Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Why Karl Malden Stayed Silent

When Karl Malden passed away on June 30, I tried - without much success - to write up a short obituary paying tribute to an unusual Hollywood career. Here was a man who won an Academy Award (1951, A Streetcar Named Desire) and an Emmy (1984, Fatal Vision), lived to the ripe old age of 97, and was married to the same woman for over seventy years. It's hard to find a bigger contrast to today's world of celebrities, where looks and money substitute for talent, and everyone tries to "live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse."

Perhaps Malden's anomalous life may be explained by his origins; son of a Serb immigrant from Herzegovina, born Mladen Sekulovich, he never forgot his roots. He talked a fair bit about being an American Serb in a 2003 interview, which is worth reading. But in the days after his passing, I've heard many Serbs wonder why he hadn't done more during the 1990s to counter the widespread demonization of the Serbian people in the West.

Now, it is true that he didn't speak out. But neither did many others. There's a large number of Serbs in America, and most have stayed just as silent. Malden lived through the blacklists and purges in Hollywood during the McCarthy era. I'm willing to wager he didn't care to go through such an experience again.

And let's not kid ourselves, speaking out for the Serbs, challenging the Official Truth in even the smallest way, brings upon one the full wrath of the political and media establishment - not to mention the lunatic fringe. For most people, this is an unpleasantness they'd rather not deal with. And the fate of their nation is something quite abstract compared to the real and immediate threat to one's own career and family prospects, were one to deviate from the party line.

This isn't to say Malden couldn't have, or shouldn't have done more. But speaking out for the Serbs has been a risky proposition. The fact that even Malden did not dare publicly stand up for his people doesn't tell us much about what went through his mind - but tells us a lot about the extent and intensity of the demonization campaign. Originating from the land of Free Speech, no less.


Deucaon said...

You're not staying silent. Or do you have less to live for than he did? Make no mistake, sooner or later the hatred of foreign Serbs will turn into a hatred of local Serbs.

Robstar said...

For my mind why should someone like Malden stick their neck out when the community as a whole has stood silent. Why speak for someone who doesn't want to speak for themselves.

And look at our politicians, Tadic the other day couldn't stop talking about Srebrenica, yet a few month earlier for the tenth anniversary of Nato's bombing didn't utter a peep.

Gray Falcon said...

Deucaon, that's precisely what I've been trying to explain all along. I don't see myself as particularly brave or special - and yet here I am, one of the few who dare speak up. No wonder I got targeted by Palluxo :)

Robstar, what you're saying is true... but one of the reasons I'm doing this is to change such a state of affairs.

eric siverson said...

I have been speaking up for the Serbs all along , but I cant even get on this web site

Ana said...

I don't think the real issue is weather Malden and other serbs in America speak out. I see little good that such gestures could have. Honestly, America has much greater and more pressing issues than the truth about Serbia. Most Americans could not find Serbia on the map, and as the situation continues to deteriorate in America, they really won't have the time or the desire to listen and learn about Serbia.

It is important to understand that the media in America is tightly controlled and succeeds in defining reality for most Americans. Given that, I at this point don't think that any anti-establishment movements would ever get any main-stream air time.

Americans have plenty to be upset about (the "Patriot" act, loss of liberties, nonsensical wars, etc...), and many do in fact speak up about these things, but to little or no effect.

To think that an honest accounting of what happened in Serbia would ever get any air time anywhere is at this point naive. It is also naive to think that by "speaking out" anyone, Serb or otherwise, could have any effect on America's policy towards Serbia. Such an effort would only succeed in blacklisting the speaker from all major institutions and would have, in Malden's case, almost certainly ended his career.

What I think the real issue is, is not why people in America are not speaking out, but rather why people in Serbia are not speaking out.

Is there no independent media left there? I read today that "foreign spies" will help in Mladic's capture.

Is there no paper in Serbia to point out how insane that is? How Serbia is expected to turn Mladic over for "war crimes" to a nation that has killed a million Iraqis in a baseless war?

Is there no paper in Serbia left that can print, for example, a recent story (http://original.antiwar.com/fisher/2009/07/27/judge-slams-govt-over-afghan-detainee/) about how the US illegally arrested and tortured a boy who may have been as young as 12? How they kept him for 7 years, have no evidence against him, and are still not gong to release him? Even though a judge found the whole thing to be a "travesty"?

Is there no paper in the whole country that can delineate the obvious, and rather tragic hypocrisy of it all?

No, the problem is not about serbs not speaking up in America. The real problem is with serbs not speaking up in Serbia.

The case against the EU and America is so clear and the hypocrisy so obvious, that it should be a piece of cake for any honest paper to expose the traitors in Serbia for who they are.
I am often left wondering if there are there any such voices left in Serbia?

Gray Falcon said...

There are voices, sure - but they aren't in the mainstream media. Most of the Serbian papers (and all TV stations) are either in the government's pocket or owned by foreigners.

It's almost impossible to survive in a market where the biggest media buyer is an agency owned by Tadic crony and Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas, if you dare displease the government somehow.

And now the "democratic" authorities are pushing for a new law allowing them to basically bankrupt any newspaper they accuse of libel (and their pocket judges will rule in the government's favor within mere days). Between all that and the announcement by the war crimes special prosecutor that journalists will be investigated for "instigating war crimes" in the 1990s, speaking truth to power in Serbia is soon set to become impossible.

There was far more press freedom under the "dictator" Milosevic than today.