Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Colonel Blimp

My heart is that of a dashing, adventurous, passionate young man.

My head is that of an old fogie who believes in following the rules.

Nothing explains this better than the opening scene of my favorite movie “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” written and directed in the United Kingdom in 1943 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

The movie follows forty years of the life of an officer in the British army, Clive Wynne-Candy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z3UNoImE2Y

The film begins during the middle of the Second World War. There are training exercises going on at the British camp, pitting two teams of soldiers against each other.  Major General Wynne-Candy, now a senior officer, is the leader of one squad. He is pot-bellied formal gentleman of the British old guard.  The other squad leader is “Spud” Wilson, a brash young lieutenant.

On the day before the exercises are to begin, Wilson’s team “captures” Wynne-Candy relaxing in a Turkish bath.  Wilson has struck early, breaking all conventions.  He ignores Wynne-Candy’s protests that “War starts at midnight!”

“This is a new type of war with Hitler,” says Wilson.   Wynne-Candy’s old-fashioned gentlemanly methods are to be scorned.  He is called Colonel Blimp.

I first saw this movie at a repetory movie theater with my father.  He loved movies about the Second World War, particularly those made in Great Britain.

The themes of this film have stuck with me for years, particularly the tension between “what is right” and “what is necessary.”

I respect “Spud” Wilson and the way he plays Colonel Blimp for a fool.   He believes that the only way to defeat Hitler is to show Blimp that his ways are irrelevant.   Being a gentleman is weakness.

In my heart, “Spud” Wilson embodies how a modern man should live his life.

But my sympathies lie with old fogie Colonel Blimp.  Without him, there would be no moral center to the story.   There is something noble about being a 19th century born gentleman, even when facing your fiercest enemy.

It is not a surprise that this blog is named “Citizen of the Month.”  I was very turned on by the concept of citizenship and democracy when I was a wee lad in a public school in New York City.

This brings me to an uncomfortable conversation I had with someone online about the the growing Occupy Wall Street movement.   I’ve been reading a lot about it, and frankly find it very exciting.   People are finally getting angry about some of the inequalities of our society.   I told this woman about how I loved her passion (represented by the 100 tweets an hour on the subject she puts on my stream) for social justice.   These are citizens of American enjoying their liberty of free expression.

But when I saw her retweet something factually untrue in one of her tweets, I brought up this up.  Politely, like Colonel Blimp.

Her response:

“It doesn’t have to be all true. We have to get the word out to stop the 1%.”

I found this an odd statement, and didn’t quite jibe with my view of “truth, justice, and the American way,” as spoken by one of our country’s greatest leaders, Superman.

Superman would never LIE to defeat his enemy!

I appealed to her reason, bringing up her enemies — the wealthy conservative overlords of the far right.

“But remember how we were all going crazy when conservatives were saying that Obama wasn’t a citizen or that he was, god help us,  A MUSLIM?  They also knew it was untrue, but said it anyway just to create trouble.   Isn’t it the same thing that you are doing?  How can we criticize them if everyone does it?”

“This is different. What we believe in is financial equality, and what they believe is moronic.”

And after this discussion, I thought about my favorite movie, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and how the themes of that story are still reverberating in my head so many years later.

I’d like to be more political, but when people get too emotionally involved in any cause, or read too many Ann Rand books, they start to believe that they are above the law because only their ideas are right.   Lying and manipulation is OK, as long as it supports what you believe.

That’s a sad thought.   And as our world becomes more and more controlled by PR, Marketing, and Media firms, it seems as if this will just become the norm, if it isn’t already. Since real life is too complex for anyone to use as a sound byte, the truth becomes the least important part of any campaign.

Colonel Blimp’s gentlemen is surely dead in a world where the ends justify the means, even in conversation.

13 Comments

  1. reminds me of a quote by author paulo coehlo “It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”
    i love that this movement is trending all over the world. i love that we are finally focusing on what we DO agree on.

  2. A friend of mine experienced recently discovered the wonder of Twitter, finding that she could easily follow the news about an Occupy event, and then quickly became disillusioned to see that lies (or extreme distortions) were being spread around just as quickly as more factual accounts.

    I’m like you, Neil. I don’t like to see lies being used, even to support a cause I believe in. I think it damages the message when lies get mixed in. Sometimes people feel betrayed, and reject the whole message.

  3. I’m a huge fan of the truth, I really can’t imagine taking the stance in which one justifies the need to lie, to further a cause. I feel compelled to watch this movie in it’s entirety. Where can I find it?

  4. Every lie told to support your cause or your issue defeats it in my mind. If the facts aren’t enough, the truth isn’t enough, well, that is just a sad sorry state of affairs.

    Lies, deliberately spread, only undermine the very thing you are trying to promote and support.

  5. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” ~ The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

  6. So, Occupy Wall Street needs a truth quotient?

    The head is connected to the heart.

  7. I’m not quite sure what to make of the Occupy movement mainly because vaguery seems to be one of its main goals. It seems to be a movement for socialism, which is FINE, but I kinda want them to just go ahead and call a spade a spade, yaknow?

    Anyway, what I really wanted to say was that nothing bothers me more (politically at least) than the idea that there is only ONE correct way to think and that if you have a different opinion, it’s only because you’re uneducated or uninformed. No true political change can happen unless we respect one another’s opinions, which is a lot easier said than done.

  8. When facts get muddled with fiction in the name of a cause – however noble it may have originally appeared to be – bang goes credibility. That puts a big dent in my support, too. Call me Mrs Colonel Blimp. This being said, I am behind the OWS (and the Occupy Everything) movement but… they often shoot themselves in the foot with their lax approach to facts and I believe this could well be costing them supporters.

  9. No, you’re so right. It’s very hard to jump on board with a strong political movement when the only way for a strong political movement to gain steam is to create emotional reactions, to get attention in 140 characters, or 90 seconds or less. Our attention spans are so short, our emotional threshold is so high.

    On the left there are plenty of people who are as much as on the right, also looking for the 140 character sound bite, the sensational forward that will convince their followers to come on down to the square with them on Saturday. And this is really getting down to the wire, and I want to say, “no no, but we should only fight fair because it’s not worth winning if we have to lie to win it” but I don’t really know anymore.

    I just don’t. Is it OK to live in a world like this or like the one the GOP envisions? And live in that world secure in the fact that Oh, but at least we went down telling the truth? I don’t know if I can look my daughter in the face and tell her she doesn’t have any reproductive rights but at least our movement stated true to their intentions.

    But this movement: I wish people would stop saying “they”. THEY are us, don’t you think? I feel that way. I don’t consider this someone else’s movement.

    I wish-I am so with you though Neil. I just wish the conversation could be less lies. I don’t understand about lying, and it’s something I explore a lot in writing and a lot every election season. I’m fascinated that it’s allowed, unnerved all to hell by it.

  10. This makes me sad and angry. I’d like to think Our Side is better than this, but clearly the winning-at-any-cost movement knows no boundaries.

  11. I have a terrible fear that I’d say something mean about someone without knowing all the facts but if what you say is true then she’s an idiot.

    She absolutely does *not* represent every politically impassioned person or committed person.

    I am puzzled though because really when someone is politically committed it is because usually they are trying to stop deceit, harms done to others and a whole host of awful things. So this seems *at least* as important as never lying.

    Note: I am not saying that the cause is so important it is OK to lie. I am saying that if you are so committed to citizenship and ideals like honesty could you get how someone could be committed to things like, e.g., not having wars that kill hundreds of thousands? Not seeing people die of preventable diseases from lack of healthcare?

    How can you not get emotionally involved?

    It matters if what you believe is true or a lie and whether that gets you emotionally stirred up–Ayn Rand is ridiculous. But other things are not ridiculous. And how can you not get stirred up knowing something like–your country started a war that killed scores and scores and scores of innocent people? That just gets people emotional.

    Anyway, I do love this post and this childhood memory. I remember things having an impression like that on me. I will look for this movie. It’s a fascinating contrast between moralities actually.

  12. subsuming the hated methods into your movement because ‘they do it’ is wrong. Someone must stand for truth, even if it’s inconvenient, troublesome, and awkward. The sorry fact (as I see it) is that people do not want the truth, they want what is in agreement with their situation and norms. I’m a proud left-leaning gal, and can see how the right uses hyperbole to the great advantage. Proving you’re not the devil is clearly harder than saying you are.

    OWS. I hope it becomes a political party all its own.

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