Last year, we wrote here about a garden party held by fashion designer Stella McCartney (Paul McCartney’s daughter) at her Manhattan home. The theme was “Cuba Libre.” High-profile guests, such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Alicia Keys, and Liv Tyler, enjoyed Cuban treats and snapped selfies with two actors who’d been hired for the occasion to dress up as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
The Hollywood Reporter, Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue, and other major media found the whole thing just adorable; so did one after another of the leading fashion websites. One discordant note was sounded by Anna Quintana, a young Cuban-American style writer, who lodged this complaint: “I find it hard to process how a designer I have long admired…could feature a garden party with walking caricatures of Castro and Che Guevara, two figures that many, if not all, in the Cuban-American community would consider to be the epitome of cruelty.”
Why, indeed, would Stella McCarthy, who has spent her entire life enjoying all the privileges afforded to the daughter of the world’s richest musician, celebrate monsters like Fidel and Che, who, if her father had been Cuban, would likely have thrown him in prison or put him in front of a firing squad?
In his classic 1970 article “Radical Chic,” which we began looking at yesterday, Tom Wolfe identified the attraction of the cultural elite of forty-five years ago to totalitarian thugs like the Black Panthers – who sought to overthrow the U.S. government and replace it with a system just as brutal as Castro’s – as an example of nostalgie de la boue. Meaning what? Literally: “nostalgia for the mud.” The term refers to the attraction of many foolish people at the top of the ladder to those at the bottom of the ladder – and not just any of those at the bottom (certainly not the hard-working, law-abiding drudges), but those whom the people at the top view as the most exotic, colorful, violent, primitive, dangerous.
At this site, we’ve touched before on the Black Panthers – and on the perverse eagerness of many decent, civilized people to makes heroes out of them.
Last December, discussing a documentary about the Panthers by Stanley Nelson, we noted that the movie was nothing less than a group hagiography, presenting the Panthers as (in our words) “an endearing crew of human-rights activists who were devoted to charity work and whose repeated clashes with police reflected not any predilection to violence on their own part but the cops’ ferocity and racism.” The film’s cockeyed portrayal of the Panthers won cheers from film-festival audiences and from reviewers for places like the Hollywood Reporter.
It was Michael Moynihan of The Daily Beast who provided a reality check, pointing out that the Black Panthers, guided by “the revolutionary works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Comrades Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Che, Malcolm X, and other great leaders of the worldwide people’s struggle for liberation,” were responsible for innumerable “revenge killings, punishment beatings, purges, [and] ‘disappearances.’” In their official newspaper, they ranted about “racist imperialist faggot honkey[s],” ran paeans to Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-Sung, and Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.
And yet the crème de la crème of New York’s beau monde invited these people into their houses and dug into their pockets to contribute to their “cause.” How to make sense of it? Tune in tomorrow.
Back in December, we discussed a blinkered review by the Hollywood Reporter‘s John DeFore of Stanley Nelson’s documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. “If you didn’t know anything about the Panthers,” we wrote, “you’d come away from DeFore’s review…believing that the Panthers were, in essence, an endearing crew of human-rights activists who were devoted to charity work and whose repeated clashes with police reflected not any predilection to violence on their own part but the cops’ ferocity and racism.”
DeFore wasn’t the only reviewer of The Black Panthers to join in Nelson’s baldfaced whitewashing of the twisted, violent Panthers. As we noted, it took Michael Moynihan, writing in the Daily Beast, to point out that “beyond the mindless ‘power to the people’ platitudes, the Panthers were ideological fanatics,” a “murderous and totalitarian cult” that repeatedly expressed devotion to the demonic likes of Mao, Kim Il Sung, Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, and above all Joseph Stalin, who was repeatedly quoted and praised in the group’s periodical The Black Panther. Moynihan further noted the Panthers’ “deeply conservative gender politics,” which involved not only anti-feminist rhetoric but systematic physical abuse. In 1974, for instance, Panther founder Huey Newton “was charged with murdering a teenage prostitute who had ‘disrespected’ him.”
Indeed, murder was at the very heart of the Panther agenda. The group was, as David Horowitz once put it, nothing less than “a criminal army at war with society,” “a Murder Incorporated in the heart of the American Left.” Now a prominent conservative, Horowitz was once a radical leftist who during the early days of the Panther movement collaborated very closely with its leaders. “Violence,” he has explained, “was an integral part of the Party’s internal life….this Party of liberators enforced discipline on the black ‘brothers and sisters’ inside the organization with bull-whips, the very symbol of the slave past.”
Those words appeared in Horowitz’s account of A Taste of Power, the 1992 memoir of former Panther leader Elaine Brown, who entered the group via “the Slausons, a forerunner of the Bloods and the Crips.”In her book, she explained “how the Panthers originally grew out of criminal street gangs, and how the gang mentality remained the core of the Party’s sense of itself, even during the heyday of its political glory.” As she recalled, she was
stunned by the magnitude of the party’s weaponry….There were literally thousands of weapons. There were large numbers of AR-18 short automatic rifles,. 308 scoped rifles, 30-30 Winchesters, .375 magnum and other big-game rifles, .30 caliber Garands, M-15s and M-16s and other assorted automatic and semi-automatic rifles, Thompson submachine guns, M-59 Santa Fe Troopers, Boys .55 caliber anti-tank guns, M-60 fully automatic machine guns, innumerable shotguns, and M-79 grenade launchers….There were caches of crossbows and arrows, grenades and miscellaneous explosive materials and devices.
All of which leads us, surreal as it may sound, to Beyoncé. Yes, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, the 34-year-old, Houston-born superstar songstress who’s won 20 Grammys, been named Artist of the Millennium by Billboard, and appeared twice on Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. In 2009 she paid tribute to the new American president, Barack Obama, by tenderly warbling “At Last” at an inaugural ball; four years later, in another thrilling turn, she sang (or, rather, lip-synched) the national anthem at Obama’s second inauguration. These were stirring patriotic moments (lip-synching aside). But then, the other day, on the most-watched program of the year, Beyoncé put a humongous blot on her own splendid, glittering escutcheon. Performing during halftime at the Super Bowl, she paid tribute again – this time not to her country or to its president, but to the Black Panthers.
Yes, the Black Panthers. Her Super Bowl show was an exercise in what one critic called“Black Panther chic.” Her dancers, reported the New York Post, were “dressed in homage to the Black Panther Party, at one point joining her in giving millions of viewers a black-power salute as she belted out her new politically charged power anthem, ‘Formation.’” Suggesting that the show “might be the most radical political statement from the superstar in her 20-year career,” the Guardian reported that her backup dancers, “wearing Black Panther-style berets and clad in black leather were photographed after the performance posing with raised fists evocative of the black power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.”
“Much of the halftime show,” observed the Post,“was about love and togetherness…the audience spelled out ‘Believe in Love’ with rainbow-colored placards.” Love? This was all about love? Does Beyoncé sincerely believe that the Black Panther movement has, or ever had, anything whatsoever to do with love? If she does, then she can only be described as a thoroughgoing historical ignoramus, and thus a useful stooge of the first order. For the fact is that the Black Panthers were, quite simply, hate set in system. They were racists, terrorists, homophobes, anti-Semites, proud disciples of the cruelest and most remorseless totalitarian despots of the twentieth century. Nothing could be more Orwellian than the notion that they were ever driven, in any sense of the word, by love.
Of course, Beyoncé is far from alone in her self-delusion. As Nelson’s Black Panther documentary demonstrated quite neatly, a revisionist approach to the history of the Panthers – a determination, that is, to turn these devils into saints, these monsters into martyrs, these ruthless purveyors of mindless violence into heroic victims of government harassment and police brutality – is all the rage these days in PC circles. In many quarters, accordingly, Beyoncé’s halftime salute to Newton’s gang of murderers, drug dealers, pimps, rapists, and extortionists won gushing plaudits.
The Fashionista website, for instance, praised her use of “wardrobe to bring attention to her latest song’s powerful commentary.” The celebrity gossip site TMZ called her performance “a stirring political statement.” Julee Wilson, senior fashion editor of the Huffington Post, cheered what she described as Beyoncé’s “powerful nod to the sleek and serious uniform of the Black Panthers.” Wilson’s piece, as it happens, ran under the following headline: “Beyoncé’s Dancers Slay In Black Panther Outfits During Super Bowl Halftime Show.” We have no way of knowing who was responsible for putting the word “slay” in that headline, or, for that matter, whether the allusion to the violence of the Black Panthers – who did far more than their share of literal slaying – was intentional or inadvertent.
Strikingly, Caroline Framke, writing in Vox, used the same word: “Beyoncé slayed.” Framke, too, celebrated Beyoncé’s act, describing it as “a huge, purposeful statement” that offered “defiant social commentary” and that was “proudly steeped in black American culture” – as if the Black Panthers were anything to be proud of. In sum, wrote Framke, Beyoncé “transformed one of the biggest events in sports, corporate synergy, and entertainment into a distinctly political act.”
Meanwhile the website of Essence, the magazine for black women,secured an interview with Marni Senofonte, Beyoncé’s stylist. Senofonte had this to say about the show’s message:
It was important to her to honor the beauty of strong Black women and celebrate the unity that fuels their power. One of the best examples of that is the image of the female Black Panther. The women of the Black Panther Party created a sisterhood and worked right alongside their men fighting police brutality and creating community social programs. That they started here in the Bay Area, where the SuperBowl is being held this year, was not lost on her. And they made a fashion statement with natural afros, black leather jackets and black pant suits. That image of women in leadership roles; believing they are a vital part of the struggle is undeniably provocative and served as reference and reality.
Senofonte called Beyoncé’s show “a celebration of history.” On the contrary, as reflected in Senofonte’s own staggeringly misinformed account of Black Panther women, it was a celebration – and a supremely ignorant and dangerous one, at that – of the wholesale rewriting of history.
Reviewing Stanley Nelson‘s new documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution back in January, John DeFore of the Hollywood Reporter gave a big thumbs-up to its admiring portrayal of Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and company. If you didn’t know anything about the Panthers, you’d come away from DeFore’s review – or, one gathers, from Nelson’s film (which was aired earlier this year on PBS) – believing that the Panthers were, in essence, an endearing crew of human-rights activists who were devoted to charity work and whose repeated clashes with police reflected not any predilection to violence on their own part but the cops’ ferocity and racism. Yes, DeFore acknowledges the film’s lack of objectivity, but is quick to add that “[s]traight history is not the whole point here.”
DeFore isn’t alone; audiences at Sundance and other film festivals have cheered Nelson’s film lustily. It took Michael Moynihan, writing in The Daily Beast on July 25, to remind – or inform – readers that the Black Panthers were, in fact, bloodthirsty totalitarian-minded thugs who committed “revenge killings, punishment beatings, purges, [and] ‘disappearances.’” Nelson’s film, Moynihan complained, is pure hagiography, omitting “almost anything that reflects poorly on the Panthers.” By emphasizing the Panthers’ style – the way they dressed and moved and talked – and soft-pedaling their ideology, Nelson managed to dance around the fact that the Panthers were, in Moynihan’s words, “ideological fanatics” who were guided, as the Panthers’ own newspaper put it, by “the revolutionary works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Comrades Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara, Malcolm X, and other great leaders of the worldwide people’s struggle for liberation.”
To peruse old issues of that newspaper, notes Moynihan, is to encounter passages about “racist imperialist faggot honkey[s],” innumerable pictures of Kim Il-Sung and Mao Tse-Tung, “paeans to demented Albanian Stalinist Enver Hoxha,” and, time and time again, “glowing references to Josef Stalin” by such Panther eminences as Eldridge Cleaver, David Hilliard, and Bobby Seale. But Nelson drops all this troublesome baggage down the memory hole. While he tells the Panthers’ story mostly through the personal accounts by former members, moreover, he consistently whitewashes those accounts. For example, ex-Panther Jamal Joseph, now a faculty member at Columbia University, was (notes Moynihan) “sentenced to 12½ years in prison for his part in the infamous 1981 Brinks armored car robbery, which resulted in the death of three innocents.” Joseph is one of the main talking heads in Nelson’s film; but his “very long rap sheet…is never mentioned.”
Moynihan’s conclusion? Nelson’s film has its share of cinematic pizzazz, but he’s “an astonishingly bad journalist.” Why?
Because a good journalist would have forced [interviewees] Joseph, [Ericka] Huggins, [Flores] Forbes, and [Landon] Williams to confront their own pasts and the Panther’s violent legacy, while steering them away from rote banalities accusing the FBI of provoking their murderousness. A good journalist would have brought in voices critical of the party from other expanses of the civil rights movement (like the late Bayard Rustin). A good journalist might look at the actuarial table for Panther members and wonder why more Panthers were killed by fellow black nationalists than by the pigs.
But of course, it looks as though journalism was the last thing Nelson had in mind here. What he was going for was celebration – a celebration of brutal, tyrant-worshiping hoodlums. And one crowd of film buffs after another has joined in his applause.
Okay, so let’s see what we’ve got so far. Labour MP Tom Harris, citing his party’s new chief spokesman Seumas Milne‘s relativization of the coldblooded jihadist murder of Lee Rigby and celebration of Iraqi terrorists as freedom fighters, described him “contemptuous of traditional working class attitudes to Queen and country.” Michael Moynihan of the Daily Beast commented: “Wherever there’s an aggrieved terrorist or an undemocratic regime engaged in an existential struggle with the West, you can rely on Seumas Milne…to offer a full-throated, if slightly incoherent, defense.” Alex Massie, in the Spectator, noted that Milne’s oeuvre includes “defences of, or explanations and occasional justifications for, inter alia, Joe Stalin, Slobodan Milosevic, Iraqi Baathists attacking British troops, and much else besides.”
There’s more. Even Oliver Bullough, a firm Labourite and Corbyn supporter, considersMilne a bridge too far. A specialist in the former USSR, Bullough knows the region well. “And yet, when I read what Milne writes about it, I slip into a parallel universe.” Bullough cited Ukraine, where last year the people overthrew a Putin puppet, Viktor Yanukovich, whose palace garage was piled with treasures: “icons, carved ivory, Picasso ceramics, ancient books….He’d had nowhere to put them.” Bullough described the revolution as “pure people power: the street reclaiming democracy from a thuggish kleptocrat.” Whereupon the bully next door, Putin, moved in and annexed Crimea.
A good liberal, suggested Bullough, should have no trouble telling the good guys in this story from the bad ones.
And yet Milne’s response, he noted, was to serve up a full-throated defense of Vlad the Impaler. Describing Ukraine’s crisis as “a product of the disastrous Versailles-style break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s,” Milne slammd the Western alliance for pushing NATO “up to Russia’s borders.” Given such a provocation, argued Milne, who could blame Russia for acting “to stop the more strategically sensitive and neuralgic Ukraine falling decisively into the western camp”? Who, he demanded, could fail to see Putin’s Crimea annexation and his support for rebels in the eastern Ukraine as anything other than “defensive”?
Responding to this nonsense, Bullough pointed out Milne’s (characteristically) fast-and-loose approach to the facts: (a) the USSR’s dissolution, Milne to the contrary, wasn’t the result of outside coercion or some Versailles-like treaty; (b) since NATO founding member Norway borders on Russia, so has NATO since its inception; and (c) on what planet is invading a powerless, unthreatening neighbor “defensive”?
But Bullough wasn’t focused on these factual errors so much as on the things that, he said, really matter here – namely, the lives and hopes of people in Eastern Europe, which don’t appear to concern Milne at all. Those Eastern Europeans joined NATO of their own free will, in order to defend their freedom; to Milne, those people’s freedom – and their fervent interest in preserving it – are apparently invisible.
In short, as Bullough put it: “For Milne, geopolitics is more important than people. Whatever crisis strikes the world, the West’s to blame.” He cited chapter and verse from Milne:
Why did a group of psychopaths attack a magazine and a supermarket in Paris? “Without the war waged by western powers, including France, to bring to heel and reoccupy the Arab and Muslim world, last week’s attacks clearly couldn’t have taken place.”
Why did Anders Breivik slaughter 77 people? “What is most striking is how closely he mirrors the ideas and fixations of transatlantic conservatives.”
Why did two maniacs in London decapitate an off-duty soldier? “They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others.”
Yesterday we met Seumas Milne, a longtime Guardian writer and editor – and ardent apologist for Stalinism – who’s been tapped by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to be his spokesman. We’ve seen that his appointment appalled former Labour MP Tom Harris, who deplored Milne’s undisguised admiration for jihadists and lack of sympathy for the British soldiers they killed.
Harris wasn’t alone in his revulsion. Michael Moynihan, profilingMilne in the Daily Beast, waxed sarcastic:
Wherever there’s an aggrieved terrorist or an undemocratic regime engaged in an existential struggle with the West, you can rely on Seumas Milne, Oxford-educated warrior for the Third World and former comment editor of The Guardian, to offer a full-throated, if slightly incoherent, defense. If your country’s constitution mandates the burning down of orphanages and the conscription of 6-year-olds in to the army, Milne will likely have your back, provided you also express a deep loathing for the United States and capitalism.
Moynihan quoted Milne on various subjects.
Communism: in the USSR and its satellites, it “delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality.”
The Soviet bloc: it “encompassed genuine idealism and commitment” to social justice.
East Germany: it was “a country of full employment, social equality, cheap housing, transport and culture, one of the best childcare systems in the world, and greater freedom in the workplace than most employees enjoy in today’s Germany.”
West Germany’s annexation of East Germany: it entailed “a loss of women’s rights, closure of free nurseries and mass unemployment.”
Mahmoud Ahmedinejad: he “stand[s] up for [Iran’s] independence, expose[s] elite corruption on TV and use[s] Iran’s oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority.”
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara: two men whose legacy is one of “innate humanity.”
Meanwhile, in the Spectator, Alex Massie depicted Milne’s appointment as “consistent,” given Corbyn’s own admiration for Cuba and Venezuela, hatred of “American hegemony,” etc. If that’s where you’re coming from, asked Massie, why not pick a spokesman “whose back catalogue features defences of, or explanations and occasional justifications for, inter alia, Joe Stalin, Slobodan Milosevic, Iraqi Baathists attacking British troops, and much else besides”? Why not hire a guy whose published oeuvre “is stuffed with articles downplaying the horrors of Sovietism and then, latterly, redefining Russian aggression as defensive manoeuvres designed to combat – of course – western neoliberalism”?
Massie quoted one of Milne’s many cockeyed statements about the USSR: “Whatever people thought about the Soviet Union and its allies and what was going on in those countries, there was a sense throughout the twentieth century that there were alternatives – socialist political alternatives.” Yes: alternatives that involved subjecting citizens to a culture of fear, denying them even a trace of individual liberty, imposing upon them policies of forced collectivization and planned famine that took millions of lives, and establishing a network of forced-labor camps to which millions of those citizens were sentenced for their political convictions or religious beliefs – or for no reason at all.
Yesterday we flashed back to 2002, when most members of the New York City Council chose to boycott a City Hall speech and reception by the Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe; but Bill de Blasio, now Mayor of New York, didn’t. He stayed. He attended. One assumes he applauded at the end of Mugabe’s speech. Years later, presumably for reasons of political expediency, he – or one of his flunkies – decided that it was a good idea for him to apologize for having shown up to honor the Zimbabwean despot; but it’s not as if de Blasio didn’t know at the time who the man was and what he stood for. (Then again, the mayor deserves full marks for ideological consistency: back in the day, he also supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and honeymooned in Havana.)
How, you might wonder, did Mugabe ever come to be honored at New York’s City Hall in the first place? The answer: Charles Barron, a former Black Panther member who spent twelve years in the City Council, and then, after making unsuccessful runs for mayor, governor, and the U.S. Congress, won the election last year to succeed his wife, Inez, in the New York State Assembly. Barron, described by the New York Observer as “among the most flamboyant and inflammatory figures on the New York political scene,” is notorious for his virulently anti-white and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and has been arrested and jailed several times for acts of harassment, disorderly conduct, and criminal trespass, all carried out in the guise of civil-rights activism. It was Barron who, back in 2002, arranged for Mugabe to be fêted at City Hall.
Does he now have regrets? Far from it. In September, Barron told the Observer that now that he’s living in Albany and serving in the state legislature, he “would love” to host a visit by Mugabe to the state capital. “I would love for him to come anywhere in the United States, really,” Barron added, calling Mugabe a “freedom fighter” and a “shining example of an African leader on the African continent.” Far from being disturbed by Mugabe’s distribution to black Zimbabweans of farmland seized from whites for purely racist reasons, Barron explained that he considered this policy especially admirable. “He was one of the few African leaders who had the courage to take the land back from the settlers,” said Barron, who went on to fault Nelson Mandela for not taking away more property from white South Africans.
Like de Blasio, Barron is consistent. He’s a fan of the Castros, a defender of Hamas; when Qaddafi was alive, Barron admired him, too. “All my heroes were America’s enemies,” he has helpfully explained. Moreover, as Michael Moynihan observed in a 2012 profile, Barron
is obsessively hostile to Israel—a country whose founding he rejects as historical crime. After a 2009 trip to Gaza with British MP George Galloway’s anti-Israel group Viva Palestina, Barron told reporters that the Gaza Strip was a giant “concentration camp.” Considering this description a touch understated, he traded Dachau for Auschwitz, comparing the Palestinian territories to a modern “death camp.” Israel, he added, “deliberately cause[s] the death of innocent children” and is guilty of “genocide.”
Moynihan summed up Barron’s politics as consisting of “a deep illiberalism and contempt for democracy, an almost pathological hatred of Israel and fondness for dictatorship.” Yep, that pretty much says it.
We’ve met some of the corrupt characters who made up Hugo Chávez‘s inner circle – most of whom are today part of (or very close to) the government of Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro.
A few months after Chávez’s 2013 death, the consequences of his and his cronies’ corruption were deftly described in the British Spectator by James Bloodworth. Under the headline “Venezuela: a shining example of how not to help the poor,” he summed up these leeches’ dubious achievement:
While Brazil is on the verge of global power status…15 years of “21st century socialism” has left Venezuela with one of the world’s “highest inflation rates, worst misalignment of the exchange rate, fastest-growing debt, and one of the most precipitous drops in productive capacity,” according to former Venezuelan minister Moises Naim. The country is also a more dangerous place to live than Iraq….
The real shame is that Hugo Chávez is no longer around to witness the Venezuelan masses pay for his government’s idiocy.
Michael Moynihan, writing last year in the Daily Beast, had a few questions for Western chavistas. To begin with: how would they react if the U.S. president, say, arrested an opposition leader, or shut off the Internet in politically unreliable cities, or had demonstrators murdered, or jailed a judge who ruled against his intelligence operations? How long would Americans allow their president “to run up massive inflation?” Or:
How long would it be considered reasonable – and not the president’s responsibility – to preside over 23,000 murders in a country of just under 30 million people, a rate that would horrify the average resident of Baghdad? How long could supermarket shelves remain bare of basic staples like bread and milk before The Nation or The Guardian would gleefully decide that America was a failed, kleptocratic state? Or if Bush or Obama’s economic policies meant that toilet paper could no longer be found on the open market?
Every word, as they say, is true. And then some. Yet there’s been no shortage of “cheerleaders” (as Bloodworth put it) willing to set the facts aside and sing the praises of what Bloodworth (quite properly) calls Chávez’s “clownish revolution.”
Consider these excerpts from a piece that ran on CNN’s website, no less, after the caudillo’s death:
Hugo Chávez was beloved by millions around the world. He changed the course of a continent and led a collective awakening of a people once silenced, once exploited and ignored. Chávez was a grandiose visionary and a maker of dreams.
An honest man from a humble background ….Chávez dreamed of building a strong, sovereign nation, independent of foreign influence and dignified on the world scene. He dreamed of improving the lives of his people…
President Chávez made those dreams come true.
The author concludes by recalling a statement by Chávez to the effect that he was “just a soldier.” Her comment:
Yes, Chávez, you are a soldier, a glorious soldier of a dignified, proud and kind people. And you are a maker of dreams for millions around the world.
The piece – with its over-the-top, Pyongyang-style encomia for the Dear Leader, its mastery of the good old Stalinist cult-of-personality style – precisely exemplifies the kind of rhetoric about Chávez that his own regime promoted. No surprise, then, that its author, Eva Golinger, turned out to be a longtime professional chavista – a policy adviser to the Venezuelan government, editor of a newspaper published by the Venezuelan government, and a former head of the New York-based Venezuela Solidarity Committee.
But what is surprising – or should be – is the number of people who presumably aren’t on the government payroll but who, despite the disastrous repercussions of Chávez’s rule, have persisted in praising him. Among them are reliable Hollywood lefties Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, and Michael Moore.
We’ve seen how Stone – a writer and director of considerable talent but staggeringly poor political judgment – made not one, not two, but three documentaries in praise of Fidel Castro; as it happens, he’s also directed two pictures about Chávez, South of the Border and My Friend Hugo, the latter of which was released last year on the first anniversary of the dictator’s demise. The New York Times reported that the problems with South of the Border
begin early on, with his account of Mr. Chávez’s rise. As “South of the Border” portrays it, Mr. Chávez’s main opponent in his initial run for president in 1998 was “a 6-foot-1-inch blond former Miss Universe” named Irene Sáez, and thus “the contest becomes known as the Beauty and the Beast” election.
But Mr. Chávez’s main opponent then was not Ms. Sáez, who finished third, with less than 3 percent of the vote. It was Henrique Salas Romer, a bland former state governor who won 40 percent of the vote.
The Times’s Stephen Holden called South of the Border a “provocative, if shallow, exaltation of Latin American socialism”; EntertainmentWeekly called it “rose-colored agitprop.” Confronted with a series of discrepancies between the historical record and the film’s account of it, Stone’s co-writer, Tariq Ali, explained: “We were not writing a book, or having an academic debate. [Our goal] was to have a sympathetic view of these governments.”
Yes, whether the facts warranted it or not.
Time film critic Richard Corliss’s review of South of the Border was headlined “Oliver Stone and Hugo Chávez: A Love Story.” Commenting that Stone “sees the geopolitical glass as all empty (the U.S. and its world-banking arm, the International Monetary Fund) or all full (Chávez and his comrade Presidentes in South America),” Corliss summed up the film as follows:
Every step of the way, Stone is by, and on, on the President’s side. He raises no tough issues, some of which are summarized in Amnesty International’s 2009 report on Venezuela: “Attacks on journalists were widespread. Human-rights defenders continued to suffer harassment. Prison conditions provoked hunger strikes in facilities across the country.” Referring to the 2006 election in which Chávez won a third term, Stone tells viewers that “90% of the media was opposed to him,” and yet he prevailed. “There is a lesson to be learned,” Stone says. Yes: support the man in power, or your newspaper, radio station or TV network may be in jeopardy.
The good news about South of the Border? It tanked in – guess where? – Venezuela. “Despite round-the-clock promotion on Venezuelan state television and government-subsidized screenings in the capital of Caracas,” Stone’s nauseatingly hagiographic pic “grossed only $18,601 on 20 screens in the 12 days after its June 4 debut.”
(By comparison, at around the same time, the Michael Jackson documentary This Is It took in $2.1 million from Venezuela audiences.)
Not that this poor showing dampened Stone’s outsized cariño for Chávez. When His Holiness kicked off, Stone eulogized him as follows: “I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place….Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chávez will live forever in history.”