The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Last night Barb and I watched the movie the The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The DVD box quotes Roger Ebert, “The most erotic serious film since Last Tango in Paris.” The IMDB plot summary is:

Tomas is a doctor and a lady-killer in 1960s Czechoslovakia, an apolitical man who is struck with love for the bookish country girl Tereza; his more sophisticated sometime lover Sabina eventually accepts their relationship and the two women form an electric friendship. The three are caught up in the events of the Prague Spring (1968), until the Soviet tanks crush the non-violent rebels; their illusions are shattered and their lives change forever.

Tomas is a surgeon, living in Prague. He has a physical relationship with Sabina – but not an emotional one. They are happy with the situation. Then, Tomas meets a waitress in a station, but leaves. Eventually, she comes to see him in Prague. Will he go against his ‘values’ and let himself get emotionally involved?

It was about that and it did have a lot of erotic content and pretty graphic sex for a film made in the 1980s (among other things full frontal nudity of women). But what I got out of the movie was a lot more than just the sex. My first clue was when one of the characters talks of “socialism with a human face” (a real life phrase). Then when the Soviet tanks rolled in I immediately saw the movie from a completely different viewpoint.

Where were the snipers picking off the exposed tank crew members? Why weren’t there Molotov cocktails being thrown from the windows? Why didn’t the communist officials fear a suppressed .22 bullet to the head every time they stepped out of their homes? But I knew the answer. The answer was in socialism and the culture it creates. There isn’t the sense of individual responsibility. People aren’t really expected to provide for themselves and they certainly aren’t expected or even encouraged to protect themselves or their country. That’s the job of the government. In real life the first secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, Alexander Dubček, told the people not to resist. This was despite the fact that he had initiated the welcomed reforms to the Soviet view of “unshakable fidelity to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism and declared an implacable struggle against ‘bourgeois’ ideology and all ‘antisocialist’ forces.”

Late in the movie Tomas and Tereza move from the city to a farm. I grew up on a farm and own some land that my brothers still farm. Sometimes they let me help or I borrow some equipment to make some improvements for Boomershoot. The contrast between being on the farm driving a tractor, a truck, or a combine one day and then being 300 miles away in an office building writing software in the city the next is incredibly jarring to me. The contrast is so incredible that I don’t think I can really explain it even if people were to express an interest–which they don’t.

Boomershoot is that way too. My crew and I spend days making explosives and over a hundred people with rifles show up from all over the world to our little patch of land and we make the earth shake with hundreds of explosions and fireballs soar up above us heating our chilled skin in the cold morning air. From 700 yards away targets no bigger than a human head disappear in a cloud of water vapor, dirt, and a chest thumping boom. The day after Boomershoot I’m back in an office in the city writing software. It’s so odd to me when I first sit down in front of my computer again and look across the hall at the other people in front of their computers. Do they know what I was doing yesterday? In a sense, yes, they do know. But in many ways I can’t imagine they do. I don’t think people realize what a difference in mindset living on a farm makes. I wish they had captured that in the movie. But probably nearly all the people involved in the movie didn’t really realize it and how could they capture something they didn’t know existed? And even knowing it exists, I’m not sure I can capture it and put it on display is such a way that non-farm people can really understand.

The “gun culture” is very closely related to life on the farm. Think about it. In both cases who is considered responsible? The individual. You are responsible for your safety and you are responsible not only for yourself and your family. But it goes much further with the farm culture.

It is my memories of farm life that drive a lot of my hostility to socialism. We had a few cattle on the farm when I was growing up. I see the socialists as treating people as cattle (see also this post). I’m certain the cattle viewed us as benign. No different than socialists view government. The cattle-owner/government provides food, shelter, medical care, and protection from predators. What they don’t readily see is being herded, fenced, branded, de-horned, and castrated. The images of Nazis (National Socialism, remember?) putting Jews in cattle cars to be taken away and slaughtered validates the metaphor.

I remember at some meals mom announcing all the food on the table at dinner except for the spices and sugar came from the farm. It included the milk, the homemade butter, cottage cheese, the jam or jelly, the meat, the vegetables, and the fruit. We cut wood from the small forest behind the house for heat in the winter time. Our water came from our own well. We had our own septic system. We burned and/or buried our own trash. We built and maintained our own buildings, machines, private roads, and even our own private telephone system among our buildings.

Just after Christmas 1968, the same year the Russian tanks rolled into Prague, it snowed about six feet on the farm. In places there were snow drifts twice that deep across our driveway. As soon as it stopped snowing and blowing the temperature dropped to -30 F, the electricity went out, our pipes froze, and the phone went out. But our family was fine. We kept the wood stove red hot at times, we melted snow for water and we cooked over what we called “the trash burner” in the kitchen–in essence a small wood cook stove. It was week before the electricity came back on but during that week we never once concerned ourselves about when or if “the government” would help us. We took care of our cattle and we eventually plowed the snow from the county road so we could check on the neighbors–who, of course, were doing the same. It was probably 10 days before we saw the first, and last, government assistence. That assistence was in the form of the county road crew plowing the snow (they had better equipment for it and did a much better job than we and our neighbors had done).

In the movie when the tanks came the people had mass demonstrations, yelled, and shook their fists at the invaders. If they were brave they took pictures of the Soviet tanks and they talked about the failure of their government. I saw perhaps two tanks that burned but they didn’t really fight back. This is consistent with the real life reaction. Early in the movie the people talk about the Soviets in relation to some hostile political writings and conclude, “What can they do?” What they didn’t realize is the Soviets concluded essentially the same thing when planning to send in the tanks, “What can the people of Czechoslovakia do?” And the answer was, essentially, nothing. They had accepted socialism. They did not have a gun or farm culture as I know it and if their government abandoned them to a predator there wasn’t much more they could do than what cattle do when herded into a corral for branding and castration. The cattle make a lot of noise, snort, and give you hostile looks. I saw those crowds surrounding the tanks in Prague as just like those cattle.

I see now the disappearance of the farm culture is a major contributing factor to the loss of our freedom. As much as I love life on the farm I will not even suggest pushing our country in the direction of a farming society. It’s not feasible or even desirable for so many reasons. But is it only our gun culture that can defend our culture of freedom and protect us from, among other things, what Tereza calls The Unbearable Lightness of Being? I don’t know. But I do know this is a part of why I do Boomershoot.

2 thoughts on “The Unbearable Lightness of Being

  1. Not having grown up on a farm (though having worked on several) I would add that this condition of self reliance of which you speak need not be exclusive to the farm (nor is the farming industry immune from socialist influences). Anyone who has lived in a more rural setting might have been similarly inculcated, or anyone who has started and run a business, etc..

    City life certainly need not (technically) result in an attitude of reliance on others to solve your problems, but it certainly seems to work out that way. Even as very young kids we saw this, as we considered “city kids” to be weak of both mind and body. They couldn’t run, climb, throw, ride a bike, work, shoot, or stand up for themselves as well as normal kids. They were more likely to be flabby, pale, prone to crying, prone to getting lost in the woods, and lazy (that’s just a fact of what what we observed, though I’m sure there must be counter examples). Later in life, I imagine they run for political office as a means of bolstering their poor self image, and getting back at all the kids who could out perform them.

  2. Agreed. With all of that. I had forgotten the “city kids” stuff. But I sure remember it now.

    My dad is a socialist in a lot of ways even though he grew up on a farm and spent most of his adult life on his own farm as well. I just figured he was an exception but that may not be true.

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