April 30th 2014

Marlon Brando in the Lake District

Alan How:

There's an Italian restaurant somewhere in the Lake District in the north of England. And if you can imagine, there are hills, lots of rain, lakes, and so on and so forth. And inside this Italian restaurant is a huge picture—a wall-sized mural—of Marlon Brando.

Now, I asked my students once: «Why Marlon Brando?»

«Well he's The Godfather!»

«I don't think he was a Godfather, you know...»

«But he was in that film, wasn't he? It was called The Godfather.»

«Ah, that film from 40 years ago, virtually.. 1970-something?»

«Yes, yes, but he was The Godfather then, wasn't he?»

«You mean if was a mafiosi? He was a leading figure in gangsterland in New York?»

«Well, yes, he was The Godfather,» they keep saying, «... and he was Italian.»

«Well, no, actually he was American...»

So you get this regular kind of placing and misplacing of the real, ie. a very large American actor who played in a film called The Godfather about American gangsters, or Italian-American gangsters, nothing to do with godfathers in Christianity, in the north of England, stuck on a huge wall in a restaurant.

All of which tells us that it's an Italian restaurant.

And we don't demure, we don't say "no, that's all untrue", we just take it for granted: "Yeah, that's what it means - it's an Italian restaurant". And it's that kind of slippage between the real and the imagined—or the true and the fictional—which Baudrillard thinks is becoming inceasingly characteristic of how our society goes on.

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