viernes, enero 15, 2021

The Swords of Strongmen


The Governator's message is a fine message. It brings about important lessons from history that the world is seemingly forgetting. It cuts through partisan talking points and speaks of hope while calling Trump for what he is: A failed strongman. A mediocre apprentice of fascist. 

But then there's Arnie's choice of symbols. It is not unusual that patriots and great leaders invoke the symbolic power of a legendary sword to protect their nations from great evil or impending catastrophes. It seems that such an invocation is capable of boosting morale and rallying men and women towards a common cause. This is perhaps why we came to know about Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur, a mythical king that was as good in battle as he was kind. This man of legend, who is claimed by folklore to be the protector of Great Britain from the saxon invasions in the sixth century, is also said to have become king precisely by virtue of being the only man capable of pulling Excalibur from an anvil. Some renditions of the tale speak of powerful magic, such as the notion that the bearer of Excalibur’s sheath would not bleed in battle.

Tizona is another example, this time the sword of a man whose historicity is not in doubt: Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, el Cid Campeador, the great hero of the Spanish -reconquista- and the main character of the most notorious epic poem written in the Spanish language. Tizona was the sword that reconquered Valencia from the Moors and it is said that enemies would flee in terror at its very sight whenever it was wielded by a worthy man.

On the other side of the ocean, a more recent yet nameless example of a blade of legend is found in one of Simon Bolivar's swords, once stolen from a museum by a Colombian guerrilla group as an act of defiance against a political class that was an unworthy custodian of the weapon once wielded by -el libertador-, the hero who freed a big chunk of South America from the rule of Spanish Monarchy. It is said that in order to keep such a symbolic instrument of Latin American independence safely hidden, the insurgent group in question founded a secret order of “worthy men” that included Fidel Castro, Omar Torrijos and the poet Mario Benedetti.

Back to Arnie's speech, the sword he chooses for conjuring these dark times (should I say orange times?) is the sword of Conan the Barbarian, a fictional product of pulp magazines later appropriated by Hollywood (through an extremely gaudy production that features a young Schwarzenegger wearing very little clothes). The sword's might was expanded upon in an animated tv series called Conan, the Adventurer, where it is clearly shown that its magical powers include firing energy bolts that reveal the real identity of a secret race of reptilian men. It is worth noting, however, that this reptilian race is probably not the same one discussed in Qanon forums as the potential ancestry of Michelle Obama.

And so we descend from King Arthur to Conan the Barbarian, from the swords of heroes to the weaponry of trashy pulp fiction. And I suppose this choice of symbols raises some questions about the state of american culture, but this is not the time to bash America. Americans delivered in the last elections. Not just for themselves but for the world. Let's instead use this newest and lowest point in the sword-invocation saga as an opportunity to realize how farcical and cartoonish and idolatrous and subservient this whole symbolism was from the beginning. 

May we soon find better symbols of hope to invoke in dark times than the blades of strongmen. May we soon devise kinder invocations for attempting to summon the best of our nature.

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