Putting Stalin To Rest

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Контент 18+ No doubt social media have discussed and dissected all aspects of the latest government act of censorship, in this case, the satirical film "The Death of Stalin." So there is no sense in my following redundancy with more redundancy. I will limit myself therefore to what I hope will be a few more or less original thoughts.

First, I guess it is good that in Russia people still CARE about these things. I mean, art is taken seriously in Russia to the extent that if it offends certain religious or political sensibilities, those who are offended become indignant. In the West, there is apt to be a lot of piss-and-vinegar too when a controversial book is written ("Fifty Shades of Gray") or a film put together (Mel Gibson's "The Last Temptation of Christ"). But in the end, nobody really gives enough of a shit to seriously talk about censoring it.
This, of course, breaks down two ways. A culture (Western) where you are just as apt to see a picture of the Mona Lisa with a moustache as without (that doggoned Pop Art is just sooooo playful) is a culture which, not taking anything seriously, does not deserve to be taken seriously itself. Which is why almost all the garbage that we see everywhere in terms of what is supposed to be 'entertainment' came spewing out of some Western imagination. To express it differently, any time you are confronted with some really obnoxious, half-ass idea , trend, or fad, if you delve deeply enough, you will usually find an American as its source.

But over there -- and in places such as the UK -- they are at least free to do it, so long as (and this is a really BIG disclaimer), you do not violate the Nazi-catechism of Political Correctness.
The other side, as in Russia and in all Islamic countries, is just as bad for a different reason. Censorship is a huge and extremely complicated issue, to be sure. In other words, freedom of speech does not give you freedom to start crying out "Fire, Fire !!!" in a crowded theater, for the simple and very legitimate reason that if you did so you would create panic and probably injury or even death as the people stampeded in attempt to leave the theater. Therefore, even when it is hard to define in the strictest terms of law, censorship or, should I say, self-censorship,' becomes a matter of good taste and not coercion by governmental authority. Example: if someone invites me to dinner, I don't tell them that the food tastes like shit. Even if it tastes like shit. I don't go into a church wearing a T-shirt that says "I love Satan." If you are not a fool, you censor yourself.

The problem with most religious-and-politically-driven censors is that the majority of them ARE fools. At least they are fools in the sense that they don't know anything about art. They are in no position to dictate to other ADULT people what they should or should not watch. I say 'adult' because, again -- if we apply common sense here -- a responsible parent does not want their 10 year-old-child watching a cock-sucking marathon on some internet porn link. No argument there.
But allow me -- if I may be so presumptuous (and you are completely free to disagree with me) -- to state one tenet regarding art that I hold to be as true as we can get to Truth: Great art is a MIRROR that REFLECTS the world, suffused of course with the artist's private vision of that world. IF his/her private vision resonates on some universal basis, then we have possibly great art. But great art is NEVER didactic. It does not teach us the correct ""ism" to follow (capitalism, communism, et.c) and it does not bore us to death with whatever official dogma comes attached. That's why Nazi Germany did not leave us with great art. The STOLE other people's art of course, but they produced NOTHING great that existed to support the Nazi Party. Any great art that emanates (or ESCAPES) from a totalitarian system does do in DEFIANCE of the authorities, not in support of them.

Therefore, a bunch of stupid government buffoons are simply not qualified to act as censors. Never have been, never will be. But in Russia, sadly, such people have the authority to decide what you or I can see in the cinema.
I have a wonderful friend who always tells me I am too harsh in my judgment of Russian people (sometimes I have used the word 'lazy'). But I grant without hesitation that this splendid woman (she is a scientist of the first rank) whose parents both fought in the Second World War has many valid points to make. As an American, I have never (when I lived over there) seen a foreign army marching down the street or foreign aircraft flying menacingly overhead. Not since 1865 has war unfolded on American soil; mostly it is something that Americans watch on TV -- in films or on news programs that show footage of the latest US bombing raid on a foreign nation.

In Russia, the reality has been much different. Some Russians still survive who actually remember the war firsthand, and many more qualify as the children of that war. For an American like me make light of that tragic, heroic collective experience would be to cast an insult of the first order. 75 years later, Russians should honor the memory of that titanic struggle for survival. And they should celebrate its ultimate victory.
This does NOT make Stalin a good guy, and it is a complete non sequitur to try to argue that somehow ALL of those millions of Russian deaths dating from the 1930s until well after the war, can be justified in terms of defeating fascism. Millions of those deaths had nothing to do with the Nazis and everything to do with the paranoia and savage, ruthless cruelty of Stalin himself. To treat this murderer like some kind of sacred cow will not wash.
The film itself is meant to be a satire. What is a satire? It is a send-up or lampoon of the rich or ruling classes, invariably pointing out their pompous and self-righteous absurdities. The beauty of a good satire is that the audience gets the point totally while the actors who are being laughed at understand nothing because they take themselves so seriously. Satire therefore never mocks the weak but rather the high-and-mighty. The powers that be, once they finally get the point are always outraged. Why? Because they see that the world is LAUGHING at them.

The playground bully enjoys inspiring terror. He wants everyone to be afraid of him. Stand up to him, fight him, and ok, you may lose, but he will think twice next time before he messes with you. LAUGH at the son of a bitch and he will just about lose his mind. He will cry out "How can you LAUGH at me when you are supposed to be TERRIFIED of me."
That is the point of satire. I confess I have not seen the whole of "The Death of Stalin." I have seen only a trailer. (Frankly, I was disappointed. It seems too frantic, too herky-jerky, and I am inclined to think that if the TRAILER isn't interesting, then how can the rest of the film be?)

What is perfectly clear, however, is that the film has no intention of insulting Russia's collective memory of the war, nor its sense of the sacred. It simply sets out, as does all satire, to reduce the would-be giants to their proper size and to show that their minds were never full of high sentence but mostly occupied by narrow, petty, self-serving, and ultimately venomous motives. If "The Death of Stalin" even approaches such an accomplishment, it has done its job. And The Great Patriotic War remains, untarnished, an emblem of the greatness, not of Stalin, but of the Russian people.

===Eric Richard Leroy===

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