The Surprising Historical Significance of Fortune-Telling | Cody DelistratyThe capitalist ethos of self-mastery is undermined by the possibility of luck leading to success without proportional labor. As a result, games of luck tend to be sidelined in capitalist societies, looked down upon as pastimes of the poor and lazy.
Czechoslovakia in the 70sIn January 1969, Jan Palach, a philosophy undergraduate, burned himself to death in Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet invasion. Unlike most of his fellow dissidents, Havel did not react to Palach’s death with tears, desperation, or hopeless rage. Instead, like the politician he was to become, he gave a television interview in which he declared, with strange—and up to this point uncharacteristic—bravado, “There is just one road open to us: to wage our political battle until the end … I understand the death of Jan Palach as a warning against the moral suicide of all of us.” Moral suicide—taking a job with the regime, informing on your erstwhile dissident friends—became a standard if depressing mode of collaboration in the 1970s. The parallel polis collapsed, leaving the few remaining dissidents to face the full pressure of the regime alone. Of that long decade, Zantovsky writes, “few … can imagine the twilight mood, the torpor, which resembled a state of semi-anaesthesia.”
The book’s title, however, refers to Karel Gott, a pop singer nicknamed the Golden Nightingale who, like the majority of Czechs and Slovaks, played along with the Communist system. He even signed an “anti-Charter” petition; was unapologetic after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 for having done so, suggesting that the Charter ’77 movement was an Israeli plot; and, in 2006, opened a self-aggrandizing museum, Gottland, just outside Prague, that seems modeled on Elvis Presley’s Graceland.“Getting inside Gottland is like obtaining a seal of approval: The past is O.K.,” Mr. Szczygiel writes. Fans “loved Gott, and they made it through Communism along with him,” so visiting his shrine is a way “to confirm that their lives have been all right.”