The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'napoleon'
It has been revealed that, during the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher threatened a nuclear strike on Buenos Aires unless the French handed over the codes for disabling Argentina's (French-made) missiles.
Mr Mitterrand — who once described Mrs Thatcher as "the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe" — went on: "One cannot win against the insular syndrome of an unbridled Englishwoman. Provoke a nuclear war for a few islands inhabited by three sheep as hairy as they are freezing! But it's a good job I gave way. Otherwise, I assure you, the lady's metallic finger would have hit the button."Then again, would Britain have been able to launch a nuclear strike without US approval back then? These days, the British nuclear arsenal is operated under contract by a US defense firm, whose technicians apparently have instructions to require confirmation from the Pentagon before launching missiles. Then again, it is not entirely clear how difficult it would be for a determined Britain to get around these restrictions, or indeed that Reagan (who, famously, once went on air and announced, in jest, that the US was launching a massive nuclear strike against the "Evil Empire") would have vetoed a strike on Argentina.
Meanwhile, Mitterrand got his own back with the Eurotunnel, triumphing where Napoleon had failed, at least in his own mind:
France, he said, would have the last word. "I'll build a tunnel under the Channel. I'll succeed where Napoleon III failed. And do you know why she'll accept my tunnel? I'll flatter her shopkeeper's spirit. I'll tell her it won't cost the Crown a penny."
A while ago, I picked up the box set of The Prisoner, and have been gradually making my way through the episodes I hadn't seen, one at a time.
I recently watched the episode titled "The Girl Who Was Death", which features a mad scientist who thinks he's Napoleon. As I watched it, I found myself thinking about the old cliché of delusionally insane people thinking that they're Napoleon. It seems to pop up a lot in films, TV and other media of a certain age (Looney Tunes cartoons, for example), tapering off around the 1960s (though still making the occasional appearance, in things like Highlander sequels); and there even was a famous pop song referencing it. Nowadays, one doesn't hear about nuthouses full of Napoleons; more modern sufferers of delusions are apparently more likely to think they're Jesus; either that (I once heard) or superheroes or ninjas or such.
I imagine that this has to do with the historical figure of Napoleon having cast a much longer shadow earlier in this century than he does now. When Napoleon loomed large in the public consciousness, a padded cell probably looked a lot like Saint Helena. It wouldn't surprise me if the I-think-I'm-Napoleon cliché was an old Vaudeville device or similar, dating back well before World War 2 (which somewhat demoted the French emperor's standing in the league of scourges of Europe), and the mass-media-saturated post-war world (whose brighter, more vivid archetypes undoubtedly displaced 18th-century history books from the public consciousness).
The ever-shifting landscape of public image affects how we see things. For one, the villain in The Girl Who Was Death reminded me of none other than Xeni Jardin.