I am a Groucho Marxist, I say it with pride. Mainly because it’s fun to get people fired up about books they clearly never read. People who don’t get the joke immediately accuse me of being a dreaded communist. I agree with Irving Berlin’s quip that the world would be better off if more people got their political inclinations from Groucho than Karl.
Like Groucho I see myself as politically agnostic, I believe that all people are born equal; except for Republicans and Democrats. The people who divide themselves along party lines create more problems than they attempt to solve. Their highly publicized selfless acts are done for selfish reasons. They don’t serve the country, they serve themselves; two big scoops of ice cream while everyone else will be lucky to get one. Groucho famously said; “politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” His humor was timeless because things haven’t changed. He and his brothers never shied away from poignant yet goofy satire, once lamenting that the only difference between a snail and a politician is the slime left behind. He claimed the Democrats were more humane but infinitely more incompetent than Republicans… Does that sound familiar?
I can say, with certainty, that I am not a (Karl) Marxist. I went back and reread all the things I barely understood in college. Mainly because I didn’t understand what the fighting was all about, I didn’t know what side I was on. It comes as a surprise to non-readers that no Marx has ever said that we should switch to communism; or socialism. (Karl) Marxist Theory is really a warning of what will happen if we continue to F - up capitalism. Spoiler, we can’t become communist until all the wealth hoarded under monopolized crapitalism becomes worthless under plutocratic (or, oligarchic) rule; most probably through class warfare. This happens just short of eating the rich. At his core, Karl is hard to argue with. His contention was that the Free Market was the best possible economic system, it was easily corruptible and we have to take certain measures to secure it. We don’t. Never have, never will. The people in the position to fix things would be cutting into their own profits, so that’s a big NOPE. Society has progressed enough to show that the fall doesn’t happen the way Karl predicted; not yet, at least. Marx said communism was the “last bastion of liberty” because under monopolized capitalism and/or socialism the average person is a slave to the upper class. He made some great points, but I’m more of a Keynesian Economist. That’s a different essay, though.
Growing up I had uncles who introduced me to the Marx Brothers, Chaplin, Looney Tunes and the Three Stooges; there’s a lot of overlap in their politics. The Three Stooges were the first comedians to mock Hitler; when the legality was still questionable. The Stooges were the first to say; “Censor this… Nyuck!” There’s very few man-of-the-people types quite like Bugs Bunny, maybe Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character. The FBI had extensive files on Chaplin and Groucho, J. Edgar Hoover paid close personal attention to both. Being on the side of the little man isn’t well received by the big man. Speaking truth to power isn’t adored by those in power. Comedy and satire are the voices of the people, not the powerful. Groucho was pro-union, he was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild. Recognizing the value of your labor is not communistic, it is a product of Free Market Capitalism.
I’m not saying Groucho is a good barometer for ethics and decency; he was a known misogynist. He wasn’t shy about his misgivings. As flawed a man as there ever was. Like Karl, he made a lot of good points. Todays political climate is a lot like the song from Groucho’s Professor Wagstaff in the film Horse Feathers; as the song goes… “Whatever it is, I’m against it!” Obstructionist contrarians bought and paid for by the lowest bidder, standing in the way of progress; destroying the world in favor of short term gains. They’re hedging bets, standing in the back of the crowd shouting; “Burn it all but my gated community down!” Meanwhile the people are divided and conquered. We’ll never find progress if we fight over who we want holding us back. Whether it is the regressiveness of the Republicants or the cowardly incompetence of the Democraps, Americans suffer. That said, I hate that I hold my nose to vote for the lesser evil but I am all in on cowardice being preferable to malice.
As a Groucho Marxist I am adamant that I’m never the smartest person in any room but I am always painfully aware of who the dummies are. The dummies refer to themselves as free thinkers while they regurgitate mindless talking points full of words they can’t define. On the rare occasion that I find myself in a room full of dummies I GTFO of that room. This is why I can’t dream of joining political parties, on either side of the aisle.
Of all the classes I’ve taken, this one is my favorite. Dr. Ian Shapiro starts at the beginning and discusses our political systems with some of his students. It’s really informative and, the best part, it is FREE.
Duck Soup (1933)
Admitted to the Library of Congress for cultural significance in 1990. This pre-code Marx Brothers satire is about an Ambassador (Groucho) who inadvertently starts a war with a fictional country.
Horse Feathers (1932)
A pre-code Marx Brothers comedy and one of ESPN’s top football scenes in movie history. A tall tale of mistaken identity and cheating in college football, like only the Marx Brothers can do.
You Nazty Spy (1940)
It was against Hollywood’s regulatory Hays Code to mock heads of state, and frowned upon to mock the guy invading countries we were allied with. Charlie Chaplin was known to be in production of the first feature film that would mock Hitler; Moe, Larry and Curly made the first short film speaking out against Nazi Fascism.
The Great Dictator (1940)
The Three Stooges may have beaten Chaplin to the punch(line) but Hitler used all os his resources to stop this movie from being shown to audiences. Chaplin’s first talking picture has one of the greatest movie speeches of all time.
The Groucho Letters
Letters to and from Groucho Marx; correspondences include people like President Truman, Edward R Murrow, Howard Hughes, Irving Berlin, Warner Brothers Legal Department and my Grandfather’s cousin, Fred Allen. (I had to work that in there)