Doctor Who and James Bond – stronger institutions than the Baath Party
This year marks the 50th anniversary of two of the United Kingdom’s most famous pop-culture creations; the James Bond films, and the sci-fi series Doctor Who. Both have survived and thrived through five decades of changing cultural tastes. The programs have stood the ultimate test of any institution; to outlast the life-time or active involvement of its founders or any principal individual.
Which, when you think about it, kinda sucks. Apparently, a series of movies about a fictional British spy and a show about an alien time/space traveler, are more durable than the political party that has ruled Syria for the exact same amount of time that those two entities have been in existence. The first James Bond movie came out in 1962, Doctor Who first aired in 1963, and the Baathists seized power in Syria on 8th March,1963 (a date drilled into the head of every single Syrian school child). And yet there’s no question whatsoever which institutions are stronger.
By definition, institutions are created to carry on working and functioning long after their original founders have moved on. An organization that ceases to function effectively when a key individual is no longer active in it is not an institution; it’s a cult.
The most resilient institutions are those that change with the times, and that can absorb multiple generations of members. Children can grow up with realistic expectations to someday work in those institutions. David Tennant, the phenomenal actor who portrayed the tenth incarnation of The Doctor in Doctor Who, grew up watching the show. Playing the part was a childhood dream for the actor. Such was his enthusiasm for the series that he took part in numerous Doctor Who related productions before being cast in the role, and even married Georgia Moffett, the daughter of Peter Davison, the “Fifth Doctor”.
Widely hailed in Doctor Who fandom as the “Best Doctor Ever”, Tennant left the series after three years. His successor, Matt Smith, proved more than capable in carrying on the legacy, and today the series has an international audience that other shows can only dream of. It is a credit to the writers, directors, producers, actors, and everyone involved in Doctor Who since 1963 that the show has managed to survive and thrive the changes in its most prominent participants over the years. And it is one of the many achievements that cements the BBC’s reputation as being the best single institution in the world.
Now let’s compare the success of this pop-culture show with the dismal excuse of an organization known as the Syrian Baath Party (the Iraqi branch having gone kaput with the deposing of Saddam Hussein in 2003). Despite having its central role in Syrian society enshrined in that country’s constitution, and tolerating no rivals or competition whatsoever, the party has utterly failed to grow any of the traits that characterize a true institution. Since the party seized power in a coup in 1963, violent overthrows has been the preferred method to transition power within this organization. And whoever headed the party automatically, since the 60s, headed the country.
Hafiz Assad, the late dictator, fully intended for his eldest son, Basil, to inherit the presidency of the country after his death (thus pioneering the novel concept of the hereditary republic). When the heir apparent died in a car crash, papa Assad took the next logical step (logical at least to a man who never outgrew his peasant Qurdahan roots), and anointed the spare son, Bsshar, in the brother’s place. The fact that Syria is currently in the throes of a violent revolution shows just what a less-than-brilliant idea that turned out to be. Doubtless, were it not for the revolution, the only other successor the Baath Party could possibly have come up with would have been Bashar’s son, also named Hafiz (apparently someone never having told the Assad family that only Popes, kings and queens can carry off rulers sharing names with their predecessors).
Institutions are created so that organizations do not rely totally on the involvement of any key individual, whether it be the original founders, brilliantly talented members, or charismatic leaders. The Papacy, The FBI, US Supreme Courts, British Monarchy and Parliament are all examples of institutions that outlived and survived its founders and most brilliant members. They did not go into decline and become irrelevant with each succession in leadership or change of membership. The loss of any number of individuals did not prove disastrous. It is highly doubtful whether the Baath Party and Syrian presidency in its current form could go on functioning if it were to lose a key individual or group of individuals.
Quite a depressing thought, that the organization responsible for the functioning of a country, has proven more brittle and less enduring than two British pop-culture entities.