This well-cited quote came from the legendary documentary Albert Maysles that uncovers a deep truth in the miscarriages of justice to society that tyranny creates. Many may be quick to point the context of the media for the force behind the comment, but we think it admits to a deeper interpretation. First, is the full quote by the author.
It need be noted that we are still looking for the exact timing and location of the first time the quote is used but in the meantime, Maysles lived from November 26, 1926, to his death on March 5, 2015. We’re starting there.
What did Maysles mean by the ‘deliberate removal of nuance’?
Albert Maysles was an undoubtedly legendary documentary filmmaker. Of the Maysles brothers, he was probably the more articulate and thoughtful of the legendary film brothers. Some of their most known films include the documentaries Salesman (1969), Gimme Shelter (1970), and Grey Gardens which was released in 1975. With a background in psychology, who pursued and received his undergraduate degrees and masters in the field at Syracuse and Boston University respectively, Albert was deeply interested in the relationship between the mind and art.
Here Albert meant that tyranny was an attempt to remove thoughtfulness, creativity, and self-expression from society (often through physical oppression) at the expense of originality. Nuance is simply subtle differences in interpretation or expression, and tyranny is almost uniformly obsessed with uniformity. A related quote that fits the same line of abstract thought.
After being sent to the Czech Republic, then Czechoslovakia, to investigate an underground resistance paper that opposed the existing guard Christopher Hitchens made the promise: “I’m not going to do it. I’ll be the first journalist that visits there and doesn’t mention Kafka.”
After the police kicked in their meeting, moments after it began, the author asked the secret police, “what’s the charge?”
To this question, the secret police laughed ostensibly and then quipped, “It’s Czechoslovakia….we don’t have to tell you what the charge is.” They then threw him up against the wall as they arrested him and, as he says, that from the moment he hit the wall, he thought to himself, “Fuck. I am going to have to mention Kafka now.”
Hitchens’s point here is that they don’t care that their tyrannical methods are boring or they lack nuance; they use them specifically for that reason. This is precisely the point that Albert Maysles is driving at so succinctly and quite beautifully in this quote.
A similar line of reasoning can be seen by British author, novelist, essayist, memoirist, and author of The War Against Cliche Martin Amis who opined that the issue with a loss of identity isn’t that “anyone could do anything” but that they “might do any specific thing.” Before beautifully opining “you have to stress the individual. Comments like ‘no brainer’–don’t say that.”