Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Marxist Theory 101

I thought I'd try adding visuals to these posts. I hope you enjoy it, as well as whatever I add in future communiques. Between the picture, and the title, you've probably guessed that we're talking about the Marx Brothers here. Over the weekend, the 30Th anniversary of Groucho's death passed, virtually unnoticed except for a well-put-together feature on CBS-TVs Sunday Morning [Groucho had this misfortune to pass within a day or two of Elvis Presley. Jesters are always more beloved, but less memorialized, than Kings).

Times change, as I'm sure you realize, but tastes change more markedly. By the time of Elvis' death, the style of rock he forced to the front of the stage had been pushed into the realm of nostalgia. He was forced to spend most of his on-stage time trying to perform music that, to be blunt, he was in no shape to perform. (there's no getting into the psyche of the deceased, but I've always been of the theory that Presley used the drugs he used to one, help him get the best performances he could out of himself and, two, to numb the pain of the fact he wasn't capable of performing to his former high-energy level. Just a theory...)

In the same way, while the movies of the Marx Brothers were highly prized during Groucho's later years (and, for the most part, did well in their original runs), their popularity has fallen into something of a decline. Of course, new movies continue to be made, and there has always been more admiration for new things than old (someone ought to translate that lest sentence into Latin. It's an aphorism waiting to be carved in stone). But I believe there's something else at work here.

In her 2005 book Talk to the Hand, British broadcaster Lynne Truss speculates on, among other things, why Good Manners and Common Courtesy have fallen off the end of the Earth. One of her theories is based on the decline in acceptance of the Class System, especially, of course, as it existed in England. For the most part, the same factors have come into play here in the U-S. Like Truss, I think the end of worrying about embarrassing oneself around one's "betters" is probably a good thing. That being said, though, it has led many people to believe that, not only is no one better than themselves, they are now free to act as rudely as they wish [or, to put a slightly nicer face on it, to act fully for their own interests, without considering anyone else]. Even a quick view of the Marx Brothers' career shows them to be experts at puncturing the inflated worth of anyone brave enough to have an inflated self-worth around them.

They usually played characters that would have been part of their era's "undesirables"; Groucho was basically a con man, Chico, a stereotyped immigrant, Harpo never spoke [mentally challenged, we'd say, while in his time, he'd be condemned as an "imbecile"], while Zeppo, ostensibly the straight man, always seemed to have a touch of larceny in his mix. And, as any fan of the Marxes will tell you, they were seldom funnier than when bumping up against "polite society" usually personified by Margaret Dumont

Of course, this strain of humor has always run through American culture [no, this isn't a course, but you can investigate this yourself if you wish]. But the success of the Mark Brothers movies helped push it into the mainstream, as did other factors [please let's not make this a course, OK?]. Thus, the success of the Marx Brothers in their time, as well as during their late 60's revival, may have contributed to their current decline (You knew we'd get to this sooner or later, didn't you?). No real reason to tell you any of this, of course. I was just fascinated by the thought...

-Mike Riley

P.S.: We have a new sponsor. ships popular Irish food products to the U-S and other countries. Their prices are reasonable, and their service superb [By the bye, if the idea of a fry-up makes your arteries harden just by thinking of it, they are also a great sources for real Irish oats. From personal experience, rolled oats really will help reduce your cholesterol levels.]. Click on one of their locations. We'll both thank you... - MR