Monday, 21 January 2013

Strange connections : Gerard Depardieu, tax, patriotism and Mayakovsky

Gerard Depardieu is a badly behaved actor.

He has has been convicted of drinking and driving and is alleged to have assaulted somebody that he crashed his scooter into.

On an aeroplane, he appalled his fellow travellers by urinating in the aisle.

He is incontinent generally, it would seem, being unable to control his appetites.

Our writing this will not offend him in the slightest - he is the sort of person who doesn’t care what anyone thinks, which is probably just as well.

Now we don’t really care much about him either, but we were struck by the claim that M. Depardieu made, during his dispute with his own government over taxation, that he is a creative person.
And since he is now a Russian citizen, and has been welcomed personally, and endorsed as a model citizen, by President Putin, we thought it might be interesting to reflect on whether M. Depardieu’s legacy in Russia will match that of the great Russian poet Mayakovsky (1893 - 1930) - a man who really was creative.

Why make such a comparison at all?

Well, M. Depardiue deserves to be brought down a peg or two, so comparing his claim to creativity to someone whose claim is not in doubt seems to be a good place to start.
Secondly, M.Depardieu’s publicists call him ‘larger than life’ (a common euphemism for overweight actors) so perhaps the comparison will make him look like a pygmy, which can only be sobering for him, which in turn can only be good for his health.
Thirdly, Depardieu claims now to be a Russian patriot, and to regard the Russian people as beautiful and creative, although this compliment does not extend to the opposition, whom he regards as unpatriotic.

‘Judge not, that ye be not judged, for measure for measure shall ye be judged the same....’

I hope these reasons suffice, but there is a fourth, which is simply that we love Mayakovsky’s poetry and admire the way he lived.

M. Depardieu, his art or life, we do not.

M.Depardieu, like a lot of movie actors, just plays himself. And like a lot of movie actors who just play themselves, he has eventually become a parody of himself.

Mayakovsky, on the contrary, was a creative genius, who could write lines like this, which even in translation stir the soul :

You can forget
              and where
you stuffed
               your craw
               and your belly,
the land
    you hungered with
        you can never
as long as you live and breathe

Mayakovsky knew something about patriotism that Depardieu will never learn.
Although the poet of the Bolsheviks, Mayakovsky, who worked hard for the revolution, and spent time in prison for his work for it before the revolution, became disillusioned with the turn towards authoritarianism and began to write satirically of the regime - a risky business.
He didn’t, though, run away to avoid paying his taxes, despite the fact that he was allowed to travel and did so widely.
He also had a strong, deep and resonant voice, strangely reminiscent of Tennyson reading The Charge of The Light Brigade - both great men, a generation and a continent apart, but conjoined by the art of poetry.

Mayakovsky has been memorialised by Russia in many ways - in Moscow, he has a museum and a theatre named after him and a Metro station dedicated to him.
This station is magnificent, a palatial corridor runs between the main platforms and the ceilings are decorated by mosaic renditions, in the style of orthodoxy itself, of bolshevik iconography.
The entrance vestibule is equally splendid, a gently rising and arching dome decorated with lines and words from his most famous poems.

Here is a question for the Russian Government of today : imagine that you need to increase the level of taxation from its current level of 13% to cover some emergency - perhaps another currency crisis, or the return of the oil price to $25 a barrel. Do you then imagine that M. Depardieu will still be a Russian patriot and stick around to share the pain?

He hasn’t got the bladder for it.

The only memorial he is likely to have erected is a temporary public lavatory.

Last year, Russians took $560 billion out of the country - it's called Capital Flight, and it's serious.

What do they know that M. Depardieu does not?

Oliver Wendell-Holmes, the great American jurist, said ' Tax is the price you pay for civilisation'

Russia is almost alone in having a flat rate of tax which is not only very low but does not graduate at all as income increases.

This is a right wing libertarian American's fantasy. Why aren't they all here.

They too, must know something that M.Depardieu does not.

Me at Mayakovsky Metro Station impersonating the Wi-fi and Police sign and generally avoiding tax in the United Kingdom by being here and unemployed!

Unless otherwise stated all photographs by Elena Bruce

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