There is little to be said about the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has not already been eloquently expressed by the big hitters of this journal. Jung would have regarded it as possession by an archetype – of aggression, paranoia, misguided nationalism – you name it. The world currently seems full of power-crazed older men who have descended into madness in their attempts to control more and more of the people they would happily destroy in their aims.
All I can add to these comments is merely an observation from my formidable late mother in law, Nesta. She was an artist with a gift for costume design and making. I must have been a great disappointment to her for I have a sort of dyslexia of sewing and cannot visualise how the bits of fabric fit together.
In her later years, Nesta was in charge of ballet shoes for the Royal Ballet and often went on tour with them. In the 1980s, just before the fall of the USSR, she went to Russia and on her return she was adamant that the Russians would never resort to nuclear warfare as they were too inefficient. Not only were they stymied by a many layered bureaucracy, but no-one wanted to make a decision in case it was the 'wrong' one.
Of course, we can understand that a heavily centralised administration would discourage initiative – it's one of the many reasons I want an independent Scotland – but the authoritarian nature of regimes like Russia, China and the theocracy of Iran combine centralisation with bullying.
Eventually, such regimes will destroy themselves from within, as happened with the USSR. Putin has failed to learn from history and wants to recreate an unwieldy dinosaur riven by paranoia. Similar things could be said about Johnson and his entourage, except that in a representational democracy we have the choice to vote them out.
Fiends of Covent Garden
Nesta once got me a ticket to see the Royal Ballet – it was one of the last occasions that Rudolf Nureyev performed before AIDS killed him. I'm not a big ballet fan – not of the tutu-wearing dance of the little cygnets sort anyway – although I rather like the contemporary stuff, and I remember being quite surprised to realise how heavy footed the dancers sounded on the stage.
In fact, ballet requires incredible strength and flexibility, so it's not really an ethereal experience but more a physical feat of endurance. Nureyev was pretty shambolic if I remember, not surprisingly, and I guess no-one had the temerity to suggest to him that it was time to call it a day. What did startle me was that he was actually booed by some of the 'experts' in the audience. It struck me how fickle is fame.
I suspect institutions like the Royal Opera House attract a sort of self-professed elite group who consider they have more exquisite taste than the rest of us. At that time, there was an official body called the Friends of Covent Garden. Nesta and her colleagues renamed them the Fiends
of Covent Garden, as whenever there was any sort of bun fight happening for subscribers, they would descend on it like locusts and gobble up all the free food and drink.
It may be that such people have more refined taste than me. Like Nesta, I studied Fine Art, so I know a bit about painting and sculpture. But my late husband considered me a musical philistine, and I still believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit of Music are Bach, Mozart and Purcell, the greatest being Purcell. However, I also have a soft spot for Andrew's favourite, Berlioz, who was mad as a box of frogs but certainly added to the gaiety of life. I'm sure he would have given short shrift to the Fiends of Covent Garden.
Blood and thunder?
At the moment, my cultural activity tends to be confined to the Drama channel on TV. Andrew collected a number of DVDs of musicals – he was a big fan of musical theatre – but I can't remember how to work the DVD machine so they will have to wait until my son comes round and retrains me.
did recently watch The French Connection
and its sequel, out of interest because I saw the first film many years ago at the cinema, and not paying attention, I thought the violent, foul mouthed, scruffy pair were the crooks and the dapper, polite French gent was the policeman. In fact, the opposite was the case. It took me halfway through the film before I realised this rather important fact.
The film and its sequel now have cult status and I can sort of see why, but did the hero have to be so… disgusting? I'm a major fan of Raymond Chandler and 'Popeye' Doyle was no Philip Marlowe: 'Down these mean streets a man must go who is even meaner than the crooks!' Recently, watching the sequel, in which – *spoiler alert* – the dapper, polite French drugs baron gets his comeuppance, I found myself rooting for him and hoping he would escape the trigger-happy American detective.
But why do films, especially of the Hollywood sort, have to be so violent? I enjoyed a recent film, The Shape of Water
, in which a mute young woman cleaner rescues a sort of merman who is being held in an American experimental unit during the Cold War (a scenario possibly not as strange as it sounds if you read the Fortean Times
). But did the villain have to be so… villainous?
The Ancient Greeks thought that seeing violence on stage just encouraged the audience's propensity for violence, so any examples were reported by a 'messenger': 'I'm here to tell you that: Orestes has killed his mother/Oedipus has blinded himself/Medea has murdered the whole family and taken off…'.
Greek myths are often incredibly violent – Jung would have views as to why this might be – but it wasn't considered appropriate to re-enact them on stage in all their gory detail. Having said that, sadly it didn't stop the Greek city states constantly having wars with each other, and humanity has still not learned to settle conflicts without killing each other. Will we ever learn?
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant