation. The quiet British chap excused himself as soon as there was the slightest possibility of a political discussion.
That left a lady who was in Washington either to look for a job or to lobby somebody, an aging hippy chap with a wispy beard, colourful t-shirt and beer belly and me. My two companions assured me that they were now living in a fascist society and I was visiting a fascist country and I had better know this.
Now, usually, my reply runs along the lines of “are you sure you want to tell me this as you don’t exactly know that I will not report it to the secret police”. This time, I thought, I’d play it straight. I was shocked and horrified by what they had to tell me and demanded examples.
Therein lay the rub. Their examples led nowhere. There was the case of the Hollywood actors who might have been blacklisted as people were under McCarthy (not so that you’d notice but that’s a separate issue) but, actually, were not. In fact, they were all making films and endlessly ranting about President Bush.
Then there was the fact that libraries could trace people through their tickets if they took out suspicious sounding books on making bombs or suchlike activity. Well, no, since I asked, the aging hippy did not know anyone to whom this happened and had heard of no concrete examples but it could have happened.
Finally, there was the professor who was picked up by the police because one of his students had gone on an anti-war demonstration. Oh my, I said, what happened to him? Nothing, it seems. He was released after a couple of hours. What we call helping the police with their inquiries.
Eventually, I excused myself politely as my interlocutors were beginning to look uncomfortable. This was truly depressing, I thought. Here were two people who obviously spent a good deal of their time thinking and talking about the fascist state of America under Bush and they could come up with no examples at all.
Any one of us who paid the slightest attention to the Communist countries and East Germany, in particular, can cite any number of clear and cogent stories.
What are they going to have in the American version of “Other People’s Lives”? The whole enterprise demonstrates something that is rarely acknowledged but is undeniably true: the Left in America may whine at great length about the international order, the need to be part of it and the terrible way in which the Bush administration has put America on collision course with it but, in actual fact, it knows nothing about the world. Its obsession with America and what happens there is so overwhelming that it cannot even envisage the possibility that some political systems might be considerably worse than the one they live under even if the Democrats are not in power.
Well, fine, I hear our readers say, but how does it affect Britain? This is, after all, a question of what is happening in the United States.
There are many reasons why this is important to us as well. The most obvious one is that the American film industry is very powerful and its images become the staple of many different cultures and peoples. Thus, a remotely successful Hollywood film (and, to be fair, there is no reason to suppose that it will be that, as too many of those left-wing propaganda ones have bombed) creates a certain image to be accepted by people without too much thinking or understanding. In this case, the image will be that Bush’s America, which will come to an end in January 2009, in any case, is no different from the GDR, which was brought down by a popular though bloodless revolt. The blood had flown earlier.
Furthermore, any discussion of the future requires an understanding of the past. A discussion of what is to happen in Europe and the world requires the knowledge that the twentieth century had seen two horrific political systems that, between them, were responsible for the murder to many millions, torture of many tens of millions and destruction of whole societies. In between there was a destruction of human relations, of love and loyalty. This is not the same as suggestions of security profiling or of Democrats losing the presidential election.
Nor is it the same as Blair or any other Minister and Prime Minister telling an easily disproved lie to Parliament. Reprehensible, of course, but hardly catastrophic. While the Bush Derangement Syndrome, so prominent in American politics, media and new media, is on the Left, the Right being content with criticizing without getting hysterical, the Blair Derangement Syndrome is both on the Left and the Right. If Bush’s America is just like the GDR of evil memory, then so is Blair’s Britain as far as many people are concerned. That shows a similar obsession with one’s own world to the point of complete exclusion of everything and everyone else.
This lack of understanding helpful in discussions of what is wrong with the European Union. If Blair is no different from Walter Ulbricht or Erich Honecker then what exactly is the problem with the European Commission? Why would its unaccountability, or the managerial, undemocratic way of European legislation be of any importance if the Labour Government or, for that matter, the Republican Administration, can be seen to be the same as the Politburo of a Communist state?
In the next few days I shall try to see “The Lives of Others”, as it has finally opened in the UK. Then I shall continue to wait for the film that will make nonsense of it and of the experience that lies behind it.