John Ridley Guest Column: Ridley Scott Epic Conjures Fresh Napoleon Complex Cases; Elon Musk, Aaron Rodgers, Bill Ackman Exhibit Signs Of Short-Man Syndrome, Height Be Damned

Editors note: John Ridley is the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave writer, writer-director of Five Days at Memorial, and the Eisner-nominated writer of the DC graphic novel series GCPD: The Blue Wall. He also hosts with Matt Carey the Deadline podcast Doc Talk, and occasionally contributes guest columns, last of which focused on the dismantling of studio diversity leaders that became popular after George Floyd’s murder.


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It’s called a Napoleon complex for a reason.

With the first round of Oscar voting closing out, I spent the long MLK weekend catching up on narrative films I’ve yet to see. Yes. I know. I’m a little late to the party, but my day job of watching other people’s amazing docs has bled into my evenings of watching other people’s amazing narrative features.

Among the films, I watched Mr. Ridley Scott’s Napoleon with our older son. At risk of putting my mostly weightless thumb on the scale, the film is pretty phenomenal (but I’m partial to biopics so Napoleon, Ferrari and The Iron Claw are kinda leading the charge for me this season).

So, I’m watching Napoleon, and our son starts asking me about the guy and if he’s still “legendary,” and I said, yeah, but mostly he’s remembered for Waterloo and as the guy who put a name to a complex. Our son hadn’t heard of a Napoleon complex, and I explained it was a way of identifying angry, little men who were obsessed with amassing power to make up for all their shortcomings. But no matter the power they have, they’re always gonna be teeny-tiny dudes. Our son asked me: “Like who?”

Like who? Hmm.

What a time to ask, ‘cause this has been a couple of weeks of angry little men doing their public compensation dances. Diminutive height here is not the requirement.

Napoleon number one for this week and the foreseeable future is Boring Company CEO Elon Musk. His beef-with-society-of-the-week is that somehow the recent Alaska Airlines in-air mishap was actually the fault of major airlines having DEI programs. Black people aren’t smart enough to fly planes? I don’t know how out to a country-club lunch you gotta be to blame the pilots who saved the passengers when the plane’s build quality and air worthiness were the responsibility of Boeing and its predominately white board of directors. Pretty much the same predominately white board of directors that approved the 737 Max planes which killed nearly 400 predominately people of color. Elon, I understand that your whiteness fears that it may potentially be done in one day by our blackness. But the reality is, our blackness has been, is, and will likely continue to be actively done in by racist whiteness like yours over and over and over again.

But here’s the good news, Elon, you are NOT the biggest little man this week. Much bigger at being small is the former QB1 of my beloved Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers. On paper, he is without question one of the greatest in the history of his chosen sport.

Unfortunately …

Football isn’t played on paper. It’s played on a field, and on the field Aaron has the exact same number of Super Bowl rings as Joe Flacco. Aa-Rog does lead the league in throwing around dangerous accusations like bracelets at a T-Swift concert. Sad thing is, Aa-Rog is more than happy to say any nonsense, but once confronted will dodge like he’s doing a scramble drill. For what it’s worth, I know Travis Kelce didn’t have his best year, but he also didn’t tear his Achilles, which makes me feel 100% comfortable in saying the Covid vaccine clearly offers additional protection against tendon ruptures ‘cause that’s how science works!!

But the most diminutive dude has gotta be Bill Ackman, who I never heard of before he led the charge to oust Harvard president Claudine Gay, ostensibly for charges of plagiarism, to go with her DC testimony on anti-Semitism. I now know all about him ‘cause I’ve been on his Wikipedia page. Wikipedia is where you go for knowledge no matter if you’re a guy who occasionally contributes to a Hollywood trade publication like myself, or if you’re a MIT professor/model/artist who needs to easy-street their work ‘cause they’re too busy getting ready for a “me so gorgeous” in-lab glamour shoot. Ackman passionately believes that plagiarism is the highest crime known to academia and should be reserved only for faculty members who are actually sleeping with him. The thought of that chore alone should easily reduce plagiarism to — nothing.

Look, the thing people have to remember is that having a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re smart. It just means that you have a lot of money. And are more likely to hang out with sex offenders. By the way, that’s not an accusation. What I’m really saying is there’s an excitement to expose corruption and what I joked about the other day about popping a bottle … there’s an excitement about when the corruption anywhere gets exposed and people who are accused of these heinous crimes get exposed that will be nice … that we can get this all out in the open. And that’s my real word salad, and not just something I plagiarized from one of the greatest minds to not be in the NFL playoffs this year. Again.

Anyway, if you haven’t yet seen Napoleon, spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well for little men with big egos.

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