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

I have been ??lurking? on the live blog of 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?


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.


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

  1. The problem I have with this article, besides it taking way too long to reach its point, is that it presumes Max Mosley has been good for motorsport.

    I agree that it is wrong that Max is going before the board for his nazi-sex episode. FIA should be asking about things like the engine freeze, or the handling of the McLaren and Renault scandals, but apparently we are to follow Max and assume that he knows exactly what he is doing, and that it is right.

    Like the writings you site, I’ve seen the story play out farther if someone like Max keeps his power, particularly as it pertains to motorsport, and if allowed to continue, the ending will not be happy.

  2. Sush said on 27th May 2008, 19:41

    I enjoyed ready your article mr Stephen Snook, so much i read it twice.

    first time for me seeing on a major blog support for Mosley, so well done to Keith too, no one can state you being biased now….

    Enjoyed it but doesn’t mean i agree with it (thats right, shut it green flag)

    I could never trust anyone who would want to wield such power over the people that confide in them, priest’s of old, kings of old, goverments of old, MEDIA OF NOW**. Same goes with someone such as Max.

    **the media currently govern the population, and as such are dictating what is ethical and moral, such as Max’ actions.

    back to your article
    is it ethical to judge morality against someone who is a disciplinarian at workplace while hiding sado masochistic tedencies while at “play” ?

    yes it is. but thats my opinion. I shall keep it, I’m sure it wont affect how you enjoy F1.

  3. Michael K said on 27th May 2008, 20:48

    Selfindulgent, yes, there is no need for 70% of the text before you get to your real point. Which is flawed for many reasons, some of them mentioned already. But most of all, I suggest you research Max’s involvement in his father’s movement, as what you write there is utterly wrong. Max was very much an active member in many ways, which is why I have always wondered that he had even reached his position given his past.
    Stephen, your article will awe the less informed with a smoke-screen of sometimes literate points (none of them about Mosley), but in total it’s too long and full of mistakes and half-truths. You get extra points for trying though ;-)

  4. Sush said on 27th May 2008, 21:01

    Michael K, do you mean the attempt by Max as a barrister to sort of ressurect his fathers ideals?

    I thought that was the Media bending history for there own means.

  5. Michael K said on 27th May 2008, 21:09

    No, I mean him being active in the movement in his younger years. In a very hands-on way, as you probably know he also met his wife at one of the rallies. He has also never denounced his father’s beliefs, which can be seen as loyalty to his father I guess, but also as still holding those same beliefs as he did back then. You can read some bits in the Wikipedia article about him, but there is more.
    Of course you can make mistakes when you’re young, but he was still active at an age which suggests that those were his true beliefs and makes me question whether he still has them. All his anti-racism campaign stuff doesn’t mean a thing to me. And yes, I’m a cynic ;-)

  6. theRoswellite said on 27th May 2008, 21:39

    Congratulations to Mr. Snook on his attempt to incorporate into the present Moseley affair issues of much greater portent, issues such as morality, fame, and even the nature of the human condition. Additional kudos for placing these issues in both a historical and literary context.

    Any critique of this article must surely separate itself into the Mosely issue, and secondly the issue of Mr. Snook’s extended attempt to explain the affairs of Formula One as a morality play with inferences generated from as diverse a field as the “Church’s role in creating morality in Western Man” to “Issues of fame as explained by Andy Warhol.”

    Mr. Mosely can be dealt with quite expeditiously.

    His sexual preferences are not the question, his perceived propriety is. He holds a public post, and as such he must be acceptable to the public to be effective. Fairly, or unfairly, he has become a social pariah, and would seem to be displaying the behavior of one who has lost his objectivity.

    He is constructing an edifice to his character, one that will represent, in the public perception, an archetypal public figure destroyed by the need to maintain his position of power.

    It is to this tragic connection that Mr. Snook should have more correctly alluded, as we are all watching a truly Shakespearean…fall from grace.

    Mr. Snook, thanks again for your article. It was a stretch for me to relate the 22 cars on an F1 grid to a similar number of biblical stories transformed during the Renaissance, and then to the “…22 examples of morality”. But I need to be stretched.

    I hope you continue to contribute to this site.

  7. Max (sadistic sex) – warhol (homosexual /drug laden sex) – shakespeare – hamlet – murder and incest – check the other out where are we going with this rambling selected snippets of history??
    Max put himself up as a judge of others and has been found wanting – decrepit and immoral – cheats on his wife – with our without her knowledge? – try teling your wife or partner how you had bruises/scars on your archie and see how far you get mate – I would be out of the house and on it(my archie that is)
    The man has been revealed as a buffon – alas poor max we knew him too well – and the sooner he goes the better all round – sympathy nil points

  8. Journeyer said on 28th May 2008, 4:45

    A bit rambling, yes, but the unique style more than makes up for it. Makes websites like this that much more interesting and diverse. :) I’ve made my points about Mosley in the past, so I’ll just let that be.

  9. Oliver said on 28th May 2008, 7:24

    Nice article, but is Max really worth all this?

  10. Sush said on 28th May 2008, 9:19

    Oliver, well yes he is, he deserves the flip side of the coin.

  11. Oliver said on 28th May 2008, 9:52

    Were max to have just been filmed having normal sex with his prostitutes there might not have been so much noise made about it. But this wasn’t your garden variety sexual act, this was something tending towards the sick, at least for a vast number of individuals. Flogging someone till they bleed isn’t normal.

  12. Scott Joslin said on 28th May 2008, 15:53

    On a point slightly to the side of this very provocative article.

    I ready today that Max will be starting legal proceedings in France. Having already done the same to the News of the World in the UK, and his plans to do so in other countries, I am asking where is Max going to be getting his money to defend himself at this very high level?

    Is his position within the FIA a non paid job?

    I hold my hands up to admitting I do not know much about Max’s private life e.g. where he earns his crust, not that other rubbish, and how the legal proceedings are brought together.

    What are potential the financial ramifications to him personally if he losses these cases and is their any trace back to the FIA picking up the expenses here?

    Might be worth an article if anyone has the background on this.

  13. Number 38 said on 28th May 2008, 16:12

    Most agree the article is “long and rambling” and I’ll add “says little”. For all the “good” that some think he’s bestowed on F1, why is F1 in such turmoil? The years of change in qualifying format, the demise of Friday 3rd drivers, the lack of resolution of the customer chassis issue, all his rantings about cost cutting which haven’t saved anyone a pence, the clearly targeted abuse in the B.A.R. fuel tank issue, and similar abuse in the McLaren/Ferrari data issue, unable to resolve the US GP/ Michelin tyre situation responsibly, and now a foray into the ‘green world’. This man has been derelict in so much, why hasn’t he been replaced before now? And I didn’t even mention his LACK of moral/ethic character!

  14. This may be beautifully-presented and intelligently-argued but it’s still just plain wrong.

    The central issue of the Mosley affair which is constantly ignored, distorted or (as above) obfuscated is as follows.

    The man in charge of regulating world motorsport put himself in a position that demonstrated a woeful lack of judgement.

    A lack of judgement so severe that it fatally compromised his ability to continue to regulate world motorsport.

    That is it. In less than 50 words.

    Any attempts to claim class envy, political spite, professional grudges, prejudice about his surname or the proliferation of technologies that allow him to be publicly criticised miss that point, deliberately or otherwise.

    A man that has put himself in this position no longer has the moral authority to hand out £50 million fines that have the potential to affect the professional lives of so many team employees, investors and business people.

    This is why Mosley has to go. No other reason.

  15. Mosley’s position is unpaid. (I think he was the one who made it so – so it’d be less attractive for anyone else.)
    Not sure the source of his money. Maybe his family? He has said himself and Bernie do property deals together. And there’s the rumour that the reason his lives in Monaco has nothing to do with the European arrest warrant, but Bernie gifting him an eye-watering amount of cash.

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