from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Life, Art, and the Arab Spring

April 19, 2012

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In the 1930s Benito Mussolini was sufficiently offended by the Marx Brothers’ film Duck Soup to ban it in Italy.  The film, sometimes viewed as a paean to anarchy, was--given the world scene when it was released in 1933--better understood as a satire against dictators and dictatorship, a point Mussolini fully understood.

Authoritarian governments have not disappeared, and the victories of Islamist parties have raised fears that the "Arab Spring" might produce more of them.  The fear is, in part, of regimes that might be democratically elected but would be incapable of dealing with current economic problems, would blame all problems on their predecessors, and would impose Islamist social mores on the populace.

With that in mind it is worth recalling the national anthem of Fredonia, the imaginary country in Duck Soup. "Hail, Hail Fredonia" is sung by Groucho, and here are three verses.

If any form of pleasure is exhibited

Report to me and it will be prohibited

I’ll put my foot down, so shall it be

This is the land of the free

The last man nearly ruined this place

He didn’t know what to do with it

If you think this country’s bad off now,

Just wait ’til I get through with it

The country’s taxes must be fixed

And I know what to do with it

If you think you’re paying too much now

Just wait till I get throught with it

Whether life will imitate art remains to be seen.

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