Sunday, 2 October 2011

Monsters, melodrama & comedians

This is not a post about politics.

What politicians do not understand is that they are in the thrall of popular culture. Everything we have ever known about modern-day politicians is predicated on the fact that they are human and fallible. Not the fact  that they are any longer meant to be  great leaders.

  Politicians ache for popular acceptance like young adolescents. They take to the stage of popular opinion like star-struck Hollywood starlets on the road to oblivion.  The love of the throng, the roar of the crowd, all because of our embrace of popular culture and how popular opinion always takes the side of the underdog.

 The underdog is personified as an outsider: vampires; gangsters; drug addicts; homeless people. We may never have met any of them, but they are still one of us - we embrace them for daring to be different in contrast to those of us who have been taught to contort our spirits in the rush for money, status and precarious social position.

The people the public love the most are allowed to do what we dare not do. They laugh at social proprieties. They thumb their noses at the social conventions we appear to embrace. They suck other people's blood. Or look so horrendous they do not appear out of doors for fear of starting a riot. Or maybe they are so romantically compromised,  their lives do not appear to be worth living any longer. 

Politicians are none of these things and they know it. Politicians shamelessly tout for our approval at the ballot box.  They are no longer the  anointed leaders of our teetering democracies. They are meant to represent law and order in an unordered and anarchic world that constantly devalues them as maniacs and shysters. Shamelessly, we offend them easily, and we allow them to hit back at us as just being regular guys (and gals), like the dimwits who voted them in in the first place. We are not convinced and devalue and humiliate them further.

All of this is just a germ of an idea, and if I could give examples of why we love monsters, melodrama and comedians at this early point in time, I'm sure you would like me to: First of all we have the man with the permanent smile on his face. 'The Man Who Laughs" (1927)

Gwynplaine was born into a troop of gypsies who abused children and were driven out of Europe. He was left with a deformity of the mouth and can't stop smiling. Now everybody he knows thinks he's an imbecile. What a life.

Our emotional lives exist as they are observed by narrative practitioners of popular culture and viewed   through the refracting mirror of melodrama. Pre-code Hollywood  films of the late twenties and early thirties  exist to remind us that we actually had feelings, before the Catholic Legion of Decency started interfering and got the upper hand (if you'll pardon the pun).

 Secular practioners of melodramatics like pulp writers and pulp movie directors told us it was alright to be romantic and show that we had feelings, especially if they were heterosexual and designed not for sexual pleasure so much as procreation. Otherwise they were to be, if not outlawed, then severely frowned upon.  Movie stars flouncing themselves around and complaining about the heat were an inadequate substitution for substantial connections with other human beings, no matter how inadequate they may have appeared to be. Todd Browning's 'Freaks' illustrates the frustration of outsiders being judged by 'normal' people as deviate when they are actually perfectly normal, well-adusted people, unfortunately at the mercy of the consensus-driven status quo:

I remember reading somewhere that if you want to be loved as a show business performer, you should become a comedian, because people will love you if you can make them laugh. I'm an optimist and believe, contrary to most of the human race, that there is a lot in life that you should be laughing about. This unfortunately puts me at odds with the majority who believe that laughter is not productive, and downright anathema to being a normal and well-adjusted person.Luckily for me, I have centuries of tradition on my side going back to ancient Greece in the 5th century before Christ. But I shouldn't boast I know. Here is an excerpt of 'Up Pompeii', a British comedy that pokes fun, at well, just about everything and that is why I revere it:

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