My German friend was looking through my DVDs the other day – always an exhilarating interaction. Midway through his noncommittal browsing, with Toy Story 2 in one hand and Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible in the other, he muttered a perturbed “Ach!“, and began fiddling with the cover of the latter. “It’s so ugly!” he said, before adding an exasperated “unmöglich!” He was not talking about the film, or even its innocuous cover, but specifically about the age restriction patch that marks one corner of it. For my friend, the blue square with the large black 16 in the middle was a blight, a wart, a spot, on the integrity of the work of art. “The cover is a part of the film!” he says.
So what did he do? With a flick of a supple, practiced wrist, he bent back the spine of my DVD, flipped the plastic cover out, reached within the lopsided diamond, pulled out the paper, and put it back the other way around. I was of course shocked by this swift, cavalier penetration of my ordered universe, but before I could remonstrate, I looked at his finished handiwork. The age restriction label had disappeared, but the nice picture of Monica Bellucci in an underpass was intact!
Only a moment later did I recognize the significance of this. Not only do I live in a country where people get bothered by an age restriction patch, but where DVD covers are made reversible, just to cater for that tiny amount of botherance in DVD customers. The market, it turns out, is sensitive to the extreme pedantry of the average German consumer.
Democracy is also reversible, as we saw this week in the US. Populations change their minds a lot. Germany has a very similar democratic system to the US. The upper house of parliament is made up of state senators, and elections are staggered to ensure that no party can hold much power for long. Some might say this means that nothing ever gets done. And they’d be right. The point of democracy is to make sure things happen so slowly, with barely more than half the people’s consent at any one time, that we are ruled by inertia.
The DVD cover metaphor broke down some time ago, you might have noticed.