I haven’t seen the new movie about Napoleon, and I really don’t intend to. After all, I didn’t bother with Barbie, and I figured that three hours with Robert Oppenheimer met the quota for bio-film this year. But I do appreciate a little insight beyond the legends, and getting to know an autocrat beyond the shouting and the conquering might come in handy in the current political climate. So this bit of backstory from Graham Techler in The New Yorker might help understand this complex character.
Everyone’s familiar with the Napoleon complex—a syndrome wherein a man displays aggressive or domineering behavior to compensate for his short stature. But, if you knew the guy, the shortness hangup was only the tip of the iceberg.
Napoleon also had a weird thing about people using coasters in his home, even though the coffee table was all scuffed up from Napoleon standing on it all the time to stay in your line of vision. He wouldn’t actually remind you to use a coaster if you put a drink down without one, he’d just act really distant until you figured it out.
He had to turn off motion-smoothing on TVs, even those belonging to other people. They’d say, “Napoleon, it’s fine. It doesn’t bother us.” And he’d say, “No, everything looks like a soap opera. I can’t let you live like this,” then he’d mess around with the settings for, like, an hour. I’ve known Napoleon to derail at least four Super Bowl parties this way.
Napoleon didn’t have a Madonna-whore complex, but that was cold comfort to anyone Napoleon was hooking up with. He’d be all over them until they asked if he was interested in a monogamous relationship, then he’d tell them that “power was his mistress” and that he’d “worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her from him.” Women don’t like when you say stuff like that.
Napoleon was really bad with money. That’s not a complex, per se, but I don’t know how else to categorize someone with that much credit-card debt from commissioning portraits of himself on a horse. You’d think one horse portrait would be enough, but someone forgot to tell Napoleon, apparently.
Hard guy to shop for, Napoleon. If you tried to be thoughtful, and got him a regiment of grenadiers you remembered him once mentioning he’d like to command, he’d say, “I actually already have a bunch of these.” Then he’d pat you on the back, avoiding eye contact, and add, “Uh, glory is fleeting, obscurity is forever.” O.K., Napoleon. I was looking for “thank you.”
Napoleon went to a state school. Which is fine, obviously. No one really cares about that kind of thing except Napoleon, who was constantly saying, “Yeah, I went to a state school, but it wasn’t like a lot of the other state schools, it was, like, one of the really good state schools—they actually called my state school the ‘Harvard of the Provinces,’ ” etc., etc. We caught him leaving a magazine open to an article titled “State Schools That Could Be Ivies” around the apartment every time people were over. Move on, Napoleon.
Finally, Napoleon had a really healthy relationship with both of his parents. He called them twice a week and never forgot their birthdays. How messed up is that?
Sometimes a gag order is worth it.