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Julius Caesar, Caligula and Trump: The Pornography of Violence: Is it Art Imitating Life, or The Other Way Around?
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-06-20 09:26:20
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Julius Caesar, Caligula and Trump: The Pornography of Violence:
Is it Art Imitating Life, or The Other Way Around?


Tina Benko as Calpurnia portraying Melania and Gregg Henry as Trump portraying Julius Caesar

“Why would you want to pray with the children of Satan”
             --Jesse Leet Peterson (Right-wing Radio Host)

Undoubtedly, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is meant as art imitating life. Most people would agree. But is it really? Isn’t Shakespeare’s more realistic in the sense that it portrays the complex emotions that go into the making of a political conspiracy, the actual assassination event, the political repercussions following the actual gruesome event? In that sense, does not literature render what a straight factually documented historical narrative can never do? If it were a mere portrayal of violence, would it not be the equivalent of defining the complexity of erotic love as nothing but pornography? Let’s explore this disturbing question in the light of the recent events that have taken place at the Shakespeare Public Theater in the Park in New York City.

While it is true that the play has been performed all over the world in its original ancient Roman setting and costumes, it has also been performed as an opera version with Caesar dressed in an 18th century British general’s uniform. That version of the play was quite successful and made its rounds around the world. That should initially suggest that there is a universal aspect in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar which is lacking even in The Gallic Wars written by the same Julius Caesar. It may suggest that quite often it is life that imitates art, and not the other way around.

“Veni, vidi, vicit” (I came, I saw, I conquered) as enunciated by Caesar in his rendition of the Gallic Wars is dramatic enough, a slogan worthy of history’s immortalization, to be remembered by college students, but does it really convey the tremendous anxiety that Caesar must have felt at being close to losing the war against the Gaul, or the doubts and reticence he may have had, or may not have had, in having to kill more than a million Gaul in order to be a winner and a conqueror and thus prevail and assert his undisputed authority? One wonders.

But let’s come to the latest modern performance as rendered by the picture above listing the actors involved and what they were meant to represent. This time around it is not a British imperial general but Donald Trump, the commander in chief of a modern global empire. Eisenhower dubbed it “the military-industrial complex.”

It is a simple idea, one transposes the ancient to the modern in an attempt to derive some valuable lessons from the comparison. Nevertheless,  it seems to have pinched a political nerve and caused a veritable furor in the imagination of extreme illiberal conservatives of all stripes, which can be counted into the millions nowadays on both sides of the Atlantic. I call it “mass psychosis” which asserts that reality resides in one’s head and one chooses the alternative facts that are convenient at any particular moment. In philosophy it goes by the name of relativism, or utilitarianism. In Political Science it goes by the name of Machiavellism. In ethics it goes by the name of greedy opportunism. It’s comfortable in the dark cave of ignorance and its shadowy appearances on the wall by the light of fire, never mind that there may be a sun outside shining on an objective reality called truth.

Be that as it may, those brilliant observers have opted to see in the play, an incitement to violence, a veritable inducement to the assassination of the current president. Not that such a thing would have be the first time in American history: one thinks of Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and there are a few more that could be listed.

Anger over the production was further exacerbated after a baseball field shooting rampage by a lone gunman in Alexandria, Virginia, left a republican congressman, Steve Scalise, in serious condition with four others shot and wounded. The argument began making the rounds that the play’s graphic images of the president being murdered is instrumental in stoking the visceral hatred and violence of the left toward the right-wing Republicans. Never mind that there seems to be nowadays an insatiable appetite for violent politically themed material.

All this was followed by another incident: a conservative filmmaker, Laura Loomer, a supporter of Donald Trump, rushed unto the stage while the play was going on and shouting: “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right. This is unacceptable. Stop the violence against Donald Trump.” To this the audience yelled: “Get off the stage.” Finally she was dragged off the stage by security personnel. The lines between performance and audience began to blur to the point that some viewers thought that the disorder in the theater was part of the performance. Here again, we see life imitating art. When the play’s action on stage resumed — with the lines "liberty and freedom" — the whole audience burst into applause and stood up a full standing ovation for about 30 seconds.

But that is not all that happened: as Loomer was being taken away by security, somebody in the audience started likening the yelling audience to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler infamous propaganda minister: “You are all Nazis, Goebbels would be proud of you” also adding for good measure that the audience was to blame for the shooting of Steve Scalise. He was also removed by security. Laura Loomer was arrested and charged with trespassing. Tweeters immediately followed voicing disapproval of the arrest of a “patriot and a hero” who stood up against political violence and demanding her immediate release.

So, what the conservatives have chosen to see in the play, their interpretation so to speak, is the pornography of violence, sex equated to violence, or politics equated to constant confrontation and strife, something that has been going on in the USA for the last twenty years or so when the very words “compromise” or “tolerance” have become obscene words. As it was to be expected, they have also interpreted the arrest of Laura Loomer as a violation of free speech.

One may ask if that kind of interpretation is likely to quell the threats of violence that hang over the political climate, especially since the appetite for creative works of art to tackle political themes continues to grow? Even the play 1984 has had a resurgence lately. I, for one, doubt it. Consider this: not many Republicans or Delta Airlines, or Bank of America which have withdrawn their sponsorship of the show, remember that in 2012, another American production of the play depicted Caesar as President Obama. Is it a bout of amnesia? Perhaps, more likely, it is a bout of hypocrisy and bad faith.

Finally, let me supply a more personal example as an answer to the above questions. As the readers of this magazine well know, lately I have been writing a satirical column on the Trump presidency titled “The Caligula Presidency” which is in some way similar to Julius Caesar in the Park, is a throw-back at the times of the mad Roman Emperor Caligula. The satirical intent of the column ought to be obvious enough to any reader endowed with rationality. There is also the Cassandran spirit: the warning to the un-aware of the grave perils to democracy Trump’s presidency (which I call “the Caligula Presidency) poses to the American Republic (which John Adams called “a republic of virtue” and it sounds like an oxymoron nowadays), which I have taken pains to explain in some detail.

That having been prefaced, you can now imagine my surprise when I was challenged lately with an accusation that the premise of the column is a veiled and devious incitement to violence against a sitting president, and besides it shows little respect for the office. In other words, to put it in Laura’s Loomer’s words: “Stop the violence against Donald Trump.”


And what is the point of this personal anecdote? At the peril of sounding narcissistic and megalomaniac (albeit, the danger of infection in a mass-psychosis society is always there), it is absolutely not that of proclaiming my innocence of leanings toward violence, or denying that Caligula’s example is a dog-whistle blowing advocating political assassination (as most people know Caligula was killed by his own Praetorian guards sworn to protect him); something that ought to be more than obvious to all who are familiar with my writings and know that I revere philosophy even when feeling unworthy of it.

The point, rather is this: were Jesus Christ himself to return to earth in a second coming, I wager that he would most probably be accused of rhetorical violence against bankers, politicians, pseudo-academics promoters of alternate facts, editors who function as moles and Trojan Horses, trickle-down economics advocates, job creators galore, and, most of all, hypocrites of many colors and stripes.

Dostoevsky in one of his novels has one such scene, usually referred as the episode of The Grand Inquisitor. He has Christ publicly condemned by the Grand Inquisitor for being an impostor. The charge is an enormous crime against the people: the crime of telling the  unvarnished Truth, of refusing to tell even “noble lies” for the good of the people.


Check Dr Emanuel Paparella's EBOOKS
Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
& Europe Beyond the Euro
You can download them for FREE HERE!

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