Billy Wilder Builds a Bridge – “The Appartment” (1960)


(German version January 4, 2021 | LINK )

An anthropologist wrote to me these days: “You talk gloomily about progress. I was born in 1960 and grew up believing in social progress, not just medical progress. It was difficult to deal with the corruption of human nature. The religions are right – it is an endless struggle with narcissism, greed and the desire to dominate. The Pende (R.D. Congo) answer is that we will all perish if we are not held back from the abyss by love. It is by no means that people naturally respect their elders, they are just afraid of what they will do if they are not respected and shown affection.

There are definitely a lot of similarities with the 60s-70s … and the 90s too. But as a woman I have to say that there has been a LOT of progress. It’s been much better for women since I was an assistant professor. There is a lot of cosmetic work going on at the moment. Anyone who believes identity politics will solve everything need only look at the US Supreme Court. As you can see, I cannot completely give up hope for a better society. (….)“


I just happened to find a newspaper clipping in my papers, the report by Andreas Eckert in the German newspaper FAZ of January 10, 2018, about the scandal surrounding the political scientist Bruce Gilley): “Colonizers wanted! – Scandal about an essay” Its topic: Development through recolonization?

Eckert recalls: “More recent representations create a story that is as diverse as it is contradicting cooperation and disputes. As many studies point out, colonized people sought to use all available resources that the presence of the Europeans offered. (….) However, racism, humiliation and violence against locals have always been part of the colonial order.” (Translation)

These sentences only formulate unmistakably what I have known for a long time, but now they build a bridge for me to certain social movements, which show some unpleasant side effects. I had these sentences in the back of my mind as I watched an old 1960 Hollywood film, The Appartment, over the holidays.

In 1960 I was sixteen and adolescent. I have the suspicion that at that time the adult film critics also had their problems with perceiving their lack of freedom in the ’freedom of the west ’. If I remember correctly, the newspaper reviews were cool, superficial and played with the themes of ‘satire’ and ‘opportunist’, coined on the male protagonist.

Now the gigantic open-plan office on the screen is turned into a ‘battery pack’, a modern stable that demeans people, led by an unscrupulous quintet on the – from a sex-economic point of view – descending branch, raised from the crowd, screened off in individual glass offices and exclusive facilities for physical functions such as eating or using the toilet. Only the elevators appear to be egalitarian, but are also part of the hunting ground.

Wilder’s script ingeniously hides the continuation of the hierarchy upwards in order to expose a concealed despotism. The higher our “opportunist” Baxter – impersonated by Jack Lemmon – rises, the lower he will fall. His privacy in the rented apartment is only apparently less radically damaged by the encroaching superiors than the women’s self-determination, which cannot be detached from their physical integrity.

And that brings us to colonialism and the insight: Colonized people tried, as many studies point out, to use all available resources that the presence of the Europeans offered. – Shirley MacLaine by no means idealizes her figure.


Isn’t that a sustainable bridge from #ME TOO to ‘anti-colonialism’? The letter quoted speaks of “progress” and “cosmetic work” currently in progress. Whatever I think of “identity politics” in general – maybe I should look at it with more serenity!

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