Sunday, June 10, 2007


A farce is a type of breathless comedy, in which the action builds dramatic tension, accelerating to a frantic climax. In the classic Aldwych farces, the actor Robertson Hare would routinely lose his trousers, uttering the catchphrase "Oh Calamity". Other great farces include Fawlty Towers and Noises Off.

The purpose of a farce is laughter.

But when Bob Geldof describes the latest G8 summit as a farce [BBC News, June 8th 2007], he is not laughing. Nor was Danny Schechter when he described Live 8 as a farce [AlterNet, July 6th 2005].

To describe G8 or Live 8 as farce is an act of mockery, not one of despair. Bill Freind traces this tradition back to Marx; he suggests that "one of the best ways to critique global capitalism is through the satire, parody and outright derision that Marx employs in the Eighteenth Brumaire" [Bad Subjects, October 1999].

  • Hegel writes: "all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur twice"
  • Marx adds: "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce"

What would justify applying the label "farce" to both G8 and Live 8 is that they are arguably not real historical events. Like the reign of Louis Napoleon, which inspired Marx's most exuberantly humorous writing, they are merely parodies of earlier events, events which have already been consigned to what Trotsky called the "dustbin of history". G8 summits represent a fantasy-football version of the meetings between world leaders during the Second World War (Cairo, Tehran, Yalta, Potsdam), while Live 8 purported to be a reenactment of Live Aid.

In other words, entertainment value only.


Scribe said...

Interesting catch - nice to get some background on something I'd usually just assume a meaning for (which is, I guess, how meanings change...)

I don't know if it's good or bad, but my despair has definitely been giving way to comedic amusement more recently. As politics and the media become ever more wrapped up in language, targets and being "seen to do the right thing", the disjunction with reality gets increasingly larger and ever more obvious - except to those tied up in their new, "farcical" reality.

It's the only way I can find to look at things while staying sane, anyway.

Anonymous said...

How sane can you be, Scribe? How sane should you be? By disjoining yourself from reality when as you point out there are those real people who don't have the luxury of separating themselves from the horrors that are our farcical reality.

There is no such thing as farce.

Scribe said...

Utterly and Entirely apt:

Living in a Hoax Culture