Shakespeare, Warhol and Max Mosley

Max Mosley, Monaco, 2007, 470150

F1 Fanatic reader Stephen Snook has contributed this highly thought-provoking essay on morality and the Max Mosley debate.

Without Dante there would be no Italian; without Luther there would be no German; without Shakespeare, there would be no English. If this is an over simplification, then it is certainly true to say that modern Italian, modern German and modern English would be very different were it not for these three writers. Whether we know it or not, our everyday language is still littered with their coinages.

When these languages were growing up, most people lived, worked and died within 25 miles of their birth. They knew very little about the world beyond; they knew more, through their priests, about the world to come than they did about the real world beyond their own village. It is through their priests that the people first learned to judge of right and wrong.

As the first artists of Renaissance Italy began to decorate their churches with frescos, then so the priests painted images on the minds of their congregations. It was painting on wet plaster that gave the fresco its permanence; and it was the authority of the priest that gave the image permanence in the mind of the parishioner. The question is: what, exactly, gave the priest such authority?

It is not a question that you would think were ever likely to come up on F1Fanatic.co.uk.

I have been ??lurking? on the live blog of F1Fanatic.co.uk since Australia. To keep myself awake all night for the first broadcasts of the season, I read Giorgio Vasari?s, The Lives of the Artists. The work is vast, running to something like 10 volumes, and covering a hundred artists or more from the early 14th century to the late 16th century. Needless to say, I read an edited version. Nevertheless, it was mind-numbingly repetitive. Desktop publishing and colour printing not having been invented in the 16th century, Vasari has to describe the works of Giotto, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Rafael, Michelangelo, Titan et al. They are the same few stories from the bible, given different treatments and becoming ever more technically proficient.

On Sunday, a little red car lined up on the grid at Monaco. was the same little red car that lined up in 1968, but given a different treatment and having become vastly more technically proficient.

22 cars lined up on the grid at Melbourne in 2008. There may be only 22 different stories from the bible covered in the entire 300 years of the Renaissance. This is not necessarily a limitation to the artist. After all, there are only 12 notes out of which to make all music, and 26 letters out of which to make all books.

It may be a moral limitation.

Or, at least limit the discussion of morality. The few examples that existed belonged to the priests: the priests owned morality – right and wrong were not open to discussion at a personal level. This is what I think gave such authority to the priest.

The period I am talking about includes the Reformation, the great schism of Christianity. Whatever the theological contention, it was still much the same bible. The priests, whether Catholic or Protestant, continued to own the few examples of morality, and would continue to do so until the French Revolution.

But it was the 20th century that was the real revolution.

Every time a new technology reaches a critical mass, there is a phenomenon. For film, it was the death of Rudolf Valentino; for radio, it was the Orson Welles production of The War of the Worlds; for television, it was Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show. The 20th century was unique in inventing the technologies that make it possible to record sound and image, and broadcast those sounds and images collectively to mass audiences.

A hundred thousand women, loudly hysterical in their grief, flocked to the funeral of a silent film star, in August 1926. In November 1938, the same month as Kristallnacht in Germany, thousands of Americans fled to their air raid shelters, thinking the Martians had landed. The producers of the Ed Sullivan Show, regarding the sexual gyrations of Elvis Presley as too provocative for a mass audience, ordered, like latter day priests, that Elvis be shot only from the waist up, in September 1956.

That the producer is trying to act like the priest shows to what colossal extent the number of examples, out of which morality can be derived, has grown. It has multiplied in the same proportion as the 22 cars that will line up on the grid at Monaco are to the total number of cars in the world. Film, radio, television, and now the internet. Every newspaper, every magazine, every action that is in the least bit newsworthy is instantly accessible at eight megabits a second, in words, images and sound.

Every action has its moral consequence: it is either right or wrong. When there were only 22 examples of morality, there really wasn’t that much to discuss, even if it had been culturally valid to do so. However, much to the chagrin of the true priests, sin was still as rampant as it has always been. The Protestant Reformation was provoked by the Catholic Church selling indulgences. Sinning, and then paying to have your sins remitted in order to get into heaven, made a mockery of the Church’s moral teachings. Today, the colossal number of examples out of which morality can be derived, and the cultural validity of discussion at a personal level, makes an even bigger mockery of morality.

Without the limited number of examples, without the guidance of the authority of the priests, are we really making moral judgements? Or is it something else?

Shakespeare

The tragedies of Shakespeare have been translated into every language, as has Dante??s Divine Comedy, and Luther?s bible was the progenitor of every other Protestant bible. Successive generations have found the brilliance of the language, within a certain moral framework, a perfect, and sometimes beautiful, expression of our humanity. Essentially, it is flattery. Great writers come to be called great writers because they give us a sense of being greater than we thought we were. Unquestionably, Hamlet flatters our sense of moral being.

To be or not to be. We all want to play Act III, Scene I.

Shakespeare was sitting around one day, probably in a pub, twiddling his thumbs, and thinking: what action is it that I could take that would cause me the greatest moral doubt? Well, that?s easy: killing another human being. But that?s a no, no. How on earth am I going to make that work? I know. The greatest call, of duty, of affection, and above all else, to action, is the call between father and son. I?ll have the father murdered. I?ll make the father a king, so that he is also father to his country. I?ll have the father murdered by his own brother. The brother then becomes king, and marries the wife, the son?s mother, so quickly that the son suspects something may have been going on before the murder. That?s it, got it. Where?s my quill?

Still, Hamlet can?t bring himself to do it: kill his uncle to avenge his father. The moral doubt drives him mad and the last scene is no accidental blood bath. If Hamlet is saying anything at all, it is saying that moral judgements are very difficult to make.

We all have some bits of Shakespeare, Dante, or Luther in our vocabulary. They may be correctly, or imperfectly, committed to memory. Either way, out of context they are almost certainly wrongly understood. If vocabulary, then how much more so the ideas behind the works. Act III, Scene I, is very easy to play badly; very difficult to play correctly. And it is ??badly?, not poorly. It was all so much easier when there were only 22 examples, frescoed on your mind, and not really open to discussion.

Written language, for all its proliferation on blogs, very much takes second place to sound and image. Few blog entries go on for very long before including a YouTube video. The online publications of major titles are just as dependent on Adobe Flash and Java to deliver sound and image, and can only become more so as their migration is completed. Human understanding has moved out of written language and into sound and image.

Spoken language is all tone and gesture, with tone itself often mere gesture. As easy as it is to play Act III, Scene I, badly in spoken language, very few will ever have their bad performances committed to film. It is far, far easier, however, to copy those bad performances, to play Act III, Scene I, badly in that language you speak in your own mind, commit it as a turgid piece of commonplace prose, in an article, a blog, a comment section, and call it your moral position. All the gesturism of tone and facial expression will still be there, secreted amongst the words.

Spoken language brings out the petit demagogue in everyone.

Warhol

Saying that spoken language brings out the petit demagogue in everyone is very different from saying that everyone will become famous for fifteen minutes.

There are four 15 minutes in every hour. Only four people can become famous every hour. 96 in every 24 hours. About 35,000 a year. Divide the 6 billion people alive today by 35,000 and you get 171,428. It would take one hundred and seventy-one thousand years for everyone who is alive today to become famous for 15 minutes. Put that in perspective: 171,000 years ago, we were still all monkeys. Somewhere out there, there?s a 171,000 year-old old monkey, struggling to lift a doddery old arm in the air, and saying, ??Me! Me! Must be my turn next! ??

The most basic skills of numeracy are all that is required to give the lie to Warhol?s famous little dictum, yet we have all fallen for it.

A fundamental prerequisite of anything of value is that it be rare. Only 35,000 people can become famous in any one year. An awful lot of us are never going to become famous. Although we have never done the numbers, somewhere, buried deep within our illusions, is the understanding of the rarity, of the value, of the privilege, of fame. Almost all of us are going to end up like that doddery old monkey. And we resent it.

Max Mosley

Max Mosley, Bahrain, 2006, 470313

There is no contention that Max has used his position with FIA dishonestly, to enrich himself or his friends. There is no contention that Max has carried out his job badly, apart from the personal animus of some in the sport. Rather, that such animus exists, proves that he has always carried out his job effectively, taking decisions impartially for the good of the sport, and never being swayed by any particularly powerful faction or party.

Almost nothing is known about Shakespeare. If it were one day discovered that Shakespeare had been molesting his neighbour?s twin eleven year-old nieces at the time of writing Hamlet, Hamlet would still be Hamlet. In the same way, Max?s value is still good, regardless of his much less serious sado-masochistic rendezvous with five prostitutes.

The only argument of all the petit demagogue commentators is that, after his rendezvous, Max can no longer carry out his job as President of FIA. Max?s value is still good; therefore the decision is entirely up to him.

I confess that, if had it happened to me, I would die of shame. Like most people, I suspect, I would want to go as quickly and as quietly as possible. But I am not a Mosley.

All his life, Max Mosley has been looking for somewhere where his name did not matter so much. It seems that he had found it in motor racing. Until recently, I had no idea that Max Mosley is the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the creator of the pre-war British Union of Fascists, and leader of the Blackshirts, intent on being to England what Mussolini was Italy and Hitler to Germany.

It is the media that always insists on making the connection. I read a piece not long ago in the Sunday Times Style Section about Daphne Guinness. The article was about fashion. Daphne Guinness inherited nothing from her grandmother, except the delicate beauty of the most beautiful of the Mitford sisters, yet the reporter insisted on bringing up a family portrait, made about the time her grandmother was about to leave her grandfather for Sir Oswald Moseley and become Lady Diana Mosley, Max?s mother.

Outside of motor racing, Max has had to put up with this all of his life. With six decades of active memory, Max must be somewhat inured to all the sleights, the rebuffs, the innuendos, and just plain nastiness that would bring the blush of mortification to the cheeks of those of us not so conditioned by the name of Mosley.

Max had a mother and father famous for their looks and infamous for the ideology they adhered to. I doubt, however, that the names of Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford mean much to people today. It is not the fame, or otherwise, of Max?s parents that have attracted so much attention to him: it is something else. The Formula 1 grid is the biggest stage in the world. A billion people, or more, will tune in via some sort of screen. There is no other regular event in which such a mass of humanity is in virtual attendance every other week.

Max?s own name probably meant very little to anyone outside the top levels of motor racing. Someone in a mere supervisory position like Max, whatever his ancestry, could never hope for the instant name recognition of a Hollywood star, or a rock star. It was the fame of the Formula 1 grid that attracted so much attention to Max. It was the suspicion that, although the name rang no instant bells, he belonged to those privileged 35,000 who become famous every year. He was not one with the rest of us, who share our genes with that doddery old monkey.

It is entirely natural to want to tear down all privilege. That is what politics has been about for the past 200 years. I only have this one life: why should anyone, or any one class, have more of its delights than me? Just as it seems to have been accomplished, or over accomplished, in its political dimension, privilege has shifted sphere. However understandable it may be to want to tear down Max?s seeming privilege, using morality as the hook is entirely spurious. It has nothing whatever to do with moral judgement. Max?s value is still good: his actions have not betrayed his real value.

If the media always seems over anxious in wanting to tear down anyone who is in the least bit famous, then it is only our own anxiety they are trying to salve. For a moment, we feel less resentful, less underprivileged. It might not matter much if it were just the trivial sorts of personality that inhabit Hollywood and rock arenas, but, in all this tearing down, personalities of real value are going to be torn down, too. And that harms us all.

Max wants to stay in his job. I hope he will be allowed to do so. Morality establishes value, real value. Today, with the sheer number of examples out of which morality can be derived, and the corresponding opportunities for almost anyone to do the moralising, it is desperately difficult to establish real value. Through his personal history, Max has the personality to stand his ground. It would be the greatest of ironies, if a man called Mosley, a name connected in another country with an ideology that created the greatest wrong of the twentieth century, were to become an example of real value in the twenty-first.

This was a guest article by Stephen Snook. If you’re interested in writing for F1 Fanatic look at the information for guest writers here.

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31 comments on Shakespeare, Warhol and Max Mosley

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  1. How long the article is,but it is really a good article.I think Max will go down the staris after the meeting,but who is the second man we don’t know.

  2. Kenny said on 27th May 2008, 13:24

    WTF???

    “Max Mosley accused of helping Michael Schumacher win 1994 championship”

    You paint him whiter than white as far as FIA dealings go.
    Whenever money, power and ego are involved people will always sucumb. What one does in thier personal life cannot be separated from their work. It is who you are without all the front.

  3. Brar Soler said on 27th May 2008, 13:30

    Mosley must stay or stay not im his job, just because off his skills.

    Over-Morality laws he creates ruined f1. The audience is spreading because F1 is spreading. But in the traditional countries it is shrinking. F1 had losted carisma.

    F1 is not more a place were the fastest or fitest wins. It´s something more like a bingo event. Full of sadomasoquist rules.For instance: You have to make a pit stop, if want it or not, but you are not allowed to do it if you run out of gas and ther is a Yellow flag. And that have nothing to do with moral, but with pleasure. I don´t found any pleasure were Mosley did, and the pleasure for him is to follows Max rules. In nature there are natural rules hard enough to overtake. We have enough nature problem´s to solve.

    F1 could have contributed for a better world enviromment if the Kers sytem Newey created for Mclaren wasn´t forbiden by Mosley. Active suspension, Turbos, variable gearbox and etc. etc. etc. While that doesnt happens we remain with the very unconfortable felling thet we´re poisining air.

  4. Max impartial? Hahaha, I stopped reading after that. Honestly, that should be put on the first line!

  5. Scott Joslin said on 27th May 2008, 14:02

    On the contrary Stephen, opening up the scope for more people to debate morality and what is morally correct is where real morality can formed. I think with more people being able to express their opinion about what is immoral can have a positive impact on moral standards. I doubt anyone else in the FIA will be conducting such “inappropriate activities” like Max under took as part of their private lives from now on.

    Max holds a position of significant importance, and he works and lives in a world where the slightest slip can lead to your undoing in a matter of hours. But he chose not to control his demons and succumbed to appalling temptations, that he could ill afford to do, which for one reason or another is now in the public eye.

    People that operate in the public eye must live and die by the way they conduct themselves, both at work and away from their place of work. It’s the rules of engagement in the 21st Century!

    Only then can the REAL value of what the public believes as being moral be established, not by retrospective hypothesizing like the main parts of this article.

  6. Thomas O said on 27th May 2008, 15:05

    Thanks for your article Stephen. I must confess that I found it pretty tough going, and more than a little self indulgent. More importantly though, I believe that you, along with the others who have written words of support for Max, are barking up the wrong tree.

    Max should go. Not because what he did was immoral, irresponsible, naive, stupid etc but because all the corporations involved in F1 collectively spend billions on marketing and brand development. It is naive of all commentators who remain in favour of Mosley to pretend as if we do not live in a world dominated by ‘image’ above and beyond substance. And the image of a bent over Mosley is one that no one wants to be associated with.

    The purists among us might like to believe otherwise but the fact is, motorsport today is nothing but business, and big business at that. Max is bad for business.

  7. Very well written article, if somewhat rambling, Stephen. The long preamble on the subject of morality says absolutely nothing, unfortunately, and is filled with the “snobbery of the modern”. The details of morality change with the age, yes, but the essentials remain the same.

    Not that it matters, in the context of your argument, of course. That is very simple, being a re-iteration of the position adopted by all Mosley supporters – that Mosley has a wonderful record as FIA president and he should be judged on that alone. I have no doubt that many commenters will point out just how badly Max has run F1 so I will not go into detail on that – suffice it to say that I and many others view his presidency very differently from the way you do. Indeed, I am also prepared to admit that many of us feel that it is his incompetence and bias that should be the reason for his resignation – but we will take the scandal option if that is all that presents itself.

    So, if you want to stick by your argument, it is necessary to show us why you think Max has been so excellent in his job. We think he has been a disaster – persuade us differently.

    Turning to the issue of morality, again I must point out that there are many who feel that morality is an important influence on a man’s suitability for a task. The practical objections are obvious and Mosley is experiencing them already – hardly anyone wants to be seen in public with him. But his morality must also affect his approach to any task. If his conscience is seared to the point of seeing nothing wrong with performing odd acts with prostitutes whilst ignoring his marriage and reputation, how can we trust his judgement when it comes to other matters? And that is before any decision is reached on the Nazi allegations.

    You make a very good point in saying that, if it happened to you, you would be so ashamed that you would be only too eager to resign and go off to hide somewhere. This demonstrates that you retain a sense of morality and decency and would understand how your offence has laid low your standing in society. Clearly, Max has lost that sense of shame and is guided only by his determination to hang on to power, regardless of the cost to the organisation he represents.

  8. Interesting article.

    Two points from me:

    1) Regardless of morality Max has brought the sport into direpute which he fined McLaren $100,000,000 last year. People are snickering about F1 and that is essentially what direpute is.

    2) Warhol didn’t rule out the idea of the 15 minutes being concurrent. Eveyone will be famous to themselves and their friends for 15 minutes. Whether it is streaking at Wimbledon, having a pop record or having an article about you in the local paper. There are people who are famous in China that I have never heard of presumably they were being famous at the same time as the minor celebrities that grace UK television.

  9. William Wilgus said on 27th May 2008, 15:24

    “Alas and alack”, everyone seems to think that poor Max has brought F-1 into `dis-respect’. Sorry, but the issues is literally `The Emperor has no clothes'; i.e., he exposed himself to be a mere mortal, or no different than any other person. Hence, his ability to lead has been compromised. Had there been no visual evidence of his proclivities, it would merely be a question of morals.

  10. Harkirat said on 27th May 2008, 15:28

    Stephen, first up, excellent article, brilliantly written, I almost felt as if I was reading a piece written by Jeremy Clarkson.

    Secondly, after going through your article, I just felt that it should not have been judgmental. I get the feeling that by writing something to the effect of Max being impartial, you somewhere ended up behaving like a modern day priest. I honestly think that the article has a lot of weight, but yes, such statements can make people like De stop reading further. But anyways, it is a brilliant effort, I am thoroughly impressed.

  11. @William

    Max certainly exposed himself. That’s a big part of the problem! ;)

  12. Green Flag said on 27th May 2008, 16:37

    Well put, Mr. Snook. A thoughtful analysis and an intelligent conclusion. A breath of very much needed fresh air set against the poisoned prejudice and biased stench coming from most other quarters.

  13. Sush said on 27th May 2008, 16:42

    “live by the cane, die by the cane”

  14. Stephen,

    Unfortunately I cannot agree with your thesis. Formula 1 like any business relies on its reputation when building new partnerships and when dealing with existing customers. Mosley, as the figure head and first representative of the FIA, has tarnished the reputation of the sport through his actions.

    Business does not want to be associated with Max because association might devalue their own hard earned reputations. You can not fault them for this.

    I do fault Max for many things, first and foremost for putting his ego ahead of the sport and continuing to hold onto power. The continued coverage has done nothing but harm the sport, the business of sport and the future business prospects of the sport.

    People may in fact be hypocritical when they talk of morality but it does not mean you can ignore morality in favor of merit.

    On that point (merit) I have to say that recent revelations concerning Max interfering in FIA hearings would suggest that the man does not deserve his post on merit either. I doubt that this kind of manipulation was an isolated case. When one feels justified in putting themselves above the rules, it is habitual.

    More will be revealed as Mosley’s downfall climaxes.

  15. Max has been attempting to become the sport as opposed to regulating it. Leave the sporting issues to those who participate. He has found a niche where he has been able to stretch his 15 minutes of fame to more than a dozen years at the expense of all the sport’s participants, including the fans. And has further corrupted the FIA by placing supporters in key positions to maintain his hegemony.

    His family history making him invulnerable to shame and ridicule is in and of itself ridiculous. The sporting world needs to continue supporting this self promoting sycophant because he was disadvantaged by what his mommy and daddy were? We are the products of our gene pool and upbringing, and Max is living down to the worst of his.

    The fact that Max has exposed his duplicitous nature by conducting “private” acts repulsive to most is just the icing on the cake. Good riddance, the sooner the better.

    Your piece was entertaining and thought provoking and I enjoyed reading it. The further one has to reach to justify a position is in and of itself suspect. There is an absolute and easy sense of right and wrong to this mess, and one doesn’t need to construct a white paper to know the difference.

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