Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

“Like Some Large Grub”

May 27th, 2009 · 5 Comments

As the great Jack Shafer has noted time and again, British-style obituaries are a zillion times more entertaining than ours. And that’s primarily because the Brits aren’t afraid of speaking ill of the dead when such treatment is warranted. Such is the case with The Economist‘s recent farewell to Prabhakaran, the Tamil Tigers’ slain leader. The magazine’s acidic take on his life is nothing short of devastating:

No philosophy or ideology guided him, as far as anyone could tell. He did not like abstractions. Nor could he tolerate debate. Despite a peace agreement in 2002 a separate Tamil homeland, with its enemies eliminated, was all he would accept. In Vanni he more or less constructed one, neat and organised as he always was, with thatched huts and coconut groves along dirt roads. There was no power, but the place had its own banks and law courts. The Sinhalese army fenced it in with barbed wire and bombed it. Among the craters were the remains of lush gardens, and lagoons filled with lilies, that might have made the sort of Tamil paradise Prabhakaran carried in his head.

Both the Sri Lankan and Indian governments had arrest warrants out for him. He stayed mostly underground where, like some large grub, he was oiled twice a day by his bodyguards and fed on curry and Clint Eastwood movies, in which cops and cowboys shot themselves out of trouble. He had an escape plan, or several. His cadres would kill him, and burn the body; he would squeeze himself into a submarine; he would bite on the cyanide capsule that hung on a black string round his neck.

His people, confined in the end to a beach in north-eastern Sri Lanka and shelled by the Sinhalese army, could not get away so easily from the mayhem Prabhakaran had drawn them into.

Microkhan truly pities the bodyguards who were tasked with those daily oilings.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    I love the sheer British-ness of the Economist. For me it’s enhanced by the fact that their audiobook version is read by a cast of English voice actors. Getting to listen to the Economist every week while I work plays a big part of keeping my job satisfaction up.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: I know. No matter how many drunken yobs I encounter, I can’t shake the “British=classy” equation from my mind. I blame my early exposure to Star War and Alec Guinness.

  • Gramsci

    There’s a whole anthropological paper to be written on the American identification of British accents with both gentility and malice. It covers everything from why Picard’s Cardassian torturer matches his Shakespearean tones to why Stewey on Family Guy speaks the way he does. There are roughly eleventy thousand other instances to cite, but the basic idea seem to be the same American one: good morals are served by practical, not refined, intelligence. You can be erudite, or you can be a “street smart” hero– you can’t be both. So Alan Rickman’s villain in Die Hard enjoys “the benefits of a classical education,” while Bruce Willis’s crude “Yippee-kayay” scheming outdoes him in the end. Hannibal Lecter draws the Duomo from memory and then eats a prison guard, etc.

  • scottstev

    @Gramsci – Your take reminds me of one of the first stock characters in American theater. The “Yankee” was a rough-hewn, simple, and practical. He would end up outwitting the supposedly smarter British characters.

    Of course “The Yankee’s” direct descendant is the romantic notions of the small-town/farmer in the Red States. One of the best real-world examples is Dolly Parton’s father, who while illiterate, could work out compound interest to see that the Bankers’ “low monthly payments” were a total ripoff.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: The British flip side to that narrative can be found in various James Bond movies, where American agents are portrayed as brash, bordering on uncouth. It takes Bond’s suaveness to pull off the caper–albeit with the aid of American money and/or power.

    The subtext is pretty clear: You colonial rebels might have replaced us as the world’s superpower, but you’ll always be new-money hicks in our book.

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