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A spate of pre-election sex scandals have hit politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sara Hardy exposes the moral of the story

In Britain the election campaign is over, while in America it is grinding on. For voters bored to death by the election circus, only a series of sex scandals involving prominent politicians has added some spice to politics. It says a lot about the dismal state of politics in the nineties that the private life of a man like Paddy Ashdown can excite more interest than the slump policies of the major parties.

The 'Paddy Pants Down' affair (invol-ving the shock horror revelation that the leader of the Liberal Democrats had an affair with his secretary five years ago) hasn't been the only election campaign sex scandal. In the States, the sex life of Democratic Party presidential contender Bill Clinton became the number one issue in the election primaries, after singer Gennifer Flowers revealed that she had a 12-year affair with the senator. Meanwhile, back in Britain, Sara Keays won a libel action worth £105 000 against New Woman magazine, which had accused her of being a kiss 'n' tell bimbo for writing a book about her affair with Cecil Parkinson for financial gain. For a few weeks, sex seemed to have replaced politics as the main debating point of the elections.

There may have been a surfeit of sex scandals of late, but they are nothing new in British politics. Over the years, there have been dozens of revelations about the sex lives of MPs, some of which have scandalised the nation - such as the relationship between the minister for war, John Profumo, and the call-girl, Christine Keeler, which came to light in 1963 and forced his resignation.

Some have attracted less notoriety. Few people probably remember the incident in 1981, when the jilted lover, and secretary, of Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn tried to hang herself from a lamp-post outside his London flat. These titillating stories - Ron Brown's trial for stealing a pair of his former lover's knickers, Colin Moynihan's relationship with Pamela Bordes - have been the stuff of the tabloids for a very long time.

The politician usually responds to the sex scandal by denying everything. If he is forced to admit anything he claims that it's all over, and that he ended the affair for the sake of his family. He then appears with a wife as fragrant as possible, as often as possible. If he's lucky, other politicians will rally round him and make statements about his right to privacy. If he's very lucky, he may even win some votes from a public which thinks he's more interesting than they had previously imagined.

But how seriously should we take sex scandals? Some purists have claimed that having an affair makes a politician untrustworthy. Anyone who breaks the marriage vows cannot, they argue, defend the welfare of the British public. This is nonsense. You would have to be a bit strange to think that Kenneth Baker or John Gummer, who I cannot believe ever to have strayed from the straight and narrow, are trustworthy individuals on whom we can rely to take care of our interests. Politicians such as these are not to be trusted whatever the state of their married lives.

What is important about sex scandals, however, is the way they are used to promote traditional, conservative moral values. Admitting an affair, for the politician, is admitting that you have broken the code of family values. Every 'guilty' man presents himself as a sinner returning to the bosom of his family. The most abiding image of every scandal is that of the politician photographed with his wife and family.

Paddy Ashdown made sure that his wife took a photocall with him the day he made his announcement. Jeffrey Archer took the press to court over the accusation that he had paid off a prostitute. He won because his wife was such a good witness. Mary Archer was so 'fragrant', commented the judge, that it was imposs-ible to imagine her husband wanting to have sex with a prostitute. Bill Clinton's wife appeared with him during all the embarrassing interviews, and declared that their marriage was strong, that they loved each other and that they would stay together. Cecil Parkinson ended his affair with Sara Keays 'for the sake of his family'.

It can be embarrassing for an establishment which presents itself as the guardian of our moral health to have its representatives breaking the rules. It is an important part of political campaigning today to ensure that prospective candidates are family men. The idea that only those with strong family values are fit to rule is central to government propaganda. To have politicians admitting they were wrong to have extra-marital sex can be useful in promoting an atmosphere of moral conformity.

It's also worth remembering those whom the politicians and the press have refused to forgive. Cecil Parkinson was let back into the cabinet; Jeffrey Archer never left it; Nicholas Fairbairn's career doesn't seem to have suffered; and Bill Clinton might still make the Democratic Party nomination.

But Jeremy Thorpe, forced to resign from the Liberal Party leadership because he was exposed as a homosexual, has disappeared from public life. Harvey Proctor, who resigned as an MP for the same reason, has never been let back into the establishment fold. On the eve of the general election, Tory MP Alan Amos had to resign in disgrace after being arrested with another man in a car on Hampstead Heath. Adulterers can be accommodated by the establishment, but those publicly accused of being homosexual are beyond the pale.

And another thing. Every sex scandal throws into sharp relief the role that women are expected to play in political life. They are thrust into the political limelight and paraded in front of the cameras in the role of lusty mistresses or loyal wives. For all the talk of sexual equality and the New Woman, the major roles which women play in British and American politics today are still those of 'Smoking Bimbos' or fragrant ladies, wheeled on either to bring down or prop up a powerful man. That is really scandalous.

An extraordinary film about how one Jew survived the Holocaust has caused a national controversy in Germany. Emmanuel Oliver looks behind the row about Agnieszka Holland's Europa Europa

A Jew, a communist and a Hitler Youth

There is a great irony in the reception given to Agnieszka Holland's new film, Europa Europa (showing in Germany under the title Hitlerjunge Salomon). This is a film about the problem of identity. It tells the true story of Solomon Perel, a teenage German Jew who, in order to survive the Holocaust, is forced to hide his Jewishness and pretend he is an Aryan. The irony is that a film which explores the identity crisis suffered by a victim of the Holocaust has served to focus attention on the identity crisis of the nation which presided over the Holocaust.

At the end of the film, Solomon Perel's identity crisis is resolved, when he finds himself in Israel after the war, singing a refrain from a song about 'how good it is to be among one's own'. Germany's national identity crisis, however, which is the legacy of the Holocaust era, is not so easily resolved. The difficulties of establishing a legitimate national identity in a country where such terrible things were done in the name of nationalism are readily apparent.

For Germany's modern-day rulers, however, forging a viable national identity is a matter of necessity not choice. If Germany is to play a political role in the world commensurate with its economic leverage, it must overcome the legacy of a past which continually acts as a restraint on its ability to assert its world leadership. This explains why Germany's rulers have spent the past decade trying to bury the past or at least to explain it away.

It seems that whenever the German establishment thinks that it might at last have erased the horror of its past experiment with fascism, something happens to bring the Nazi past, which acts as a barrier to the free promotion of a German national identity, back into sharp focus.

There have been many German films dealing with the Holocaust, but none has caused such controversy as Europa Europa (a joint German-Polish pro-
duction). A timely new book by Anton Kaes, From Hitler to Heimat: the Return of History as Film, provides a useful commentary on how the German film industry has dealt with Germany's stigmatised history and on the shifting preoccupations of the New German Cinema since the mid-seventies. After reading Kaes' book, it is clear that the furore over Europa Europa has at least as much to do with the political context in which it has been released as with the content of the film.

From the point of view of the German establishment, Europa Europa could not have appeared at a more inappropriate time. Today, when a reunited Germany is once again becoming a powerful player in Europe, the last thing it needs is a film that reminds everybody what happened the last time round. And what it really does not need is a film that has taken the American box office by storm and achieved international recognition by winning a Golden Globe award for best foreign film of 1991.

Europa Europa would have had a better than even chance of winning this year's Oscar for best foreign film. But the jury responsible for nominating Germany's Oscar entry decided that no film was worthy of being nominated. There can be little doubt that the decision was politically motivated. But if the powers that be in Bonn thought that they could bury Europa Europa, they were wrong. The German panel's decision not to put the film forward for the Oscar nominations sparked a fierce debate inside and outside Germany.

Artur Brauner, the film's German producer, himself a concentration camp survivor, castigated the jury members. Brauner argued that Germany's leaders are so desperate to promote a new image of Germany and to put the past behind them that they have resorted to political censorship. The film's Polish director, Agnieszka Holland, accused Germany of allowing national arrogance to become official policy by blocking the film. Brauner and Holland were supported by all the major German film- makers, including Volker Schlöndorff, director of The Tin Drum, the last German film to win an Oscar in 1979. The attempt by the German establishment to bury the film thus had the opposite effect. It became the centre of a fresh debate about Germany's present attitude towards its past.

The content of Europa Europa has also aroused controversy. It is a far from conventional treatment of the period. The film does not dwell on the popular images of Nazism, such as SS uniforms, swastikas and concentration camps: images which can be assimilated with ease because they are so familiar. Nor does the film conform to the traditional depiction of the Jews as noble but passive victims of fascism. Instead, Holland's film focuses singlemindedly on the dilemma of Solomon Perel, who survives the Holocaust by concealing his Jewish identity and becoming a Hitler Youth.

From the moment that he is separated from his older brother as they flee over the Polish border into the Soviet Union, Solomon is forced to respond to whichever way the wind blows in order to escape the fate of his fellow Jews. At home in Germany, he is a Jew among Jews. As an orphan in the Soviet Union, he becomes a communist among communists. When the Wehrmacht invades the Soviet Union, he becomes Josef Peters, an Aryan among Aryans. At an exclusive school for Hitler Youth, he becomes a Nazi among Nazis. In Israel after the war, he becomes a Zionist.

The trauma experienced by Solomon in having continually to conceal his identity (especially his circumcision) is the centrepiece of the film. In order to survive, he is forced to adopt a different persona to the extent that his own identity is endangered. When Solomon does reveal his identity, first to a gay German soldier and then to the mother of his Aryan girlfriend, we are all aware that he has placed his life in the hands of someone who may well betray him.

Whatever the director's intentions, Europa Europa is not simply a film about how identity is tested by adversity. Agnieszka Holland said that she wanted to tell this extraordinary story of an ordinary young man in order to illustrate a central theme of our times: humanity's lack of control over its own destiny.

Solomon Perel's personal story is indeed extraordinary; so extraordinary that were it not true it would seem preposterous. But in one important respect, it is a story which accords with the experience of millions in the twentieth century. It is the story of a young man whose fate was determined by forces beyond his control. It is the sense of humanity being on the receiving end of history that makes Solomon Perel's story so compelling to people whose overriding experience is of having no control over their lives and no say in their fate.
  • Europa Europa opens on 15 May at Screen on the Hill and Odeon Kensington in London
  • Anton Kaes, From Hitler to Heimat: the Return of History as Film, Harvard University Press, £10.25 pbk

Loss of faith

The Tate gallery has been hosting a retrospective on Otto Dix, a leading German artist of the interwar years. Craig Barton questions the notion that he was a political artist

Otto Dix's potted biography has usually been slotted into the familiar mould of the Weimar 'political' artist: shock of the First World War, scathing social commentary of the degenerate Weimar years, persecution by the Nazis, and final contentment in the postwar years. The Tate exhibition is comprehensive enough to raise doubts. In commemorating the centenary of his birth, the gallery has assembled an impressive overview of the artist's works, particularly his most famous works of the twenties and early thirties. Looked at as a whole, they reveal him to be engaged in a project different to that imagined by many critics.

Dix entered the First World War as an enthusiast - war was an episode to be 'experienced'. Throughout those years Dix was a detached observer of a world being torn apart. His landscapes are slashed with jagged, discontinuous lines, both the sky and the battleground below converge into continuous jarring explosions. In the middle of this was the human subject, victim of a world that was out of its control. Where soldiers are depicted, they appear crawling and insignificant while the storm rages about them.

For Dix the human subject never emerged intact. For the rest of his career, he saw the human subject as degraded and disfigured. From the end of the war to the early thirties, Dix explored several themes to express this problem.

First came what are sometimes called his 'political' pictures. The depiction of dismembered war veterans and the inclusion of contemporary political culture are often used to justify categorising Dix as a radical artist. Yet taking Dix's work as a whole, it is apparent that he was more interested in the degeneration of the human subject rather than political commentary. His crippled war veterans provide such an example. Dix locates the source of degradation not in society, but within the subject itself.

Dix also used prostitutes as subjects. Here two themes were explored: the woman as marketable commodity, and the futility of sex and beauty before death and decay. By portraying the individual as a commodity, Dix highlighted its 'nothingness'. In the 'Sex Murder' series this is explicit. Dix depicts the mutilated body of a prostitute in circumstances which emphasise that the corpse had become no more significant than the other objects of the grim surroundings.

Several of these themes are combined in the famous Metropolis triptych completed in 1928. The centre panel represents the rich at play and Dix pays great attention to their elaborate patterned clothes. For the rich, the point of life was the search for pleasure. The costumes and poses were to suggest that for them appearance was all and content nothing. On the left panel, crippled war veterans stare after prostitutes with one prostrate on the ground in an attempt to look up their skirts. More expensive prostitutes parade in the right panel, with the clothing of one woman suggesting the entire body as female genitalia.

The body as the object of both lust and decay came to be a growing preoccupation for Dix. The futility of the human experience is represented by either mocking the attempt to stem decay through lusting after the body of another, or the allegory of confronting the body's own inevitable degeneration.

Lastly there were the 'society' portraits. Dix's growing reputation by the mid-1920s was earning the attentions of the Weimar elite. However, even these clients did not escape Dix's critical eye. The portraits approached caricature through exaggeration of their oddities. Not surprisingly, the paintings did not fulfil the self-flattery required of the bourgeois portrait and some were never displayed by their buyers.

If Dix found the human subject such a disappointment, it seemed inevitable that he would reach the point where it no longer seemed worthy of investigation. It is possible that Dix's work was running its course even before the Nazis came to power. Nevertheless, Dix's earlier works of degeneracy made him unpopular with the new regime. Paintings were confiscated and destroyed. Dix was removed from his chair at the Dresden art academy.

Dix turned to allegorical paintings, often with biblical themes, as well as landscapes. In addition, he produced several sympathetic portraits of his family which he began painting in the late twenties. Commentators have often pointed out that many paintings from this period were subtle social commentaries within the restraints of Nazi censorship. This change in direction to more asocial and ahistorical subjects also summed up the obvious disillusionment with the changes in Germany. But as is obvious from looking at Dix's career, his loss of faith was hardly new.

It was a loss of faith that was not restored by the fall of the Nazis. In fact, contrary to the usual idea that Dix's subject matter was forced on him by the Nazis, liberation brought no major change in the content of his paintings: biblical themes and landscapes predominated in his work post-1945. Dix concentrated on innovation in style rather than content. The results of this final period are not very interesting and it is no great shame that the Tate exhibition has devoted only one room to his last 20 years.

Where does the retrospective place Dix in the century's art? In his heyday, Dix stood out in a time and place rich in innovation. Yet his works are disturbing because they show a profound lack of sympathy for his subject. For the modern portrait painter, portrayal of the subject has been affected by the uncertain status of the individual itself. But while some artists saw the subject as requiring excavation to reveal its hidden 'essence', in the course of his career Dix seems to have reached the conclusion that it was hardly worth the effort.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 43, May 1992

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