Friday, January 13, 2012

The Dramatic Category of a Margaret Thatcher Biography

There is a telling sentence near the beginning of Martin Filler’s NYRblog post about Meryl Streep’s performance of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady that is likely to frame the attitude of those of us who still enjoy the study of history.  After having put forth the proposition that Streep’s best roles have always been comic ones, Filler says the following about her latest effort:

But when I watched this strange tour de force of Important Acting, I was uncertain whether I was witnessing a tragedy or a farce.

This left me wondering if Filler was familiar with either Slavoj Žižek’s book First as Tragedy, Then as Farce or the Karl Marx text about how history repeats itself that inspired the title.

Those of us bold enough to voice openly a preference for social democracy would know how to consider that last quarter-century of British politics in these terms.  Thatcher was so rabidly opposed to social democracy that it is hard to perceive her as anything other that the key villain in a major tragedy of what one might archly call “the developed world.”  The problem is that every one of her successors, regardless of party affiliation, seems to have managed to turn this tragedy into farce.  This makes for a grim contrast with American politics, in which, ever since the election of Ronald Reagan, we have had to endure one farce after another until we found ourselves staring tragedy square in the face under the Administration of George W. Bush.

It may be that fiction has provided a better platform for examining the Thatcher phenomenon.  From that point of view, John Mortimer wrote the book.  It was called Paradise Postponed;  and ultimately it is about the evolution of a Prime Minister (who happened to be male in Mortimer’s account) who became a scourge of social democratic values will all the gusto of William Shakespeare’s account of King Richard III.  In such a framework one could appreciate the virtues of an actor particularly skilled in comic talents.

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