In Defense of the Farce or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Da Bomb
Karl Marx famously said that history repeats itself, first as a tragedy, then as a farce. Of course, he was, in context, specifically referring to the successive Napoleons. Both were comparatively short-reigned emperors of France — one, a brutal but brilliant military strategist; the other absurdly ineffective.
However, if we are to glean some deeper insight from this, we have to ask ourselves: do we want to live through a tragedy or do we want to live through a farce? In Napoleon’s case, I would argue both iterations were, to quote the poet George Thorogood, “bad to the bone.” The “badness” was not a product of this repetition but because it was two men trying to be old school imperialists. Thus, arguably, even good things throughout history would follow this formula.
Obviously, I’m not saying we should expect everything in history to operate in such a fashion. As Marx himself said, history is a product of materialism, and trying to distill it down into such simplifications is anything but materialist. But this pattern is arguably a form of dialectic.
You start with the thesis — no, not a sentence at the beginning of one of your five-paragraph high school essays, silly — the thing that will befall some tragedy. That tragedy itself is the antithesis. And the farce is the synthesis that later follows. In the case of Napoleon III, the nephew of the OG, the synthesis of his uncle’s ideas with the modern material reality proved disastrous. Though many credit the Bolsheviks with the first communist-minded revolution, the short-lived Paris Commune was born out of this era.
A certain hybrid between a Bizzaro Universe crypto-fascist Kermit and Elaine’s boss from Seinfeld loves to call people “Post-Modernist Marxists.” Though I’m inclined to believe he’s just spouting whatever words sound scariest to him, this term has meaning. Often, people will colloquially use “modern” to describe something contemporary, but within the context of eras of academic thought, it actually refers to a period in the 1800s and early 1900s following the Industrial Revolution. People wanted grandiose frameworks to describe the world, and aesthetics moved towards simple designs that reflected a desire to make everything a well-oiled machine.
However, the Great Depression, two World Wars, followed by the Cold War left the world feeling chaotic and bleak. These constructions of modernism felt like failures leading to an antithesis: the Post-Modern Era. Everything became about deconstruction. Getting people to place faith in new solutions became harder — but goddamn did we master the art of being cynical bastards about literally everything. And yes, yes, I know some things probably were spared, so “literally” isn’t correct here, but thanks for proving my point, you cynical bastard!
These eras are often hard to frame as they are happening and are more of a result of 20/20 hindsight. Thus the question of, “Are we still in the Post-Modern Era?” becomes one without any kind of Right Answer™️. It’s not until you can get a bunch of professorial types to agree — and have you seen how much academics love to lecture each other? — on what currents in thought defined these winds of time.
But, like a growing number of people, I personally think we are entering the Meta-Modern Era. If you’ve ever dreamed of being in an absurd comedy film — congratulations, more and more, we’re all living one every single day. The popularization of everything from YouTube to reality television is reflective of how the spectacle of our society is itself often plenty entertaining. To try to make sense of this, it’s useful to look at us in the synthesis phase. We’re in an era that simultaneously has the Renaissance of the grandiose narratives and yet people are more sarcastic than ever.
Those who succeed with their grandiose narratives are often those who are able to blend some degree of absurdity into it all — whether the story they are peddling is good or not. Elon Musk isn’t cutesy on Twitter by accident, it’s being cutesy that cultivates his célébrité.
It is even apparent in how the reactionaries in our culture operate. Giant YouTubers h3h3 and PhillyD incited huge harassment campaigns against me by calling out a tweet of mine and trying to dismiss something Ethan from h3h3 had said as just a joke — in joke-filled videos. However, they also speak of this “SJW” conspiracy that is determined to suck all of the fun out of everything in the world, which their followers use as the framework to interpret any sort of criticism — we are at a point where comedians often become the source of people’s information and perspectives.
This should be immediately apparent to anyone who has witnessed the popularity of shows like Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver, That Show That Used to Have Jon Stewart, and Real Time with Bill Maher. Of course, all of these shows are written from a rather corporate-friendly perspective, as they are reliant on advertisement revenue — though I suspect Bill Maher just likes being a shitty person for the lulz.
The Ancient Romans spoke of keeping the working class distracted with “bread and circuses.” In our new, meta-modern reality, everything is the circus. When career experts are constantly harping about “personal branding” for individuals with social media and websites, we’re at a point where we are all, to a degree, jesters that are forced to play along with this spectacle for others. Snagging jobs becomes more about spectacle of merit than anything resembling actual merit. Capitalism has turned you into a sideshow attraction.
Whether or not a “farce” is a good thing is kind of distraction at the point. Everything is a farce, and we can either embrace it or resist it — but what we can’t do is pretend it isn’t there. Marx argued that ideas themselves could become a material force if they captivated the minds of the masses. That’s exactly what a “viral meme” is. Except those material forces are more often videos of adorable kitties than meaningful bits of information. Capitalism has exploited this for viral marketing, but it is used infrequently in leftist spaces. Those that are — Peter Coffin, The Institute of Progressive Memetics, H. Bomberguy, etc. — are finding a lot of traction with their content.
So, I say, as I place this colorful, jingle bell-ended monstrosity of a hat upon you: embrace the farce. Power in society is being able to provide something perceived as scarce to those who support you. If they can come to you to learn but also to laugh, they’re more likely to stay, because there are millions of jackasses like me trying to explain how our chaotic mess of a world works, but entertainment is something for which most of us have an insatiable appetite — which is why many folks turn to weed and wind up with a different type of insatiable appetite.
And never forget: knowledge is power! But certain types of knowledge tastes like salad and is best served with dressing that makes you able to pretend you’re not eating something healthy.