Dante in the Media: 2013 News Stories Use Dante as a Metaphor for…

Punishment for plagiarists…the experience of having to sit through a movie a critic deems unworthy…failing to take a stand on a key local ballot issue…

What does Dante mean to our culture? How is he perceived in the media seven centuries after writing the Divine Comedy? He may not be read much anymore, but he still offers powerful metaphors and frames of reference to those familiar with his poem. Here are excerpts from news items over the last few months quoting or alluding to Dante, with none of them having anything to do with Dan Brown’s novel:

Sandra Beasley, a young American poet, excoriated a British imposter-poet named Christian Ward for plagiarizing her poems and the work of other writers and using them to win awards and get published in poetry journals. She took to the New York Times to make her case and document the multiple instances of plagiarism. Wondering out loud about how to punish Ward, Beasley chose to invoke Dante:

Where would Dante send a plagiarist? The Eighth Circle of Hell is reserved for the fraudulent and requires a descent down a cliff on the back of Geryon, within waving distance of Mordred and Count Ugolino in their pit of treachery. That seems a tad excessive. I want to step back, to take pity on Ward. But I also want to be clear: these appropriations matter. If the poets don’t assert the value of their words, who will?

Joe Gross, a film critic writing in the Austin American-Statesman, used Dantesque imagery to shred the Robert Redford film, “The Company You Keep”, in which Redford plays an aging Weather Underground member. Said Gross:

Dante never wrote about it, but there is such a thing as Movie Purgatory (or Cinema Purgatorio, if you will). In Cinema Purgatorio, your fellow patrons are always checking their cellphones as the movie plays. They talk during the picture without ever shouting anything funny. The popcorn is stale, the soda flat, the floor disturbingly sticky. And for the crime of demanding we take “The Company You Keep” seriously without really doing it himself, Robert Redford should do a little time there.

David Mallen, an attorney and mediator in Redondo Beach, California, penned a lengthy blog post critiquing the outcome of a local ballot initiative concerning a power plant. Mallen compared the political life of his town of 70,000 people to Dante’s Inferno. A few excerpts from his long but literary rant:

After midnight I saw the tortured expressions and heard the muttered, unanswered questions: “Why?” “How?” “Huh?” I had no answers. It felt like hell. So I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Dante’s Inferno to help me get my head straight and my life back on track…. Each sin’s punishment in Dante’s hell is a symbol of poetic justice. The sinners get what they deserve. The punishments are gross-outs…. Dante would have had a field day on the key players responsible for Measure A’s outcome…. The Sin of the Uncommitted: Voter Turnout = 25%. Before entering Hell, Dante sees the eternal sufferings of the Uncommitted — those souls who in life did nothing, neither for good nor evil, except to pursue their own banner of self-interest. The Uncommitted suffer never-ending stings of wasps and hornets, while maggots and other insects drink their blood and tears. By this poetic justice, Dante bears witness to the “sting of conscience” and the repugnance of the sin of doing nothing…. Redondo Beach turned out 25% of voters on the most important moral and political choice confronting each resident in the last 50 years and the next 50 years. If you want a more graphic description of poetic justice for the Uncommitted who chose not vote, read the Inferno. Dante’s poetic justice serves not so much as a form of divine revenge but as the fulfillment of a destiny freely chosen by each soul. In other words, we get what we deserve….

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