Mostly since John Milton’s Satan, we’ve perversely preferred our villains seductive: charming, witty, brilliant, and physically graceful—sometimes precariously more so than the tale’s presumptive hero.
Weren’t millions enraptured—with Pauline Kael’s imprimatur—by an idealized Bonnie and Clyde? Isn’t it safe to assume that exponentially more Darth Vader action figures have been sold than ones of that beige little drip Luke Skywalker?
Two words: Hannibal Lecter.
Edward G. Robinson’s Little Caesar—dim-witted, vulgar, psychotic, and undeservedly vain—may be the only bad guy in Hollywood history with zero redeeming or attractive qualities. (Even Cody Jarrett loved his mother.) Robinson’s Rico personifies the “banality of evil” better than Arendt’s flesh-and-blood subject, Adolf Eichmann. (Incidentally, she didn’t even sit through Eichmann’s trial all the way. Women.)
Another “little Caesar,” surnamed Chavez, has also failed to attain the degree of secular sainthood that other dubious liberal household-name “heroes” of the 1960s and ’70s achieved.
Cesar Chavez, who unionized migrant farm workers and led a world-famous grape boycott back when “Latinos” were still “Chicanos,” was a beige little drip himself, nowhere near as eloquent as Martin Luther King or as handsome as RFK. Besides being devoid of sex appeal to an unnerving degree, Chavez also neglected to die young. And that UFW logo? Way too fascist-looking to compete with the peace sign and the “happy face.”
A few predictable gestures—a postage stamp, a PBS doc—simply reinforce Cesar Chavez as an afterthought, the Zeppo of hippiedom’s Marxist brothers. His biopic was long trapped in development hell. His cult remains regional. His “holiday” isn’t federal.
Then two weeks ago, President Obama declared “La Paz,” Chavez’s home in California, a national monument.
Liberal gatekeepers haven’t been as protective of the Chavez mythos as a cynical right-winger might expect. That’s why we now know that he was basically Jim Jones without the body count.
In Caitlin Flanagan’s exquisitely written exposé in the Atlantic, we learn that Chavez fell in with a 70s-era EST-type cult called Synanon, “an alternative lifestyle community” inhabited by females with shaved heads.
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