22 March 2015

Victory of the Bland - Thoughts on Corporate CEOs, Mafia Bosses Inspired by the Bob Durst Story

Like a lot of people I was fascinated by the  recent HBO six part series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst about multi millionaire Robert Durst. This is the chap who killed a man and dismembered his body but got off on the claim that it the killing was a combination of self defense and an accident. Durst is believed to be responsible for the murder of his first wife who disappeared in 1982 and for assassinating a friend in Los Angeles in 2000. Some friend.

If you haven’t seen the series I highly recommend it. Its compelling on a number of levels not the least of which being that Durst is making the news right now with his recent arrest. As has been reported, he seems to have accidentally confessed to murder in a recording that can be heard at the end of the final episode.

Durst was extensively interviewed for the series by the makers of the documentary with director Andrew Jarecki asking the questions. It’s fascinating stuff on many levels. Durst seems at once repulsive, likable, weird and not the type of guy with who would going around killing people.
He’s also clearly a liar. For instance he tells of being led to a window by his dad to watch his mother jump (or fall if you believe the family) to her death when he was but seven years old. If it sounds unbelievable that a father would casually take a child to watch mom teetering on the edge of a roof its because it never happened. Then again it did happen in Durst’s mind. In fact in his mind he’s an innocent man who’s a victim of a bizarre string of mishaps. The worst lies you can believe in are your own. They become a person’s narrative, their new reality. Crimes, excesses and conversations can be wiped from a person’s memory. Just as new stories, alternative realities can be added. Someone living in their delusions is pretty hard to deal with.

Douglas Durst
Jinx is intriguing on a number of levels including the fact that it is full of interesting characters, in addition to the main one. One of them is Durst’s brother Douglas who upon the death of the family patrician, Seymour (Doug and Bob’s dad) took charge of the family business. That business is in prime Manhattan real estate. The Dursts are loaded. We see Doug a few times in Jinx but he never sat down for an interview with he filmmakers. That’s not his thing. We do see him on tape giving a deposition and also Jarecki crashed a ceremony where he was given an award for charitable work. It was enough to get an idea of the type of guy Doug Durst is. On the surface there's nothing particularly interesting about Doug, certainly not compared to other personalities we meet in the series. And especially as we only catch glimpses of him. But he reminds me of Michael Corelone (Al Pacino) in The Godfather Part II (1974).

No, I’m not saying that Doug Durst is a mobster. But he is, like Corleone a businessman and more than that a CEO. Indeed he is the archetype. Like the true Mafia boss, the CEO is an insulated figure. He does not give interviews. He does not engage in chit chat with strangers nor even acquaintances and rarely with friends and only sometimes with family. He is has a wall around himself and his immediate family and other than official company policy and major decisions, people do not have access to his opinions. Any embarrassment within the family or organization is to be dealt with swiftly with official statements that are as insipid as possible. The family/company holds no controversial positions, is fiercely private and neutral whenever possible. They do not engage in dialogues, they release terse statements. They have channels and layers to go through. They have specific people with specific tasks. They are protected. They are serious.

Doug Durst said as little as possible about his brother’s legal woes. He sent lawyers. The CEO loves his lawyers, they protect him. The family stayed as far away as possible from the case of Bob’s first wife’s disappearance. They didn’t lift a finger to help “look for her.” (Okay, so maybe they knew or figured Bob had killed her so what would be the point.) It was the same way in which they claimed that Seymour’s wife had fallen to her death rather than jumped. Suicide is embarrassing and raises questions. Accidents happen. Regrettable but nothing to sully the family name.

In Godfather Part II Michael is the quintessential Mafia boss (not the flashy John Gotti type who loves headlines and pays dearly for it) who stays in the background. He is cool, detached and in total control. As his father advised, he never let anyone outside the family know what he's thinking. All his moves were designed to protect the family business and the immediate family. Nothing else mattered. If he had to kill a sibling to protect that family by god he’d do it. Michael’s rages, his emotions were all kept out of sight. Doug seems similarly cool, detached and in control, similarly never letting others know what goes on inside. He too makes sure that ever move is calculated to protect and further the family name and business. He is also a quintessential CEO who stays out of headlines (not the obscenely obnoxious type like Donald Trump).

Michael Corleone
It must be a frightful existence. Lonely. Unnatural. Trapped. To constantly follow such strict rules of conduct to constantly have one’s guard up and to constantly depend on others to keep the facade going. It is the death of personality, spontaneity and creativity and the victory of the bland. I wonder if Bob Durst, despicable as he may be, is at least happier than Doug? I wonder if Fredo (the murdered brother) enjoyed his life more than Michael enjoyed his?

Both Bob and Doug suffered the childhood trauma of their mother’s death. Perhaps as a consequence Bob turned into an amoral killer while Doug cleaved closer to his father and emulated his leadership style.

The further you go up any corporate or government hierarchy less interesting are the people you meet. You see men in plain suits, freshly tailored, recent haircuts, manicured nails, perfunctory smiles and medium strength handshakes. They say little and mean less. Their souls are tucked safely away in storage. Their desks are clean with an obligatory framed family photo. They seem but empty vessels. How mannered and polite and desperately dull they are. How far from their true natures.

Anyway I started out about Bob Durst. No empty vessel he. Then again he probably murdered at least three people so nobody’s perfect.

No comments: