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 Apologies to the Swedes 

May 18, 2006 
paragraph indentWho is the most wonderful man in the world?

paragraph indentI’ve just learned the Today's column is "Apologies to the Swedes" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.answer from the loveliest woman in the world, my baby daughter, Chris, who combines beauty and brains and — wait! I’m just getting started — a wonderful wit and charm and writing talent and the courage of a young lioness, along with other fine qualities. All the world recalls how she once whipped the excellent but unruly actor Russell Crowe into line on a movie set. And she is now a prize-winning reporter.

paragraph indentBut this column isn’t about Chris. It’s about who is the most wonderful man in the world. And she would be the authority on that.

paragraph indentFirst, the good news: It isn’t Tom Cruise. That’s a relief.

paragraph indentNow the shocking part: It’s a Swede.

paragraph indentI can hear my readers’ jaws dropping with a collective thud. A Swede? Not, say, a Canadian?

paragraph indentYes, a Swede. A Swede, moreover, with a warm personality and a great sense of humor. I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms. Swedes are cold, humorless, and suicidal, aren’t they?

paragraph indentNot necessarily. This is a negative stereotype propagated by Ingmar Bergman films (though it should have been amply refuted by Ingrid Bergman films). Contrary to popular belief here, Sweden actually doesn’t have a high suicide rate. It’s just that Swedes, unlike (say) Italians, aren’t known as a particularly fun-loving people. We think of them as dwelling in the terminal stage of socialism. Smart, good-looking folks, but horribly progressive.

paragraph indentTo give them their due, the Swedes nowadays do avoid war, but for a long time I put this down to their preference for suicide over homicide. I wondered how they ever produced the dreaded Vikings of old, who once terrified their part of the world as the Bush administration now terrifies the whole thing.

paragraph indentYou never hear people marvel, “Those Swedes really know how to live!” They are more likely to marvel, “Those Swedes are really leading the way in physician-assisted suicide!” And Bergman has done his part to create this gloomy image. This is why I have never encouraged my children to date Swedes. North Koreans, maybe, but Swedes, no. Hell no.

[Breaker quote for Apologies to the Swedes: There's more to life than suicide.]paragraph indentA friend recently asked me, as a cineast, whether I liked Fellini. “Well,” I answered, “he’s not as bad as Bergman.” They’re both lousy, but at least you can leave a Fellini movie feeling it’s possible to enjoy life, in a depraved sort of way. You leave a Bergman movie feeling that the whole point of being born is so you can eventually commit suicide. The most morbid Russian or German could take frowning lessons from him.

paragraph indentThis can be tested by a simple thought-experiment. What if Bergman had directed Dirty Harry? The film would have ended with Clint Eastwood, profoundly depressed, blowing his own brains out. It would have flopped, and there would have been no sequels, but the highbrows would have loved it.

paragraph indentEastwood got the idea, though. Today he is a director himself, and his films show Bergman’s influence in their downbeat endings, so it’s no surprise that they are highly acclaimed. He’s come a long way from Rawhide. You might say he has changed sides in the culture wars.

paragraph indentThe whole point of the Dirty Harry series was that it’s better to kill other people, especially if they deserve it, than yourself. This is a theme ordinary people can relate to. Needless to say, we’re equally fortunate that Bergman didn’t direct Charles Bronson’s Death Wish films. He’d have screwed them up too, even though Death Wish would be an apt title for most of his work. And heaven only knows what he might have done to Jaws.

paragraph indentThen again, Bergman once made an utterly charming film of my favorite opera, The Magic Flute. Mozart’s music helped, but there wasn’t a moment of catatonic depression in it. It’s the only one of his movies I’ve seen that didn’t seem physician-assisted. In fact, it came close to being family entertainment for families that aren’t necessarily dysfunctional.

paragraph indentBut — to return to the real subject of this column — if my Chris assures me that the sweetest, funniest, warmest young man in the world is a Swede, then he’s a Swede. I won’t tell you his surname. You wouldn’t believe it. But it’s a very common name in Sweden.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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