Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What to Watch When a Dictator Dies

I was somewhat surprised to hear that Hugo Chavez died.  You're probably saying, "How could you be surprised?  He's been seriously sick for months, if not years."  I'm always taken by surprise when dictators who have spent their years expending such power turn out to be mortal just like the rest of us.

I will likely write more about the idea of dictators and exile and all the refugees who flee and find themselves in South Florida.  I may try to determine how I have come to meet so many refugees who have such gruesome stories--and they tell me of their experiences.  Yes, some women get hit upon while they wait for public transit, but not me.  Is it part of my pastor vibe that I sometimes give off, even though I'm not ordained?

As I drove home, I thought about the fact that I find Tuesday night a wasteland in terms of TV.  When Richard Nixon died, we watched Where the Buffalo Roam.  I thought about the movies that we own and what would be appropriate for the death of a dictator.

We could watch Missing or Salvador to get the Latin American dictator vibe.  But my spouse doesn't often watch movies he's already seen.  Luckily, I had ordered Argo, and we hadn't gotten around to watching it yet.

What a great movie!  It was better on the large screen, of course, as most movies are.  I remember watching it in the theatre and thinking that Affleck had done a masterful job showing the mob behavior at the U.S. embassy in Iran.  In my head, I had imagined a sparser crowd, and I had always wondered why the embassy didn't do a better job at defending itself.  Now I understand.

And even before we got to that scene, Affleck does a fabulous job of explaining the history that got us to 1979.  It made me wish he'd do the same for some other countries--like Syria or Venezuela.  I love the bit that Jimmy Carter says at the end.  I love the idea of getting everybody out safely without compromising our American values.  You go ahead and scoff at me for getting weepy about that, call me naive, call me stupidly optimistic.  Guilty as charged.

I watched Argo and thought about how the lives of Iranian women changed radically in just a few years.  I thought about Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, and how relevant it still is.  I thought about those early scenes in the movie and the airport scenes, where we see Iranians desperate to leave, when it is much too late.  Even in childhood, I've been fascinated by the early years of dictatorship--how do people know it's time to pack up and flee?  I feel certain that my optimism would sink me in this area.  I'd keep believing that life would get better, that the dictator couldn't really mean what he (and it's always a he) said or do what he planned.

I'll be interested to see whether or not people return to Venezuela, and I know it will depend on a number of factors.  If I had gotten out of Iran at any point, as a woman, I would never go back.  Or would I?  We shouldn't underestimate the pull of home.

The pull of home:  it's an emotional state that drives many a plot, including Argo.  Perhaps the pull of home undergirds all conflicts in some way.  But that's a subject for another day, or for some grad student who needs a dissertation topic.

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