COVID 19: Brecht and Circuses


Brecht and Circuses

By Thomas Busse for VT

“Social Distancing” is a profoundly strange concept. As I observed deconstructing the George Floyd Psyop as a mashup of Buck Breaking and Another Brick in the Wall, the national security theater playing out in our lives seems drawn from Surkov style circuses inspired by the Strugatsky Brothers’s “Zone.”

With the rise and fall of CHAZ/CHOP, we have witnessed one zone manifested on a superficial level.  There is another more inescapable zone in the theatrical world even more relevant to our times: that of Berthold Brecht’s “Distancing Effect” in works such as “The Life of Galileo.”

I studied the Galileo play in 1998 in an intensive freshman seminar at UC Berkeley on the history of consensus chilling effects on paradigm shifts – especially by lone dissenters in the pre-crisis phase of scientific revolutions. Brecht’s “Verfremdungs Effekt” or V-Effect seems even more relevant now as economists butt-heads over a “V-shaped recovery.” The purpose of the “distancing effect” is to alienate one’s audience by making strange what was once familiar, waking the audience up to the realities outside the theater.

Brecht first wrote about it in an essay titled “Distancing effects in Chinese Acting,” describing the effect as “playing in such a way that the audience was hindered from simply identifying itself with the characters in the play… Acceptance or rejection of their actions and utterances was meant to take place on a conscious plane, instead of, as hitherto, in the audience’s subconscious.” We as a society are “in the zone” of consciously accepting or rejecting such characters.

How many young people will now avoid falling into compromise now that Jeffrey Epstein and Anthony Wiener are Memes? Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself because he’s now immortal, just like Harvey Weinstein’s back-acne.

Some social commentators have become cognizant of the media doublethink condemning “antilockdown protests” as dangerous while encouraging George-Floyd protests. This V-Effekt to an extreme. No audience can identify with the circus: the Boogaloo Bois, Antifa, BLM, General Flynn’s Unmasking, Chaz in Charge, Jizz MaxxSwell [aptronym alert!] having no InNOut in her book of honor because she’s at an estate called “Tuckedaway,” etc. etc.

Yet, we are hearing calls to “reimagine the police” as if America were Disneyland. Successful Imagineering transcends the usual problem-reaction-solution. The crisis in local policing has been there the whole time, but it is only through the lens of George Floyd theatrics that the public can shift the paradigm toward “Confessions of a former Bastard Cop.” There were cops on the beat, but only saw them beating, but I only saw them at all, then there was George!

The Paradigm Shift is central to Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” With this in mind, I rewatched Brecht’s Life of Galileo and found a telling exchange. It takes place in the Vatican taking place during the First Carnival after the years of the plague (something interesting given recent news articles about the Plague in China):

Cardinal Bellarmine: Let us put on our Masks
Cardinal Barberini: {to Galileo} Oh, poor Galelei, he hasn’t got one.

Galileo is a loose cannon – he can’t be masked. As he remarks directly to the audience: And the worst thing is, when I find something out, I have to tell others … like a lover, like a drunkard, like a traitor. This makes Galileo dangerous. Whether it is the Catholic Inquisition, the tyranny of modern scientific consensus, or the cult of American Media, the means of control are the same: Wear a mask. The carnival cult is the embodiment of self-censorship underpinning social cohesion.

Galileo’s very nature as a new Scientific man prevents him, so he is ordered to “Stay at home.”  He only recants his subversive heliocentric beliefs and agrees to self-isolate when shown the Inquisition’s instruments of torture “because I feared physical pain.”  Speaking yet again to the audience, Galileo remarks: “My intention is not to prove that I was right, rather to prove whether I was right. Therein lies the real danger.

The Brechtian device of speaking directly to the audience recalls the chilling monologues in the political intrigue drama House of Cards. Breaking the fourth wall, it is uncertain whether the House of Cards reality is “let out” into the world or the audience is “drawn into” the television. The producers of House of Cards use real networks to broadcast news of President Underwood’s administration – cartoon characters such as Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes – not just because they can or as a stylistic flourish – but as Brechtian “distancing.”

In the current “corona” crisis, I should note both Underwood and Corona are typewriters, the latter also possessed by the Unabomber. He was Un-a-bomber, not uni-bomber. See it now? It’s been there the whole time.

Brecht and his ilk knew the theater could not outcompete film, which he left for the realists, but the team behind the chilling Netflix drama portraying over-the-top intrigue as realism opted for moments of Brechtian theater. This is the essence of a “Trump Tweet” – the President steps out of the “real presidential” lens of the news networks and distances the world with a “Tweet.”

We are awakened to the strange Zone of the White House – our world. This begs the question, is the Galileo of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” the Galileo of history books (circa 1619 and the publication of Kepler’s Harmonia Mundi as well as the 1619 Project on the origins of slavery in the Americas) or is It the Galileo of Brecht?

On March 17, shortly after the WHO declared a global pandemic on 3/11, Dr. Andrew Kaufman, a psychiatrist, hypothesized a radical shift in the Coronavirus paradigm on the Secrets of Saturn podcast. He published his theory on March 30th stating that Covid-19 was not a virus, but was something called an exosome. This is natural RNA in the body released due to stresses. Dr. Kaufman’s radical paradigm shift was independently hypothesized in Britain by Dr. Muhammed Adil. Unlike Dr. Kaufman, Dr. Adil had his medical license suspended by the NHS acting like a modern day Inquisition.

This idea bucks the establishment consensus on the level of Copernicus. It is a dangerous hypothesis worthy of scientific experimentation. As Dr. Sheldon Watts has shown, however, scientific concepts of disease have been wrapped up greater considerations of power and imperialism. Watts notes that on Mohammad Ali’s tomb in the Cairo citadel is the ironic epitaph, “but at least I won victory over the plague.”

This was testament to his rigorous quarantines that eroded Egypt’s independence.  400 years after Galileo and 800 years after the Great Medieval Leper Hunt, I wonder what Brecht would have thought of a global facepalm as the public distances itself from their MeToo Masks should someone prove whether Dr. Kaufman was right? To whom will it matter?

Thomas Busse is a former classical music critic and hermeneutic philosopher in San Francisco.


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