Thursday, February 24, 2011

Inconceivable? Blame America First Becomes Blame Harvard First

There's a profile in the March-April 2011 issue of Harvard Magazine on actor and playwright Wallace Shawn. You will remember him as Vizzini, the Sicilian criminal mastermind who kidnaps Princess Buttercup in The Princess Bride (1987). You don't remember? Inconceivable!

Wally is the son of William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker during its golden age. You may also remember him from My Dinner with Andre (1981). He voiced Rex in the Toy Story movies. In total, the movies he has been in have racked up more than $2 billion in the U.S. and $4 billion worldwide.

America has been very good to Wallace Shawn, so it's likely he will take some criticism for what appears at first reading to be a very clear statement of Blame America First:

"There was a point when I crossed over from being a regular liberal supporter of the Democratic Party to being a leftist, becoming less in the Arthur Schlesinger Jr. category and more in the Noam Chomsky category. It had to do with understanding that I and the people I knew were actually involved in the story. There are certain writers who specialize in saying, 'Oh, my God, the terrible things people do to each other in South America! It's absolutely shocking!' At a certain point I was able to face the fact that — Wow, it was the U.S. Army who did that, and: a) it was my taxes that paid for them to do it; and b) they did it to preserve the status quo in which I am leading a very pleasant life. These things are happening every day because of me and my friends, and we're not doing anything about it. You have murder and torture going on—so, what does that make us?

"I happen to believe that the American elite has been a marauding monstrosity on the world scene in my lifetime. It has been unimaginably brutal in trying to preserve the status quo and unimaginably greedy in trying to bring the world's resources onto our continent. And unintentionally contributing to the possibility of destroying life on Earth, due to the damage that has been done to the environment by our way of doing business. Harvard's role is mostly to service and to perpetuate and to create that elite, even though many, many wonderful people, and people who have fought the status quo, have come through Harvard."
In The Princess Bride he has a more succinct statement of this philosophy, which doesn't blame America at all:

"I've hired you to help me start a war. It's an prestigious line of work, with a long and glorious tradition."
But Wallace Shawn doesn't really blame America, if you reread his remarks. He blames American elites and liberal Harvard for creating those elites.

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