Not since the late actress and Culture Minister Melina Mercouri; the eloquent writer and unbeatable debater Christopher Hitchens and his friend, Scottish Prof. Robert Browning – also dead – has Greece had, in actor-director-activist George Clooney, such an ambassador for the return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum, the goods plundered by the Brits because all they had was a pile of rocks called Stonehenge.
The British, who steal culture from other countries and claim it as their own, call the Greek treasures the Elgin Marbles. Leave it to them to name some of the most precious gifts the world has even seen after a thief.
Elgin tore down friezes from the Parthenon almost 200 years ago but the British say they weren’t stolen because he had the permission of the occupying Turks. They teach logic at Oxford and Cambridge or just Stiff Upper Lip 101?
With his stylish Cary Grant (a good Englishman) charm and glibness, Clooney, promoting his WWII film The Monuments Men about international experts trying to save art treasures from the Nazis, repeated that the stolen Parthenon Marbles belong in Greece.
He had to repeat it because the British took umbrage, although they wouldn’t have been able to take Berlin without the Americans.
And he took a friendly shot at London Mayor Boris Johnson, who’s in a blonde Beatles haircut 50 years too late, and who likened the actor’s suggestion that bringing the Marbles back to Athens was what Hitler would have done if he had occupied England.
“Someone urgently needs to restore George Clooney’s marbles,” said Johnson, who doesn’t have the real aggies that Clooney does. For someone born in New York City, Johnson should have known better than to tangle with the likes of Clooney.
“Here he is plugging a film about looted Nazi art without realizing that Goering himself had plans to plunder the British Museum. And where were the Nazis going to send the Elgin marbles? To Athens! This Clooney is advocating nothing less than the Hitlerian agenda for London’s cultural treasures. He should stuff the Hollywood script and stick to history.”
First of all, they were stolen from Athens, with Turkish complicity and it looks like Turk-lover Johnson had another agenda. On his father’s side, he is a great-grandson of Ali Kemal Bey, a liberal Turkish journalist and the Interior Minister in the government of Damat Ferid Pasha, Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, who was killed during the Turkish War of Independence in 1922.
If Johnson had his way, the entire Parthenon – along with the Acropolis – would be in London as a tourist attraction. He was a journalist although fired from his first job for falsifying a quotation so maybe somebody faked his lame words here about Hitler and Clooney, who has more class in his fingernail than Johnson has in his entire being.
Johnson is also an alleged historian but specializing in revisionism it seems and is known as “Bojo,” but without a Mojo and had a “side job” as a columnist with the Daily Telegraph for which he was paid 250,000 pounds or about $417,000. He called it “chicken feed,” but didn’t offer to use it to buy chickens for London’s poor. That’s the feeble opponent Clooney faced.
Dusting off the mop-topped mayor, who commented after Clooney and his co-stars gave a news conference in London to push their film, the actor said: “I’m a great fan of the Mayor, and I’m sure my right honorable friend had no real intention of comparing me to Hitler.”
It wasn’t really a fair fight because Clooney was matching wits with an unarmed opponent. Johnson found it was tough to joust on a high horse against an A-lister who knocked the goofy Johnson down faster than a British skier (do they have any?) in the Winter Olympics.
“I’d chalk it up to a little too much hyperbole washed down with a few whiskeys. I’ve found myself in the same spot a time or two so I hold no ill will,” he said of Johnson’s comments in an op-ed in the Daily Telegraph.
“When it comes to real facts, not imagined history, you need only to look at the UNESCO rulings that have been agreed to by all parties. An occupying nation can’t sell off the national heritage of the country it occupies,” added Clooney.
“More relevant is the fact that the Parthenon Marbles were chipped away from the Parthenon by the occupying Turks and sold. It was a single monument broken into bits. It would be as if the statue of David’s head were sold to England. His arm to the Vatican. And his torso to the Met.
“There are many pieces in nearly every country that this conversation should take place. The best place to start would be at the most obvious object. When polled the British people are overwhelmingly in favor of their return.
He went on: “The rest of the world follows suit. If you want to deal in facts. Those are the facts. But maybe it’s just easier to compare me to Hitler.”
Johnson has said worse. Comparing himself to the UKIP, a kind of neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in England, he said he couldn’t really criticize them because, “I have been sometimes not far short of boss-eyed, foam-flecked hysteria myself.”
DON’T MESS WITH MURRAY
What he overlooked in his latest hysteria is that the Parthenon Marbles, as Clooney and his castmates attested, are Greek. They were designed and built by Greeks and erected in Greece before being stolen by a Brit. The British Museum won’t let them go because they attract a lot of viewers and bring tourists to England.
Museum officials have tried a lot of lame excuses over the years why they shouldn’t be returned, including that Athens didn’t have a proper place to show them. When Greece opened the new Acropolis Museum five years ago as a home for them, the British found other arguments to dispute the validity of their return.
“It wouldn’t be a bad thing if they were returned,” Clooney said about the Greek art. “ I think that is a good idea. I think that would be a very fair and very nice thing. Yeah, I think it is the right thing to do.”
At a press conference, Clooney called for “an open discussion” on the fate of the 2500-year-old friezes. The Vatican and the J. Paul Getty Museum had sent parts back, Clooney said, raising the question “of whether or not one piece of art should be, as best as possible, put back together.”
Clooney did more in a few minutes to raise attention about the Marbles than anyone since Mercouri. Her successors as Culture Minister have rolled over and taken it without KY from the British and barely raised a squeak when what Prime Minister Antonis Samaras should have done when he was elected in June, 2012 was forbid the Olympic Torch from being taken to the London Olympics two months later.
The British Museum says the Parthenon Marbles “are a part of the world’s shared heritage and transcend political boundaries” and are best displayed in London, where the public can view them for free.
So if we can get a gang together and steal Stonehenge and bring it back to Athens we can declare they are part of the world’s shared heritage and transcend political boundaries, which is just code to mean you can steal art treasures under that guise.
Clooney was ably abetted in destroying the British position by two of American co-stars in the film, Matt Damon and the ever-lovable and crazily quirky Bill Murray. Damon came to the defense when the British resorted to saying Clooney couldn’t understand the issues because he was American although he understood Sudan better than the British, who lost Khartoum in a siege in 1885.
“That can’t always be the British default setting,” Damon told British reporters, half-joking. “That’s not actually an argument, to say ‘Well you’re American.’”
Murray had the best answer though about how to settle the debate over where the Marbles display should be. “It’s had a very nice stay here, certainly,” Murray said. “But London’s gotten crowded. There’s plenty of room back there in Greece.”