Friday, December 2, 2016

Rob Schackne #178 - On Marxian Thought

On Marxian Thought

Long a fan of Groucho Marx and his brothers, I was first introduced to him when I was still a small boy by my father and his uncle – both of whom were well-known for their funny stories. The subversion at the heart of Marxian comedy obviously spoke to something deep inside of them, both ex-military -- and I first laughed at the gags because they were laughing at the gags. Now, many years later, still a fan, my Dad long gone, the nihilism of Groucho’s act has sunk in. True enough, as you wrote, that when the subverter falls with the subverted, the subverter will land on top. This is essential if the subversion project is to continue. Mr Siegel suggests their "outraged childish innocence" as a motivation more likely than Chaplinesque pomposity-puncturing. But my guess (and how do you know?) is the Marx Brothers saw everyone as a suspect, so that everyone was questioned about their substance: credentials, credulity, semblance, authority and authenticity. I still read it as nihilism, but it's a strange type of nihilism, one that comes with a useful zippy purpose that reminds us all to be suspicious of anyone who is so inflated, so blind to their own role and appearance, their own transparent neediness, that appearance is all they can see -- and all they think they are. We should therefore always be vigilant against the legions of mountebanks, fools and ratbags that seek to gain power over us. The Cavett Show joke you quote at the end of your piece is interesting. You’re right, it is quite mean-spirited of Groucho. A person's grouchiness won’t normally ask us to believe that what they’re saying is the truth; but the laughs come when a mostly normal audience realises that it most likely is true. (Laughter as subversive replacement for the subversiveness of tears, anger, violence and madness…a future topic, perhaps.) Best always.


  1. 'Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.' as Groucho allegedly said.

  2. Oh, Groucho. Such a nice play on names here, Rob, and very relevant. Poetic prose with “a useful zippy purpose”.

  3. Ditto to Robbie and Magdalena - Marxian indeed and bravo to this soapbox... more anytime!


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