There is a famous scene that happened during the Romanian 1989 Revolution that was broadcasted on live TV. One of the self-proclaimed leaders of the revolutionaries, Mircea Dinescu, was standing behind at a table surrounded by civilians and the military, giving orders or just pontificating to the audience. In one of the shots, another gentleman Ion Caramitry, is heard telling him “Mircea, make yourself look as if you are working or something!”
The entire scene is droll now, although at the time, Dinescu was scared pants less. You see, he did not know that Ion Iliescu was pulling the strings behind the scene. Dinescu had been under house arrest until mere hours before to being on air. He knew he was risking his life when he appeared on TV. Caramitru, on the other hand, who would later become the Minister of Culture, rewarded for his services to the new masters of Romania, the neo-Communists, feared not.
Caramitru knew how to put on a face, a brave face, for the public, emboldening Dinescu to do the same. The scene is funny because before they went live, the people were in a state of chaos, shouting at each other, while the Securitate officers are seen cool and composed going about the plateau.
There were basically three sorts of people in this historical epic scene: the puppeteers holding the strings (mostly Securitate people) who are detached, cool as cucumbers and aloof; the actors (Caramitru and the people in the know) who are a bit jittery and have some stage fright but they keep it under control; and the puppets (a.k.a. Dinescu and the gang) who are discombobulated and afraid out of their wits. They are so afraid that you can feel their fear transcend beyond the TV screen, and permeate your soul 33 years later.
So when Caramitru told Dinescu to appear like he’s working, he was trying to calm his fellow revolutionary. But Dinescu was already panting like a scaredy cat, so the set director told Caramitru to take over and do the intro since Romanians knew him.
In a sense, the whole bloody thing was an Act. People were duped into playing some characters.
The same can be said about the fulminant and meteoric career of Ukraine’s actor turned president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Most people do not know this and how could they, since most people do not read history books or even the classics, so they do not realize that actors have always had a bad reputation. Ever since Antiquity, when in Greece and Rome, they were mere mimes and pantomimes, who cared more about the effect of their acting skills on the impressionable public than about forging a career based on morality and decency, actors and actresses were deemed immoral or amoral figures.
Sulla, the First Consul and then Dictator of Rome (88-78 BC), was famous for employing actors for his sexual gratification and entertainment. Since the dawn of history and until the French 1789 Revolution and beyond, actors/actresses were shady characters willing very often to cross the line between acting and selling their bodies for a living.
In short, actors have always carried the moral and sometimes physical stigma of the scarlet letter.
In reality, not all actors are moral vacuums, as not all of them are created equal, in skills, morality, talent or proclivities.
But although almost none still sell their bodies to earn a gainful employment, most do sell their souls. Chiefly among them are actors turned politicians. Again, two cases strike me as outright clean-cut instances where life definitely beats fiction.
Case in point: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Arnold is a very intelligent man. He is so smart it hurts to see how lowly his achievements are. Instead of using his vast intellect to become a psychologist or academic, he chose to develop his muscles, started acting, finding fame and fortune at Hollywood, and then in California politics.
So he went from this …
to this …
… and then became this.
Now, don’t get me wrong. He is a good athlete, a genuine intellectual, an OK film actor, and a crappy politician. He is also a bit of a moral vacuum, who chose to father a bastard child with a Mexican housemaid, behind the back of a Kennedy, who made him the most powerful state governor in the United States of America. But that is par with his character.
In the 2012 disaster movie, an incensed and irate John Cussack is trying to convince his ex that the governor of California is lying on TV to the people, assuring them that everything is all right, and that no earthquake is going to hit, let alone the Big One. Amanda Peet, who is playing his ex, tells him just that, to which Cussack replies: “THE GUY IS AN ACTOR … HE’S READING A SCRIPT!”
It is in this key that you must interpret the magnificent performance of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Servant of the People.
Now Zelenskyy is a different kind of cookie. He is a smart guy, but nowhere as intelligent as Arnold. But where he lacks in smarts, he more than makes up for in talent and method acting. Where Arnold is unidimensional and always shoots, kicks, hurts, or grunts at people, Zelenskyy is clearly charismatic. Both are bullshit artists, but the latter is clearly a better actor than the former.
Zelenskyy went from this…
… and this …
… to this …
… and this …
… until he got to this.
Once the War started, he also became this.
But all the while, he unfortunately remained this.
Now, if Ukraine wasn’t in a war, hemorrhaging blood, people and money, being destroyed with each passing minute, you may say what gives. He is allowed to reinvent himself and change from Netflix actor to vaudeville performer, snake charmer, Tango dancer, President, soldier, influencer, model, whatever.
Unfortunately, three million of his compatriots have decamped elsewhere, fleeing for their very lives, leaving behind a country destroyed by a war they did not want, yet one their President did nothing to prevent. People say he is a good man, a brave man, a courageous and deeply moral person who refused to abandon his post, when the Americans offered political asylum and safe passage to him and his government.
People discovered a defiant Zelenskyy who would rather stay and fight, asking his Allies for guns and ammunition, than flee to the safety of the West.
But in reality, the man is reading a script. He is a good, well-versed actor, whose life depends on him carrying on as if business was normal. Fake it until you make it is his mantra. That is how he penetrated the show-biz in his native Ukraine, and that is how he became rich by appearing on TV, playing the piano with his undercover member. That is how he will try to go down in history as the brave President who wouldn’t abandon his people to the filthy Russians.
But this is all an act. And people, his people, are dying by the thousands. Tens of thousands have been wounded, disfigured, burned and maimed. Hundreds of thousand have lost their houses, their belongings, their livelihoods. Millions have fled the country.
Nobody is laughing now, Mr. President. Nobody is laughing.