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Under a spell?

中国日报网 2023-02-10 13:42


Reader question:

Please explain “under her spell”, as in this: “What can you do? Nick is completely under her spell.”


My comments:

I think Nick is madly in love with her, whoever that is.

And Nick has since lost is head, kind of, which worries the speaker who, I infer, is one of Nick’s friends. They don’t know what to do. They worry, perhaps, that Nick might do something very silly because he’s become irrational.

Irrational is perhaps the right word to describe the situation. When a boy is madly in love, he loses his cool, composure and control.

It’s as if he’s put under a spell, a magician’s spell.

Magician’s spell? Well, nowadays, we see magicians perform such magic by waving his hands in front of a person lying in a bed. And the person in bed becomes completely calm and immovable.

A shaman or a witch is said to have such powers in the real world, especially in primitive societies, which enable them to perform magical things onto people.

When someone is put under such a spell, he or she enters a trance. They’re, yes, entranced, captivated and under control.

In our example, Nick is put under her spell and, as a result, she has Nick completely under control. Nick does whatever she wants him to do, for example.

We are not faulting Nick for being that way, of course.

Of course. A lot of strange things happen when one is under someone’s spell. They’re mesmerized. They idolize their lover, for instance, and lose all sense of proportion. Or as the late Billie Holiday sang:

Me, myself and I

Are all in love with you

We all think you’re wonderful, we do

Me, myself and I

Have just one point of view

We’re convinced there’s no one else like you

So if you pass me by

Three hearts will break in two

‘Cause me, myself and I

Are all in love with you


Sounds silly, but that’s perhaps what is happening to Nick, for better or worse.

Nick’s friends don’t know what to do, and that is perhaps just as well.

After all, it’s Nick’s business to fall under her spell.

And here are media examples of people under a spell, of one sort or another:

1 Naming a problem can often create pathways toward solving it. But there are always challenges in choosing the right name. Supplying an especially harsh name to the problem may do as much to alienate and distress as it does to clarify and resolve. So I understand that I take on a certain level of risk when I argue that the root of Trumpism and its followers is rank stupidity. I, of course, am not exempt from stupidity myself. But my own stupidity doesn’t automatically disqualify me from recognizing the stupidity of others.

The term “stupidity” doesn’t need to have a purely derogatory connotation. Even its sarcastic, hyperbolic use can simply be a form of play. But as a harsh word, it can evoke a sense of disruptive discomfort on the part of those upon whom the label is cast. When I use it to describe what a Trumpist says or does, I always hope that its offensiveness will inhibit a Trumpist from being outwardly fanatical. In turn, it is my hope that the spread of Trumpism will at least, if only slightly, be suppressed. Enough of those sarcastic jabs could weaken the spell that Trumpists are under. As Dorothy Day reminds us, big things can emerge from small efforts in thought, word, and deed. We cannot underestimate the power of small efforts. They might incrementally make a difference in the long run. That, at least, is my hope when I refer to my Trumpist opponents as stupid.

No one should be surprised that stupidity presents a deep and abiding societal problem. We’ve been forewarned about its toxicity. Many respected intellectuals have cited stupidity as central to the problems of a given society. Oscar Wilde reduces all sin to stupidity. Martin Luther King, Jr. refers to the combination of sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity as the most dangerous one-two punch in the world. Bertrand Russell considers stupidity, malevolence, or the combination of the two to be the cause of the most important evils in history (for instance, the rise of fascist governments). Dietrich Bonhoeffer treats stupidity as more dangerous than malice. According to him, we are defenseless against stupid people. Nothing can be done to persuade them. They ignore the appeal to reason, evidence, or facts. They even have the guts to respond with violence after being irritated by the truth. As Bonhoeffer points out, “The stupid man is under a spell. . . [And] having become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.”

If the term can be clearly defined and its instantiations illustrated, calling an individual or group of people “stupid” can be a merely – even objectively – descriptive exercise, in the same way, that calling someone a “coward” can be. A coward is someone overcome by fear and thereby prevented from completing a doable task. An otherwise competent driver who will not drive on a freeway due to fear is a coward.

There is a common understanding of stupidity, just as there is a common understanding of cowardice. The philosopher Steven Nadler describes it this way:

Stupidity is a kind of intellectual stubbornness. A stupid person has access to all the information necessary to make an appropriate judgment, to come up with a set of reasonable and justified beliefs, and yet fails to do so. The evidence is staring them right in the face, but it makes no difference whatsoever. They believe what they want to believe. Not only do they have no good reasons for thinking that what they believe is true – there are often good reasons for thinking that what they believe is false. They are not acting in a rational manner.

- Under the Spell of Stupidity, by Fidel A. Arnecillo, Jr. , CurrentPub.com, September 13, 2021.


2 When I first moved to England in 2001, my new friends routinely filled me in on various British cultural oddities that even I, as a lifelong Anglophile, had never encountered growing up in the United States. One example is the musician, Sir Cliff Richard, who is a household name in the UK, but was completely unknown to me. An even bigger one is Sir Jimmy Savile, who was for decades one of the most famous television personalities in Britain, and almost no one outside the Isles had ever heard of him. My friends had fond memories of Savile’s hit show Jim’ll Fix It, where children could write to the network in the hope of having their wildest dreams come true. They also told me it was common knowledge the guy was probably a pedophile. Savile was the fixer; but he was also widely regarded as an enormous creep who seemed to have tens of millions of people under his spell.

Just after Savile’s death in 2011, it finally came to light that people’s worst fears about Savile were true. He had abused hundreds of girls and women for more than six decades, often using a humanitarian foothold in children’s homes, hospitals, and other charitable endeavors, along with his membership in the Catholic Church, to position himself for attack. The two-part Netflix documentary, Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story, directed by Rowan Deacon, tells the now-too-common tale of a famous pervert’s rise and fall. It is harrowing and illustrative in a world that continues to wake up and take back control from a system of turning a blind eye, as well as an entertained public that does not want its elites to let them down. As the Catholic Church and other Christian groups continue to come to terms with a long legacy of diabolical abuse from their leaders, Savile’s story is illustrative.

The first episode of A British Horror Story is particularly useful to a non-British audience, as we go back to the beginning to find out who Savile was and how he came to prominence. From his earliest days on television, Savile projected a Mad Hatter persona, running around and muttering catchphrases that seemed to make more sense to him than to those around him. But one look at Savile’s long, bleached hair and wild eyes would make most people’s Spidey-Sense tingle.

Savile never married and was never photographed with girlfriends. There were persistent rumors that he was gay, but even more common rumors that he had a penchant for little girls. Throughout his career he joked openly about having a promiscuous lifestyle – sometimes even a criminally sexual lifestyle. He would often quip, “My case comes up next Thursday,” garnering big laughs amid some groans. In retrospect, we can now see how Savile tried to deflect his pathology by playing up its comedic potential. He even promoted his “dark side” to journalists, describing his past as a professional wrestler – a lad, that’s all. “What a rascal,” his adoring public concluded.

- The Horror Story of Jimmy Savile, by Andrew Petiprin, April 22, 2022.


3 It’s not every day that a person of distinction can say that he met someone who he would serve when she was just a small child, but that’s what happened when Winston Churchill first met Queen Elizabeth II. In a letter to his wife Clementine, the statesman talked about bumping into the then-princess when she was just a toddler. “There is no one here at all except the Family, the Household & Queen Elizabeth – aged 2. The last is a character. She has an air of authority & reflectiveness astonishing in an infant...”, he wrote.

It was not until her teens that Princess Elizabeth came to know of Churchill as many others of her age did. Churchill was a hero to the British people during World War II, because at that time he was credited with saving the United Kingdom from German aggression. The young princess would have also known about Churchill through her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, as the king and the prime minister shared what Biography described as a “warm friendship.”

Fate brought Winston Churchill and Princess Elizabeth together after World War II. While Churchill's party had been defeated by its rival Labour Party after the war, Churchill returned to power as prime minister in 1951. Months later, in February 1952, Churchill’s friend King George VI was dead, and the young princess was set to become the new monarch. She was crowned more than a year later in June 1953.

George's death left Churchill bereft, but it was not long before he had established a rapport with the young queen. As Churchill’s daughter put it, “The Queen very quickly captivated him, he fell under her spell. I think he felt early on her immense sense of duty, and he looked forward to his Tuesday afternoon meetings with the young monarch”.

The fondness went both ways, because Churchill took it upon himself to instruct the queen on the laws and politics involved in running a constitutional monarchy, and we can only imagine the appreciation she felt over his candor.

Inside Queen Elizabeth's Relationship With Winston Churchill, TheList.com, January 27, 2023.


About the author:


Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


(作者:张欣  编辑:yaning)


Common ground?


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