The paradox of Leftist utopianism and its dystopian art

Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim

Six By Sondheim” is a new, well-produced HBO documentary that stitches together the many interviews Stephen Sondheim has given over the years since the late 1950s and then ties those interviews in with six of his best-known or (to him) most important songs. NPR enthused that the show leaves viewers wanting more but, as I am not a Sondheim fan, I wanted less — or at least less of the music.  The interviews, however, were interesting.

My takeaway is that Sondheim is a decent, articulate, intelligent man, who thinks deeply about his craft.  I may not like his end product, finding the endless word play emotionally distancing and the music discordant, but there’s serious hard work and lots of talent behind it.

Sondheim has made a living out of thumbing his nose at critics who complain rightly that his songs are not “hummable.”  Certainly that’s part of why I don’t like his music.  I’m simplistic enough to like pop songs that I can sing later.  Although maybe “simplistic” isn’t the right word.  When Irving Berlin rhymes “farmer” with “potato embalmer,” there’s nothing simplistic about that.  It’s a delightful rhyme scheme that captures in three words one aspect of a farmer’s work.  Likewise, there’s nothing embarrassing about Johnny Mercer’s exquisite lyrics to I Remember You.  “When my life is through, and the angels ask me to recall the thrill of it all, then I will tell them I remember you.”  My primary reasoning for disliking Sondheim’s music isn’t that it’s not hummable; it’s that, to my ears, it’s not attractive.

Certainly Sondheim’s subject matter is seldom attractive consisting as it does of strippers, burlesque, broken homes, and psychopathic moms (Gypsy); deadly street gangs (West Side Story); serial killers (Sweeney Todd); a dystopian view of fairy tales (Into The Woods); attempted presidential murderers (Assassins); a man’s throwing away his life’s talent (Merrily We Roll Along); or broken down marriages (Follies).  Listening to Sondheim describe his life, this deeply negative view about relationships and people in general isn’t particularly surprising.

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd

Sondheim’s parents had an unhappy marriage that ended when he was 10.  Before, during, and after the divorce, he was a pawn in his parents drama and, most especially in his mother’s obsession with his father and her manifest dislike for being a parent.  She hated her son and he knew it.  Indeed, when Sondheim was 40, right before his mother went into surgery, she wrote him a letter saying that the worst thing that ever happened to her was to have him.

Sondheim was also a homosexual who came of age during a time when his sexual orientation was unpopular, to say the least.  There’s no doubt that, in the Broadway world, he could easily have found sufficient numbers of like-minded people to form a relationship that went beyond casual sex.  He didn’t, though.  It appears that  his upbringing left him so emotionally constipated that, as he confesses, he was only able to fall in love when he was 60.

Blessedly, Sondheim seems to keep his politics to himself, but he’s certainly part of the zeitgeist on the Lefter side of the political spectrum.  Those who like him are often the same people who sneer at traditional musical theater, with its bright songs and happy endings.

After watching the documentary, I realized that American art and entertainment present a funny paradox.  Leftists tend to create and to prefer art and entertainment that focuses on the sleazy, irredeemable side of human nature.  Many of Sondheim’s plays exemplify this fact, but the list of gutter-gazing art from Leftists is endless.  Hollywood and Broadway Leftists like, and endlessly produce, movies and shows that focus on the bad guys (Tony Soprano, Walter White), depressing situations (Precious, American Beauty), or sordid behavior (just about every movie out of Hollywood lately).

Fred and Ginger

Fred and Ginger

Conservatives tend to yearn for the type of wholesome fare that Hollywood churned out from the time of the Code through the late 1960s.  These shows involve happy people muddling through to happy endings, bad people getting their comeuppances in morally satisfying ways, suffering people rewarded at the end, etc.  The tear-jerkers involved deeply sympathetic characters who tried to do good and failed, not creepy psychopaths who worked hard at being evil and, even when they got their comeuppance, never repented.

Looking at the differing artistic fare the two political cultures generate, you’d think that it was the conservatives who were the utopians and the Leftists who were the harsh realists.  In fact, though, Leftists are the utopians who fervently believe that, if they can just figure out the correct political coercion, they will perfect human kind, turning each man into someone who joyfully, and without greed, rancor, or violence, gives of his labors to support everyone else in the world.  Conservatives, on the other hand, recognize that humankind is inherently greedy, rancorous, and violent, and seek to create voluntarily enforced social, moral, and economic systems that harness and control these innate tendencies in a way that’s simultaneously beneficial to the individual and to society at large.

Presumably, this paradox can be resolved as follows:  Leftists use art to establish that the world, especially the American world, is a terrible place because it lacks the guiding hand of a loving police state.  Meanwhile, conservatives use their art aspirationally, to encourage all people to cultivate voluntarily their better selves, or to put their “baser” instincts (i.e., greed) to a use that lifts up their own lives while improving and enriching the world.

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  • Ymarsakar

    I read “HBO” and my anti Leftist psychological warfare filters slammed down.
    Also, I wonder if Sond and the rest are part of the Hollywood boy rape gang we hear about, but nobody wants to do any investigation into. Hollywood actor victims always talk about there being some guy “high up” on the pay and status scale, that helps them or funds their projects, who they don’t want to destroy even after the fact when they realize they were in a destructive relationship.
    The Catholic Church had an abnormal number of gay molestations vs regular molestations, and that was supposed to be unusual, but we are supposed to think Hollywood and federally funded education is pure? As if. They don’t find them because the perps are free and immune.
    This is very different from the Japanese mainstream entertainment I experience on a daily basis, Book. This kind of Hollywood anti human thematic construction.
    Since it’s difficult for me to summarize Japanese entertainment business without the use of spoilers, I’ll just use general examples like you did with Hollywood.
    The first VN I encountered from Japan consisted of a tale about heroic, immortal, spirits that can be summoned by a human user to fight in a modern day fantasy war for a power equal to Divine Creation. In the tale, I encountered various hero archetypes and how/what heroes are motivated by. The loyal, as well as the treacherous, the murderous as well as the insane. The exploration of what society considers a hero encompassed many different modes of thinking, which I benefited from. For example, a hero is often the same as a serial killer, except the kills are made in the name of justice or in the defense of humans against monsters. Beowulf comes to mind. Hercules’ 12 trials reminds us that sacrifice and patience are also qualities of heroes, not merely strength. Then there is loyalty, such as the knight’s code or the samurai code. This is juxtaposed against political heroes, such as Gilgamesh or folk heroes such as Cú Chulainn. If you are a mighty king, that is a kind of hero.
    The interaction of the story also presented the viewer with choices, where the wrong choice got them killed in various horrific ways. This was funny to me, but to others it would be gallows humour or death humour. When heroes look upon death and smile, it relates the same kind of phenomenon. Spartan response to the Persian boast/taunt that Persian arrows are so numerous they will block out the sun: then we’ll fight in the shade.
    What I found hilarious over time is that almost every single one of these Japanese stories I love, features a romantic storyline or more. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, there’s a story about a couple and their love. There’s not as fine a distinction between what Americans consider “chick flicks” or “romantic comedies” vs action-adventure stories.
    On the topic of serial killers, there’s a story I remember from Japan where two kids were orphans abducted by adults that engaged in sexual torture and fun house parties. They were kept locked up in the high class mansion until they planned to set traps and escape the mansion, by killing every adult in it. There’s a little girl who came up with the plan, that was ultimately carried out by the little boy. But when he came to get her to escape, I got the impression that she did not directly kill anyone and was horrified by the fact that the boy had so much blood on him. Since the traps didn’t get everyone, he had to hunt some adults down using old ancient ways. She became horrified and backed away from him, thus rejecting him in a sense. As a result of this experience, the little boy grew up with PTSD, but the authorities cleared them of any responsibility since it was easy to think the adults killed themselves, and the kids were put into psychiatric treatment instead. Eventually they got out and attended a normal high school, where the boy, now a teenager, wants to a form a club and have happy memories. A radio broadcasting club. Whether by coincidence or fate, his third eye activates and sucks most of the club members into a closed dimensional space with looping time. During this time, he has to restrain his violent urges, help his fellow students, and make sure they are protected emotionally and physically until an escape can be generated. After getting all of the club members out, he remains inside and makes a final broadcast that reaches the outer world.
    I thought this story was very strange at first. Here you have someone who is introduced as a teenager that just wants to have happy memories playing around in school, but in fact has something different going on in the background. But it’s not a story about bullies, fighting bullies, stupid teachers, stupid parents, or any of that stuff. Bullies aren’t much of a problem for a conscious self willed serial killer that has to keep it together or he ends up carving people up for fun. That wouldn’t be very fun of a plot or a surprising one. It’s about the inner world where a person can find peace and harmony, happiness, in themselves. And about protecting other people in the world, from yourself. Also from themselves too (a lot of them had self destructive psychological issues).
    The Japanese don’t emphasize sappy happy endings. They also don’t emphasize suicidal depressing endings either or horror cliffhangers.  Their specialty is the bitter-sweet, sublimely beautiful and painful, ending.
    The more the characters struggle, the more they have to fight for what they have, and the less they are given from a silver spoon, the greater the joy we experience when we see the fruits of their work. And the more we hate the villains who had everything given to them, talent, fame, wealth, power, but chose to use it for destructive purposes. There are also sympathetic villains (what we might call brainwashed cult members) who want to do good or who are just trying to survive with the hand they were dealt in life. Those are often defeated and then turned ( Sun Tzu’s principle) to the protagonist’s cause.
    One of the popular VNs designed for a broader audience, used the Scottish word for family and based all the storylines on the love between family members. Masterpieces like that should be felt, as words don’t do it justice. There’s struggle, there’s class differences, there’s death separating people, but there’s also life, joys of living, and love that bridges the gap between divides. A lot of Americans no longer know how to think about family affairs because the popular culture has poisoned the well. They think it’s like some kind of childish fantasy or fairy tale, where things are unrealistically wholesome, nobody gets in trouble, your parents bail you out, the kid is always super smart, super powerful, super popular. These has nothing to do with family values. This has nothing to do with honor or love. People don’t know how to think about it. Just as a person that never learned how to add, won’t be able to figure out multiplication. It will seem unrealistic, difficult, pointless.
    So this is just the tip of the iceberg of why I think substituting foreign influences will dampen out local domestic American Leftist poison. Many people don’t even realize how they are being poisoned, until they stop watching movies and the tv and realize how better they feel about life. They haven ever lived a life where things were otherwise.

  • Ymarsakar

    One of the experiments in mind control, brainwashing, hypnotism, and psychological warfare involved the hypothesis: what if you could destroy a person’s happy memories, leaving only sad and cruel ones, what kind of human being would be created from this?
    And the answer is, the perfect Leftist Utopian. Not the ones that exist now pre Utopia, but the ones that will be necessary come the Utopia.
    And one Leftist experiment that was based on this, the hypnotic implantation of child molestation memories into women by their Democrat therapists, solidified this conceptual hypothesis.
    The kind of person that is created when their entire life is full of cruel and sad memories is this: an out of control, raging, destructive, animal that needs the blessed control of the Left’s Totalitarian Machine to remain sane.
    That is a key ingredient of mind control. While it is possible to influence or control the minds of very powerful individuals, it is more or less a waste of time. Extremely mentally strong individuals can de-brainwash themselves, destroy social destructive traits they inherited or learned while young. The weak, those who have not had any happy memories, are not capable of such.
    So when the Left creates art and entertainment that showcases vice/evil, that’s not a bug but a feature. Because by exposing people to such, they weaken the people by stripping them of personal happiness and replacing it with cruelty. This results in a process that dehumanizes an individual into somebody easily controlled by the Left. Once this raw material is conditioned, Leftist Utopia can now produce the Perfect Human. Which in other words, is also a Perfect Animal or a Perfect Slave. In that way they eliminate inequality, poverty, and war.
    The British and the Australians are so brainwashed they think it’s better to get stabbed or raped or mugged via a home invasion, than it is to die from gunshots in the US. This is what you tell an animal, to make it obey you. They tell women it’s better to be raped in their 30s than when they are children. So that’s why the State needs power to force people. The idea that there are any other alternatives isn’t allowed. The mind conditioning process doesn’t allow it. All memories must be cruel and sad ones. There can be no alternative which says “you can guarantee your own happiness” or “you can guarantee your own safety” or “you can guarantee your own security”. That cannot be allowed. Personal happiness cannot be allowed if Utopia is to be achieved by the Left.
    Those who think defeating the Left merely requires them to out vote them or get society to reject them via common sense solutions, are underestimating the full power of the Left. They have yet to see much of anything really. But they will. Americans will see it. Whether they like it or not.

  • jj

    Think of him as a one-hit wonder, if you like.  For most of us, having contributed Send In the Clowns to the world’s musical oeuvre would be enough for a lifetime.  Watching Glynis Johns stop the show dead in its tracks every single time in the half dozen times I saw it, and knowing it stopped every night whether it was her, her understudy, or anyone from Judy Collins to Judi Dench to Bernadette Peters since, well – it can’t all be the performance: some of it has to be the material.  Politically Ingmar Bergman and Sondheim are both nuts – and it will still be performed a hundred years from now.   I’m not very patient, but I can dig through a lot of mud for a nugget like that.

  • Matt_SE

    The few leftists I’ve come to know all seemed a bit disturbed. That goes double for homosexuals. Personally, I’ve always taken the “I was born this way” argument with a grain of salt.

  • Call me Lennie

    So Sondheim was unable to make any sort of bond with his mother as an infant even as his father was torn down by his mother in his home.  And you say he’s a homosexual?  The hell you say — just like the totally discredited, one-time theory of the psychological roots of homosexuality would have predicted.  So of course, the theory is clearly absurd
    I guess under the same thinking, a scientific theory that is being increasingly contradicted by reality would have to be regarded as “settled science”  Oh, but proggressives would never go that far

  • zabrina

    My daughter and I walked out during the intermission of a high school production of the Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” when we both realized we were suffering under the grating onslaught of unattractive music and stupid characters spouting platitudes. Thanks for your explanation.

  • raymondjelli

    I’m not totally buying it. I can’t stand a happy by the book musical especially the 30’s and 40’s musical numbers in movies just to kill time. None of that stuff survived but stuff like Looney Tunes and The Three Stooges which was time filler at the time are now classics. If you read entertainment that the left would despise (let’s say Zane Grey) you would find a distaste for the dark side of human nature. Nothing wrong with gritty. Leftist gritty is about system not people. Corporate evil for lack of better word instead of real evil. If people have the capacity for evil then communism and socialism can not produce paradise. Therefore that is not what leftists are getting at. What they are getting is that there is a system and it creates victim (that can be valid too, society is often corrupt) but leftists are never concerned about communist or Islamic atrocities.
    The difference is not in the subject matter but how it is rigged.  Leftists want  Glee (just a horrible, horrible show but an upbeat musical nonetheless. Did I say I hate formulaic musicals?) Leftists don’t really care about the negative side of life. They create enough of it and don’t apologize (hard misery gulags. soft misery obamacare) what they want is a target to blame and their own rigged system to celebrate (let’s just call it the Gleeing of the world).

  • Ymarsakar

    Psychology is very powerful, especially when there’s an authority figure standing over someone’s shoulder and telling them how to feel and think about things.
    To my knowledge, and sources, Leftist psychological experiments have successfully:
    1. Sustained and created PTSD symptoms from returning Vietnam veterans, through rejecting the rationalizations and moral justifications the soldiers had created for their actions. And through the new age Democrat psychologists that kept telling soldiers with PTSD that they were monsters (shades of Ft. Hood and Hasan). It’s not surprising that the Vietnam generation fell apart with PTSD. When society says you are a monster and a child killer, you tend to turn out more criminal than sane after awhile.
    2. Implanted memories of fake child molestation and abuse in women, causing the female patients to publicly accuse their fathers.
    3. Sexually abused children through their influence (Hollywood, Education, infiltration of churches), imprinting abnormal sexual behavior as legitimate sexual behavior. Thus girls who are raped by men often become sexually promiscuous later because they deem that normal or they became lesbians due to fear of males. I see no reason to think that doesn’t apply to male children and the conditioning there of.

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