National Commentary

Robin Williams & the Company of ‘Dead Poets’

nfbentonpicRobin Williams was far more than a comic, he was a true genius who was able to reach deep into our souls and move us like few others. Such capability seldom comes without a high price.

His best roles were not comic, at all, but compassionate and revolutionary. His best was as the impassioned teacher in Peter Weir’s brilliant 1989 film, “Dead Poets Society.” Here’s what I wrote about that last year in my book, Extraordinary Hearts, where I refer to the movie as a “prequel” to the modern gay liberation movement:

“The beautiful film portrayed fellow students, inspired by the works of gay poet Walt Whitman, rising up against boorish, male dominated authoritarianism to cry out to the teacher fired for inspiring the tragic boy. ‘Oh Captain, My Captain!’ quoting Whitman’s poetic eulogy to the death of Abraham Lincoln, they repeated as, one by one, they defied orders to desist to stand on their desks and pay homage to the man who’d kindled in them the fire of their creative spirits.”

“The man who’d kindled in them the fire of their creative spirits.” How perfect a description of Robin Williams, himself! His portrayal of that role in that movie made the climactic scene seem far from “over the top:” not only believable, but inevitable and necessary.

“The tragic boy” in the movie, as I described in an earlier paragraph in my book, committed suicide because the strongest pressure against his desire to pursue acting came from his father.

“Such is often the case,” I wrote, “But society fears taking that on, focusing instead on bullies in the school yard. The suicide in ‘Dead Poets Society’ resulted from parental, not peer pressure.”

The suicide was blamed on the Robin Williams character’s encouragement that the boy defy his father in favor of his own true passion.

Thus, it led to the film ending with the expression of “Oh Captain, My Captain” defiance by the students as the teacher, fired from the school, departed his classroom.

Serious acting roles pursued by Robin Williams characteristically had him playing the role of a thoughtful mentor encouraging self-enlightenment and courage to stand against male dominated social expectations in younger characters, including in “Good Will Hunting,” “Hook” and even “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

This proved to be the essence of who he was, and it manifested itself in so much of the giving, good work he did in the real world.He was truly a gold star, lifetime member of what author E.M. Forster, as I’ve cited before, called “An aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky…the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos.”

Forster staked his hope for humanity on this “aristocracy” even as the world, when he wrote those words in 1939, was on the brink of another World War.

Indeed, the leading player in “Dead Poets Society” not in the cast was the great American poet Walt Whitman, another top tier member of that “aristocracy,” who wrote in his great work, Leaves of Grass, compiled over years in the latter half of the 19th century. In that, he declared, “The attitude of great poets is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots.”

Whitman, as I wrote in Extraordinary Hearts, “coined the term, ‘great poet,’ to describe sensibilities that are commensurate with the exercise of democracy in the young American republic,” entirely in keeping with Forster’s “aristocracy of the sensitive.”

“Whitman carved out a universal notion of the ‘great poet’ who stands staunchly for equality of all persons, on the side of the plight of the working poor and the oppressed, and for the merits of science, invention, beauty, sensuality, art and reason to lift humanity towards a better place…The ‘great poet’ has command over the entire world by bringing the unique and passionate alternate perspective that drives a constructive non-conformity toward equality, democracy and justice.”

No wonder hateful tools of the ruling class like Rush Limbaugh have so cruelly trashed the late Robin Williams. Williams, Whitman and the “Dead Poets Society” represent everything male chauvinist thugs running the world fear and hate.