Friday, May 18, 2007

Just Like in Real Life

I'm not a fan of the International Herald Tribune but occasionally it does provide a bumper issue within its very thin pages and today's is one of those. We learn of the first rail crossing between North and South Korea since the end of the Korean war fifty-four years ago and the campaign of harrassment and vilification conducted by Hindu fundamentalists against an Indian Muslim artist (it is strange how the Western media, so given to the word 'Islamofascism', has yet to start using 'Hindufascism' even though fanatics allied to the former ruling BJP have been long engaged in undemocratic activities against everyone from Muslims in Gujurat to filmmaker Deepa Mehta to Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty, but I suppose the Western conception of all Hindus as peaceful cow-loving Gandhi-followers precludes such a stance). Best of all is the story from a correspondent in the Czech Republic about Cimrman, a fictitious Czech character born in the 1960s as a satirical prop against the Stalinist dictatorship, and who has since inspired fourteen plays written "on his behalf", given his name to an asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter and is soon to be immortalised in the name of a mountain in Russia. Cimrman is a product of a Central and Eastern European imagination that champions the little man that has produced the majestic oeuvre of Kafka, Jaroslav Hašek, Ivan Klima, Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal, Ivo Andric and countless others and which has recently been reincarnated in the superb Romanian films The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 12.08, East of Bucharest. The discovery of this fantastic character, so dear to Czechs and an irrepressible resistant against tyranny made my day in a way that few other things have recently. Three cheers for the Czechs.

The closest thing we have to Cimrman in the English-speaking world is Matt Groëning's peerless creation The Simpsons, which celebrates its 400th episode this week. I have long suspected that this most brilliant of TV shows is underappreciated and, most likely, wildly misunderstood in its homeland, and this piece in The Nation confirms this. The liberal scribe muses about the series: "[it's] terribly animated (at least by Pixar or Dreamworks standards), unabashedly crude and, at times, prone to deus ex machina endings". To say that The Simpsons is 'terribly animated by Pixar or Dreamworks standards' is akin to saying that Picasso's 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' was a bit badly drawn compared to John Singer Sargent's draughtsmanship, but middle-brows will be middle-brows. As an example of The Simpson's brilliance, here's a wee taste of one of the greatest episodes. Watch it all; it's funny because it's true...