Why Humphrey Bogart is important in the current economic meltdown

By Vickie Valadez
Backpage and Copy Editor

Happy belated Valentine’s Day. Hope your day of couple cuddliness/single awareness/intentional dismissal of Saturday was a success.

I am excited to write for you, readers in internet land! I am excited about sharing some observations I made while watching the classic film Casablanca this weekend. For those that have not seen it and don’t want spoiler, come back and read this after you’ve seen it. I’ll be waiting.

Are you done? Ready now? Humphrey is a hunk, right?

The ending is atypical of Hollywood romance movies because the guy doesn’t end up with the girl. After encountering one another in Casablanca, Bogart’s character, Rick, ultimately passes up the opportunity to continue the romance with his former lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) because she is and was at the time married. Despite their strong feelings for one another (and repeated night encounters, with sex only subtly suggested with strategic cuts and Bogart smoking cigarettes in classic 1940’s cinema style), he makes this decision because she is an essential part of her husband’s work serving the French and against the Nazi regime in WWII. She knows confidential information and is general support for her husband, who is seen as a war hero for surviving concentration camps. So Rick determines she needs to fulfill her duty as wife to her husband, even if that means he does not get what he wants.

There are pretty glaring problems inherent in this being Ilsa’s role as a wife, but for the sake of my argument I’m going to put aside the obvious feminist argument against Rick’s decision. I’m focusing on Rick’s sacrifice as a metaphor.

I’m not sure if this kind of unhappy ending was more typical of American cinema in the ‘40s, but it certainly is in sharp contrast to the romantic philosophy of movies today. It’s not about your sense of duty or responsibility in a relationship. In the most cliché terms, it’s about being true to yourself and following your heart. In terms of many goofy high-school romance movies and others, this means the starlet promptly dumps the jerk with little explanation and rushing to the newfound love. Given, the newfound love has likely been played up as superior in various ways than former guy and there are always variations on this formula. Regardless, for the starlet “being true to yourself” and “following your heart” means doing what you want, whatever that is, responsibilities and others’ feelings be damned. Listening deep to your gut feelings.

Sounds familiar, right? Like some former president’s foreign policy?

This notion depends on some more modern notion that have been fed to kids, maybe post-Depression I imagine, that we deserve anything we want simply because we’re Americans. This philosophy of self-love and self-worth in terms of what we deserve is present everywhere, particularly in commercials. You can easily think of commercial catch phrases that endorse this notion. “Because I’m worth it.” “You’re working hard for your money…” “Treat yourself,” and so on.

There’s nothing wrong with a healthy sense of self-love, but this notion certainly isn’t as socially emphasized as much as it was in the 40’s, despite the fact that then and now we are in war with foreign countries. It’s certainly not a war of the same scale, but we are in a recession. And even the current administration is giving tax cuts and bailouts, despite huge war spending. Maybe only now are people ignoring this superfluous notion of self-love by cutting spending, but only because the media has scared them into it, not because our national philosophy has changed.

(The economy is actually doing great, by the way. What? Why? How, you say? Look for it on the Backpage of this week’s issue.)

Obama can’t be expected to act any differently, to ask us to help ourselves by appealing to our united, national sense of duty to our country. Did we ever have one? Have previous generations had them? Who knows, but for sure this is what the American people want, what we’re accustomed to; to be provided the freedom and liberty to have or buy or desire whatever or whoever we want.

Maybe that hunky Humphrey Bogart can teach us a thing or two. Maybe something about the difference between then and now; that one may have to give up what they most want for the betterment of those around us. You may not necessarily agree with that, with the movie’s ending or it’s larger social/political message, and in terms of the movie I don’t either. But it’s something to consider if we are going to ever do something real for the genuine betterment of ourselves and the people around us.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

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