GTAV and the Communist Manifesto (and Derek)

I found the Communist Manifesto on the list of free ebooks available on Kindle, so naturally I downloaded it, and read it on my smart phone. I’ve read it before, and each time I’m struck by how right on the predictions of captitalism’s demise is, and by the naivete of the solutions offered. Maybe naivete is not the right word; a pessimism that clouds the vision of human innovation, especially when it comes to maintaining a sick body politic, is more accurate. I was reading it on my cell phone, did I mention, a book that could land you in jail simply for having a copy in years past. I read this:


“Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of the feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.


While sitting in a bar, waiting to play Twilight Struggle with my friend Bill. I finished it after hitting the pause button in the midst of playing Grand Theft Auto V. And somehow, I’m not confused, it all fits together seamlessly. Grand Theft Auto is satire, which is why it makes people uncomfortable (including me). It celebrates violence and licentiousness while making fun of it, and, more importantly, implicates us all in the culture it calls attention to. That is how satire is most effective, and I began to wonder how much of our culture is satire, how dominant a mode it has become. Surely reality TV is satirical, except for the poor bastards we’re all laughing at, and authenticity must be served on carefully defined genre platters. And then my wife and I started watching Derek on Netflix—yes, Orange is the New Black is cleverly written and snappy, the one with Kevin Spacey as a slimy senator has interesting moments of intrigue and meanness, but Derek achieves my most valued artistic effect in every episode: it makes me feel two or three conflicting emotions at once, while occupying my emotional and intellectual interest simultaneously as well. Satire is intellectual, no one cries about satire, and it’s rarely really gut wrenchingly funny. Many works of art can make me weep or laugh, or think about the human condition, but damn, Ricky Gervais, I wonder what Marx and Engels would make of you.

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