Twilight of the Übermensch

June 13, 2012

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Twilight of the Übermensch

You probably haven’t heard of Get the Gringo, a recent Lethal Weapon-like action movie starring Mel Gibson and directed by his right-hand man Adrian Grunberg. Mad Mel plays Driver, an American criminal who makes a run for the border, only to wind up in one of those Beyond Thunderdome-like Mexican prisons where anything (except freedom) can be had for a price.
You can watch the first eight minutes of Get the Gringo online here; it looks fun. So far, 9,949 reviewers on IMDb.com have given it a mean rating of 7.4 out of 10, which equates to “not great, but quite good.” 

Although Get the Gringo debuted on March 15, 2012 in Israel, there are no plans to ever let it enjoy a theatrical run here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. To watch Get the Gringo legally in the United States, you have to pay $11.99 to satellite provider DirecTV for video on demand. That sounds reasonable, except you also need a two-year contract with DirecTV. Or you could fly to Israel and buy a movie ticket. I’m not sure which would be cheaper. 

You know how Saudi Arabians take holidays in Beirut to get away from the suffocating censorship and exhausting moral panics in their own country? Maybe rich Americans will soon vacation in Tel Aviv to indulge in simple liberties such as watching a Mel Gibson action flick in a movie theater with a tub of popcorn.

“The huge Ashkenazi debt to German thought is being eased down the memory hole.”

I first learned of Get the Gringo’s existence while researching last week’s column on another manic-depressive filmmaker, Lars von Trier, the Dane who directed the Kubrick and Wagner-inspired sci-fi film Melancholia. At the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, von Trier wound up beseeching a baying press corps to believe him when he insisted, “I’m not Mel Gibson. I’m definitely not Mel Gibson.” 

You see, von Trier had touched off a moralistic maelstrom at a press conference promoting his Wagnerian movie. After he had extolled Tristan und Isolde’s importance in the German Romantic tradition (from 34:00 minutes into this video), a critic jumped in to ask von Trier about his “German roots” and taste for a “Nazi aesthetic.”

Knowing exactly where this question was going, Von Trier lightheartedly replied:

For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew….But then I found out I was actually a Nazi. My family were German.…What can I say? I understand Hitler…but, still, how can I get out of this sentence?

This being the 21st century, when outdated concepts such as “freedom of speech” have taken a backseat to Sensitivity and Appropriateness, von Trier was immediately interrogated by the French police and declared persona non grata by the festival. 

Von Trier’s beleaguered defenders said he was just trying to make a silly joke in English that went terribly wrong. In truth, though, the question and answer actually refer to several fascinating layers of reality (at least to the extent that we can trust anything that von Trier, a master self-promoter who makes Werner Herzog seem self-effacing, says about himself).

Like many in the movie business, the director was raised in a countercultural home with few rules. His father, a Jewish leftist and his mother a gentile communist, bestowed upon him the proletarian name “Lars Trier.” Yet at film school, the other students started to call him “Lars von Trier” due to his imperious manner. Trier decided the aristocratic “von” fit.

In 1989, when he was 33 and already Danish cinema’s enfant terrible, his mother confessed to him on her deathbed that she had cuckolded her unambitious late husband in a homemade eugenics project to give her son more artistic genes. In truth, his biological father was a gentile Dane descended from the famous Teutonic-Danish Hartmann family of classical composers. In a 2005 interview, Von Trier laughed:

And you then feel manipulated when you really do turn out to be creative. If I’d known that my mother had this plan, I would have become something else. I would have shown her. The slut!

There’s also a higher level of joke that von Trier only glancingly touched upon: Western aesthetic life is being dumbed down by the ever-growing frenzy to punish Hitler retroactively by writing the Germans out of European cultural history. In particular, the huge Ashkenazi debt to German thought is being eased down the memory hole. 

Strangely enough, this did not happen immediately after WWII. For decades afterward, the most celebrated Jewish thinkers—Marx, Freud, and Einstein—were all depicted as German-speaking Herr Professor types.

Consider Kubrick’s 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which to suspicious 21st-century eyes sounds practically Hitlerian. 2001 begins with Richard Strauss’s tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra, which is named after Friedrich Nietzsche’s book celebrating the coming of the Übermensch. Indeed, Kubrick’s 2001 is largely a Nietzschean allegory of evolution from ape to man to Superman. And Nietzsche was viscerally impacted by the anti-Semitic Wagner.

De-Teutonification is a popular project. Wagner was Hitler’s favorite composer, so what more do you need to know? Today, Wagner, Nietzsche, and Strauss are all seen as tainted quasi-Nazis. Yet in 1968, Kubrick didn’t have to put up with questions about whether he was a self-hating Jew for making 2001. It was simply assumed back then, especially by Jewish critics, that high culture was inextricably Germanic.

Today, though, our history is being de-Germanized. For example, you may have thought that the two Jewish youngsters who concocted the Superman comic book in the 1930s, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were inspired by Nietzsche’s awesome-sounding concept, just as Leopold & Loeb had been the decade before. Yet in Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2000 fictionalization of Siegel & Shuster’s story, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the heroes are inspired instead by the 100%-Jewish Golem of Prague. Granted, a golem is just a dim-witted lump of clay, but he’s not a German dim-witted lump of clay, and that’s what counts these days.


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