Blog > The “Rolling R” and the Forces of Evil

I often wonder when the American popular imagination will ever grow tired of Hollywood villains built upon enduring eastern European stereotypes. But really, when? Twenty years – Ladies and Gentlemen – have passed since the fall of that evil concrete Wall, and good old Hollywood still keeps feeding us with new Frankensteins and Draculas, making many believe that these monsters once inhabited some central or south-eastern parts of Europe.

The seed of my new theory about the forces of Evil is in the observation that both the old and the new eastern European-inspired villains have one thing in common: namely, that their names must contain at least one letter “R” – the letter which, when pronounced by Hollywood actors must inevitably roll and sound like a dog’s growl.

Yes, the “rolling R”! This sound seems to have caught the imagination of many Americans, a sound to which (as Google tells us) numerous websites, e-books, wikis, how-tos, and youtubes dedicate a significant amount of server space, and all in order to teach some how to pronounce it (if, let’s say, one wants to appear cool) or to help others get rid of it (if those others want to get a more or less respectable job). Let’s take a quick look at some recent Hollywood-drawn characters built upon eastern European stereotypes – characters assembled inside LA-based studios and computers. What one may find interesting is that the names of all these characters are a combination of “R” with such consonants as: “G,” “K” or “B.” These consonants, my theory assumes, must help the alveolar trill “R” roll more efficiently: from Gru (the villain from the 2010 Despicable Me) to Igor (the villain from the 2008 animation with the same name), and from Viktor (Spielberg’s seemingly simple-minded and visa-less Krakozhian inhabitant of a Terminal in JFK) to Borat (the scandalous impersonator of Kazakh modern journalism, the clown who has offended so many in his bogus homeland). All of these characters are stereotypes of contemporary barbarians, of those who in rolling their R(s) continue to carry the image of the Other in the American imagination.

In passing it must be said that the rolling R serves the purpose of indexing and identifying otherness not only on the North American continent. In certain regions of eastern Europe those who roll their R(s) too hard – meaning that they roll it even harder than local phonetic convention permits – are believed to betray their foreignness, above all their Jewishness. In some Russian speaking places the zeal for over-rolling the R, that is to burr or trill it rreally harrd is called kartaviti. It is said that Lenin had this “defect,” from which some dilettante historians have drawn distressing conclusions as to the leader’s true ethnic origins. In otherr worrds burrring or rrolling the Rrrrs is a trrace of the forreignerr, of the migrrant, of the strrangerr, the ferral barrbarrian, the ferrocious terrrorist and prredatorry rrevolutionarry guerrrrila who is incapable of prroducing a naturrral unwrrinkled rresonance. Some perceive this as a threat! Yes, I do believe that the rolling R deserves a more thorough examination, especially with regard to its complicity and relation to the forces of Evil, and I hope that one day I canould embark upon a more thorough study of the Phonetics of Good and Evil.

These reflections on the rolling R, as well as Hollywood’s enduring fascination with eastern European-inspired villains (Grus, Igors, Borats and other Krakozhians) was meant to be only a prelude to the naïve, often absurd and utopian way in which the forces of Good sees contemporary Evil. Take Gru from the Despicable Me for instance. This computer generated gentleman is a trained professional villain, a naturally born scoundrel, so to speak, who in the first half of the movie has the best of the worst intentions – to steal the Moon – but who towards the end gives up (not without help from rich Hollywood producers). By the end of the movie Mr. Gru is transformed into a good-natured, law-abiding, normal and somewhat boring contemporary citizen, who as it turns out, likes sweets, toys, and children; a villain who is completely incapable of doing any harm (like that kind of harm that America believed for a few decades would come from somewhere in the eastern parts of Europe, from a bunch of Grus and Igors who rolled their Rs hard while marching under rred banners).

Today there are still a few of these former marchers (of the most enduring intellectual type) who keep asking themselves perverse questions. Rolling their Rs hard, they go around American campuses asking what is going to happen to this world when there will be no evil left anymore, when the forces of Good will complete their task and all of us will become as charming and nice as Mr. Gru? They ask how will we know what is good when all evil is eradicated? They seem worried that the gradual goodification of the world may lead to a catastrophe – a catastrophe of the Good. They say that the dream of contemporary Western liberals, so obsessed with their safety, may be in fact very dangerous, first of all for those many Others who are on the other side of the safety line. Some construct their criticism drawing upon observations from the daily life of the Western consumer, bringing examples and asking us to reflect upon a large assortment of new products and services from which the forces of Good try to remove all the malignant elements and properties: coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, cigarettes without nicotine, butter without fat, war without casualties (on one side, that is), grapes without seeds, dogs that do not bark, cats that do not meow, roses produced through asexual corporate reproduction, sex without orgasm and orgasms without sex, bodies without organs and organs without a body and so forth. They also say that in trying to persuade us that these commodities and services will assure us a longer and a more meaningful life, the present-day forces of Good resort to very categorical and somewhat coercive techniques of persuasion, as for instance making the latest generation of DVDs and Blu-Rrayss in such a way that you are not allowed to skip through the ads, previews and FBI warnings (that is, you are not allowed not to see all the goodness that is contained in there).

Our little animal brothers and sisters have taken the first blow of Goodness. Castrated dogs and fixed cats have for a long while been denied their little animal pleasures and passions: for according to the forces of Good unsexed and sterilized pets must exist only in order to give but not to receive pleasure. Some of the contemporary devices invented by good-hearted scientists and used against dogs who dare to bark or growl may be soon considered by the contemporary forces of Good very useful in treating rolling R issues and other behavioral disorders among geographically diverse humans.

One day I came across a dating ad which promised (for only 29.99) to find me a new boyfriend who would look like a convict but who would be in fact very caring and loving. Wouldn’t this be cool, to have a boyfriend who looks like a skinhead, a communist or a pedophile but who is in fact very nice? Isn’t this the ultimate liberal utopia – goodness clothed in the cool attire of evil?

All these tendencies that find one form or another in today’s Hollywood characters and portrayals are considered by some to be a sign of disappearance of one thing or another. In the past Marxist critical theorists committed to romanticizing German Idealism lamented the killing and the disappearance of nature, or its replacement by mass culture; more recently the Lacanians began to talk about the Other deprived of its Otherness, the disappearance of the real, and of the pleasure which is said to be its very substance – its eternal Kerrrrnel; then certain semioticians began to talk about the simulacrum, announcing the arrival of a world constructed entirely from copies, that is with no reference whatsoever to any original (as if there ever was one). It then follows that the current forces of Good, the current hegemons of power and virtue (and Nietzsche sensed this connection long time ago) only pretend to be interested in the good per se, and instead they want to steal the real, the substance, the original, the objet petit a and the kerrrnel of pleasure – a project similar in many respects to that of Mr. Gru, who if it weren’t for the forces of Good that still inhabit some hills in Hollywood, would have stolen our still collectively owned moon. But who will prevent other entrepreneurs from attempting to steal the caffeine from my coffee, the nicotine from my cigarettes, the alcohol from my beer, the fat from my butter, and the R that I cannot unroll – all products and sounds that make them, and me with them, more or less Rrrrreal?

Octavian Esanu, January 2011.