Who the hell cares?

Apologies for my quietude.  I’ve fallen into one of those rare moments of clarity, one might say “my muse hath come my way,” and I have been trying to make use of each moment she deigns to stick around. But I had to weigh in on a current controversy.

In 1994, an American writer by the name of Ethan Canin published a short story collection titled after its most famous story, The Palace Thief.  In this story, Mr. Hundert is a classics instructor at an elite prep school outside of Washington DC who encounters a student (Sedgewick Bell) who has no ethics. Bell mocks Mr. Hundert and the other boys in the class who are there to learn.

When Mr. Hundert catches him cheating at their annual Mr. Julius Caesar Contest, he calls the boy out. Twenty-five years later Bell gets his chance at vindication when, as a candidate for Senate, he lures Mr. Hundert and his former classmates to a campaign fundraiser at his estate and convinces them to recreate the Mr. Julius Caesar Contest. Again Bell cheats and Mr. Hundert calls him out.  But not in front of Bell’s audience of wealthy campaign donors. Instead, he lectures him in private.

The book was made into a movie titled The Emperor’s Club.  It’s a very good movie, however in the book Mr. Hundret is a far more complicated character than Kevin Kline’s portrayal. His commitment to teaching and to ethics borders on prissiness and inflexibility. He’s accused of being detached from the “real” world and his dedication is unappreciated by his peers. So, when he realizes he’s devoted his entire adult life to creating honorable men and has failed miserably with a man who might one day be in a position of great power, he falls off the cliff and into an ocean of self-doubt.  Is he mourning the decline of ethics in the modern world or the futility of his own life?  It’s hard to tell.

I thought about the Emperor’s Club this week as the Senate moves to approve the nomination of someone like Bell to the Supreme Court.  I’m not saying that  Kavanaugh would be the first unethical prep school boy in a position of power,  but the alarm has been sounded. Are the words of writers and the efforts of movie makers in vain in this our new reality, the real world? As Bell says, who the hell cares?

25 thoughts on “Who the hell cares?

  1. I’m afraid that the presumption of innocence will be lost soon, JT. I understand the nature of the alleged incident, and I find that behavior to be craven and reprehensible. However, it’s legitimacy is clouded by the political nature in our country, especially considering that it has been released at the 11th hour. If it happened, he should pay. If it didn’t – she should pay. For a story that is over 35 years old, it’s getting a lot more traction than Keith Ellison’s story, which nobody seems to care about. Truth be told, while I find the recent Senate scandal to be of partisan politics, there are enough people on both sides who ought not to be leaders of our country.

    • I agree with you – everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. My concern is that some senators think that a violent act thirty five years ago doesn’t warrant looking into. The point of the Emperor’s Club is that the boy becomes the man in all but very rare cases.

  2. Hi Jan,

    If you go back to most of the Greek plays there is the same sort of thing, certainly with the Russians and Ibsen and the grand master, Shakespeare. Artists have always been pointing out the foibles of politicians and there is this symbiotic relationship between art and reality. I think many politicians model their lives on the stories of fictional characters. Back in the day they were handed down by mouth, then came writing, and now we have the movies. Next will be virtual reality and we will have those flat interactive screens on the walls were we can fuck and worship anybody we are able to dial up given our computer power. That should be fun. Your post implies that this bird Kavanaugh is probably guilty of some sort of crime back when he was a teenager. If we just look at the context and the people involved you are probably right, not 100% but then that is why we have investigations and jury trials. Since this is your blog, I guess you have a right to your opinion. One last point: the legal process is totally political…think blacks in jail, the South, south side Boston, Chicago, white privileged, nullification juries, influence peddling by judges, cops, politicians, etc., the wheeling and dealing of DAs and County Attorneys. Politics is in every step of the legal process and for this woman to send a letter and then step forward is certainly a political act and I would only say, “So what?” And we should all be so brave in confronting evil, whatever the odds Thanks. Duke. ,

    • Having been manhandled by a few wealthy prep school boys and then had to watch them become “honorable” judges, I have great admiration for this woman. She’s basically ruined her life. Hard to say if I’d come forward should one of my old buddies go on to nomination to the Supreme Court. Luckily they haven’t strayed too far from Nevada. Greek tragedy, it is and we’re just the chorus.

  3. I did some things in high school that cause me to cringe when I think back (sexual assault, however, was not one of those things.) I’ve little doubt that most people can pick out instances of immature behavior that they may cause them to have some regret. But when someone is being considered for an important, powerful position, a lifetime position, no less, the bad acts of the past should be aired and taken into consideration as an indication of character. There is no reason to stymie an investigation of the credibility of the accusations…other, of course, than purely political reasons.

    • I think boys who think they can get away with bad behavior sometimes grow into men like Sedgewick Bell and that’s the concern I have. This woman has taken considerable risk and I don’t think she would request an FBI investigation if she was lying. But I’m willing to give him the benefit of a doubt.

  4. In the Soviet Union, cheating during the exams was a normal and expected behavior. Very often the teachers looked the other way and gave a cheater his/her last chance. It was a part of the culture which I am sure still exists and flourishes. You can make conclusions 🙂
    There are many people among us who have been trained to manipulate others. It is surprisingly easy, and the results can be disastrous depending on the scale. Professional cheaters run the world. Do I care? Hell, yes, but I am helpless in this situation, except that no one can manipulate me into reading crappy books 🙂

  5. I’m sad at the fact they weren’t able to dig up more since we just Know once a person has taken advantage of someone or pushed their way into an uncomfortable spot, there are more instances. . . I have been in the wrong place but like you, have not known someone who was the wrong “doer” to seek political office. Thank you for this movie and also, “keeping the light on” this situation which ultimately ended up sad, upsetting and decision was “wrong.” There have to be other judicial choices they could have chosen! Blind eye. . . .

    • What I don’t understand is how Trump supporters claim to be so anti-elitism and then go bonkers when an obviously elitist judge is questioned for his ethics. It doesn’t make any sense.

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