Music for this podcast performed by Timber Timbre, The National, Manu Delago, Agnes Obel, Eddie Vedder, Josh Ritter, M. Ward, Marisa Anderson, Morphine, Rozi Plain, Tift Merritt and For Stars.
I was invited to a screening of a film called Norman, directed by Joseph Cedar and starring Richard Gere and a stupendous actor named Lior Ashkenazi. Simultaneously, I am currently reading a book called Seeing Like A State and this is the reason why I took the invitation to watch a film by Richard Gere, an actor that has very little relevance to the lives of Latin American individuals in the United States.
The thesis of the book that I am reading is: The State has a deep problem with forests, nomads, gypsies, vagrants, runaway slaves and the undocumented, to name a few. Efforts of Sedentarization, Conscription, Administration and ultimately Taxation are the core of Statecraft. This is how the State gradually confines its subjects and their environments. Whether it be scientific farming, industrial agriculture or market capitalism, simplification for the state always, always, always leads to payment. Everything leads to payment.
In the story, the protagonist, Norman Oppenheimer, hunts for an opportunity to gain the attention of whales … Powerful men. In four acts, he purposely hunts and invests in what becomes the right horse. He buys that horse a beautiful pair of thousand dollar shoes. The horse becomes a whale … the Prime Minister of Israel … and a supposedly special, or favored, relationship ensues between Norman and the Prime Minister.
The director, Joseph Cedar, wrote this film as a continuation of an archetype known as the Court Jew. A man who offers a great gift to an important man with the hope, or delusion, that the favor will be repaid at some date later in the future. This tale has been told in the Bible, with Joseph and the Pharaoh, in The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare and in Ulysses by James Joyce, and thus in the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer. These stories that re-create an archetype do so to re-create a parallel, or universal story that we all hope to share.
Norman is an intelligent film that could be considered demanding of a cultured audience. It demands that you understand the peculiarities of the Jewish community and that you be familiar with the archetype of the sacrificial court Jew. It would be helpful if you had read the words of the Bible, Homer’s poems, Shakespeare’s plays and James Joyce’s novels. None of this is absolutely necessary to simply enjoy the film but what happens if you show up to the party without having these prerequisites?
We were in Cartagena at a party for Gabriel García Márquez’s 80th birthday. To my right were Bill and Melinda Gates, to my left was the President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe. Behind me was Jon Lee Anderson and in front of me was Gabo with his wife, Mercedes. There was food, music, alcohol and tobacco. Beautiful Colombian women were placed all around the party, like ornaments. The patriarchy and the misogyny and the elitism was obvious. The celebration, in the middle of the fortified city, was fortified to outsiders.
It seemed so over the top but it was obvious to understand the allure. I asked my father what he loved most about being a journalist in this environment. My father said, I love it when important people read what I write. I get a rush when heads of state take time out of their day to read my thoughts. It means that they know who I am.
For the last 20 years, I have worked as an executive attempting to solidify a name for myself … so I definitely saw myself in Norman. I have chased and I continue to chase whales all the time. I have chased whales by the names of Richard Koshalek, Edward James Olmos, Miguel Ángel Corzo, Cástulo de la Rocha, Nicolas Berggruen and Jeff Jacobs. I am currently chasing a whale by the name of Andy Funk. I hunt these men for the opportunity to be near them and their deals
It is easy to understand why I do this: Money. Payment. All of these men have the potential to bring me under the arm if I am valuable enough. Like a bird, I crane my neck upwards and beg for them to give me a special type of worm. If they do, I can live in a nice neighborhood and move myself around in a nice car and spend time thinking about creative affairs and the cultural arts. I dont have to worry about hunger or shelter or illness. I can present value to a potential partner and she can choose me of all the possible men that enter her life. I can feel comfortable to have a child and afford to provide him with cumulative advantage. My biology can continue.
But its important to understand this Norman personality type. I have never, never, never, wanted to be the whale myself. I wouldn’t want the stress or the pressure of being a whale. I am satisfied with being the Special Advisor to the Prime Minister. A Step away from power.