Wednesday, June 01, 2005

“Is it safe? Is it safe?”

The Movie: Marathon Man, 1976 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from his novel; John Schlesinger, dir.)
Who says it: Laurence Olivier as Dr. Christian Szell, a dentist and former Nazi
The context: Dr. Szell tortures Babe (Dustin Hoffman) in the dentist’s chair, to try to find out whether he can retrieve his cache of diamonds.
How to use it: When you’re grilling someone clueless – or maybe when you’re going to the dentist.

I was going to use another quotation from All the President's Men today ("Get out your notebook -- there's more."), because of the Deep Throat revelation, but decided to go with this other Goldman line, from a movie made around the same time.

Both movies tap into a deep vein of paranoia that feels unique to the mid-1970s. I've seen several columns and blogs in the past day that ask, "Where is the Deep Throat of our generation? Where is our outrage, our paranoia?" They're good questions, but I can't even muster up the necessary outrage to discuss it. I wonder whether that paranoia has become so deeply ingrained in our national consciousness that we don't notice it any more, or whether it's transformed itself into such a profound cynicism that we've stopped paying attention.

Conspiracy theorists make me impatient. It's hard for me to believe that any group of people can develop and execute a coherent, elaborate plot, because I've worked with and managed too many committees.

What's more likely -- and what I think does happen, and Watergate's a good example of this -- is that one person gets an idea to do something outside the rules. Those ideas aren't usually about world domination, either; they're about expediency or greed or ego, a faster way to achieve money, praise or leisure.

That person assembles a group to make that happen, and those minions may not have any idea of the big picture. The real conspiracy happens after that decision goes wrong (as these decisions usually do), and everyone scrambles to cover up and protect themselves.

Deep Throat -- his existence, his identity, his decision to reveal himself now -- troubles me. Wasn't it his responsibility to try to prosecute criminals through the justice system, rather than take the case to the press? On the other hand, if he -- as second-in-command at the FBI -- wasn't in a position to do anything about it, what fundamental flaws does that show in our legal system? And what does he hope to achieve by stepping forward now? Does he deserve the thanks of a grateful nation, or reproach (as he himself has suggested) for not doing more when he could have?

Fascinating. I hope he has time to write a book that answers some of these questions, before everyone else does it for him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you should have used yesterday's quote with today's blog on Deep Throat.