V for Victory

It is no secret that I have a thing for Beethoven. I’ve written about it here and if you’re around me when I’m drunk enough to go on a ramble about music, then chances are that you’ll hear me talk about why Beethoven’s work is so important to me. But in the context of what the US is going through right now, and, really, what the world is going through right now, Beethoven is integral.

Anyone who pays any attention to news from the US and abroad knows that the world has seen a massive upswing in the worst excesses of right-wing politics, from reactionary rhetoric to autocrats encouraging the full-sale slaughter of their own citizens. But more disturbing than their actions is that, at least in the West, these parties are democratically elected. They are a symptom of a great amount of fear, hatred, and misplaced rage the world over, and the causes of that are best left for another post written by someone who hasn’t recently gone on a tear shouting “Punch Nazis wherever you see them.” No, what I’m here to talk about today is a follow-up to a Twitterstorm I threw out a few days ago about Shostakovich. See, that happened before our President, a man with a micropenis—evidenced by his reactionary and egoistic approach to anyone criticizing him or the straw figures he calls his policies—decided to throw a gag order on environmental and recreational federal agencies. After that popped up, I thought some more about Shostakovich, a man who fought back against another oppressive regime in his own way: He made music. And now, with our President deciding that, yes, a list of crimes committed by immigrants is a fantastic way to unify the country and use his executive powers, I think about Beethoven.

Beethoven was a man from the margins who spent his life attempting to become an aristocrat by virtue of his work. His family was not of the upper crust, and he knew that very well. It’s reflected in his relationships with his patrons and his mentors, this mentality that they had no moral right or standing to address him as an inferior, or that he should be content with his station as a mere employee or artistic servant. This carried over into his politics, where, for the day, he was a staunch proponent of individual liberties. He criticized the Austrian court, its secret police, and the foibles of the aristocracy. He supported Napoleon up until the point where Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France. His only opera deals with the theme of the unjustly imprisoned and mistreated overcoming their oppressors with the help of a just ruler. In all, Beethoven was, at least nominally, a friend of the common man. His music is filled with these themes, and to write about any of those pieces would provide enough content for an entire series about Beethoven and political resistance. Instead, I’d like to talk briefly about Beethoven’s 5th and World War II.

In short, the Allies realized that they had a propaganda coup with using the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to open their broadcasts. Not only is the music striking, but, in Morse Code, the same short-long pattern translates to “V,” as in “victory.” So, with every broadcast, with every bumbumbum-buh, the Allies would telegraph their hope for victory over the Germans. Of course, what they didn’t really make a note of is the very same bars being the implication of Fate knocking on one’s door. That, naturally, has its own propaganda use, as it’s almost as if Heaven and Earth are willing the Allied forces to victory over the Axis powers. But, that’s a lot less snappy than “V for Victory.”

Of course, Beethoven’s German roots were a little troublesome to some people. Those people, naturally, didn’t really think about that beyond the labels of “German.” On one level, it falls apart because Beethoven didn’t live in Germany, as Germany would not exist for decades. On another, he came from a Flemish family (hence the “van” in his name), and lived and worked in Austria for a significant portion of his life. On yet another level, that concern falls apart when one considers that Beethoven had a certain, significant portion of his brain dedicated to making known his disdain for autocrats, tyrants, and the crushing of the masses by the aristocracy.

But beyond all of those political matters, the underlying theme in all of Beethoven’s work is a sort of universalism that is a unique hybrid of a Protestant environment, Beethoven’s sense of natural wonder and nature-based spiritualism, and the brotherhood of man. The most famous example of this is the Choral portion of his 9th Symphony, which takes and edits (for the better, by all accounts) a poem by Friedrich Schiller. The content of Beethoven’s choral work is a sort of unitarian spiritualist praise of the best qualities of humanity, and, at its core, a call for people to rise above their base natures and embrace one another as brothers (and sisters).

But, as it stands, and as poetic and beautiful and moving as the 9th is, there is nothing quite as punch and attention-grabbing as those opening bars of the 5th. They force you to sit up, focus your attention, and set you up for riding the wave of Fate that is the 5th. Most relevant for today’s political environment, though, is the call to action implicit in those bars. As the dynamic, bombastic music throughout the symphony would suggest, Fate does not favor those who sit idly by. Fate favors those who act.

Perhaps that was in the background of the Allied propagandists’ minds when they decided to use those opening notes in BBC broadcasts across occupied Europe. For whatever reason, though, those opening bars of the Fifth Symphony have found their place in the composer’s work’s theme of triumph over adversity, of resistance to tyranny, and the triumph of individual liberty.

As the United States faces a President who is at the very least someone who is eerily close to several definitions of fascism, we would do well to look back at the inspiration our parents and grandparents took from art like the Fifth Symphony, and the themes that Beethoven espoused in his work. Just as Fate favors the bold and the active, it takes more effort than we’d like to admit to rise above our evolutionary origins of face-ripping, feces-throwing apes and fully embrace each other. It takes a strong will to stand up against the empowered few who seek to dominate the disempowered many.

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An Open Letter in the Wake of the UK General Election

Dear Brits:

You probably know that the Tories have taken another win in the general election. I know, because, like an idiot, I forgot to set my phone to silent last night. The BBC’s app doubles as an alarm clock, where the time is dictated not by the rising or setting of the sun, but the neverending onslaught of information.

You’re probably thinking a lot about what’s in store for you. Whether or not Cameron’s going to gut the NHS, school system, social services, and public support infrastructure – basically everything that makes the UK as good as it is. Or, perhaps, whether he’ll continue to bow to increasingly ill-informed public outcry against foreigners, the decadent Continentals, or, possibly, Muslims. Maybe the world in general. When people start getting angry, there’s no stopping them.

Yes, Western democracy is founded upon the idea that the will of the people is sacrosanct, but you have cause for concern, because… well, here:


But, never fear my friends, for I’ve put my thinktank, the Simon Institute for Macro-Organizational kNowledge, on the job of analyzing trends in Britain. We’ve come to the conclusion that you’re not headed toward a Fourth Reich led by a pudgy, pasty-faced, Oxford-educated member of the elite. Nope. What you’re heading toward is AMERICA!

What can you look forward to as the future America No. 2? Well, first of all, you’ll start seeing an increased and worrying influence of industrial and commercial entities in politics. Oh, you think that you have that now? That’s charming! So British and twee of you. No, just wait until you have your very own Koch brothers to bolster the ranks of the Conservatives while Labour continues to flounder. Liberal Democrats eventually apologize for losing their spine and the Greens… well, yes. The Greens.

You’ll also start noticing more borderline hatespeech creep into national discourse. No, not the charming Victorian kind that was just The Way Things Were and gave us legitimately amazing books like King Solomon’s Mines or, like, anything set outside Europe. But terrifyingly racist ideas held by people in power, like judges passing around racist caricatures of the President and his wife. But that’s fine, friends, because it’s freedom of speech – not endemic racism rearing its ugly head.

Further, you’ll notice more of your counties moving further to the right. We here at SIMON are not quite sure which counties they’ll be, but eventually, you’ll start to notice that you have dead-ringers for Mississippi, Alabama, and Idaho within your very borders! Yes, soon you’ll notice survivalist rhetoric popping up in casual conversation. People will talk about how they need handguns because “you can’t trust anyone.” And, if things get really bad, you’ll start seeing people talk about “cosmopolitan bankers.”

I know, it’s a bleak future you’re looking at, but you’ll also see an amazing film industry pop up, probably in London because, let’s be honest, that’s the only city you actually have. You’ll also notice more billionaires flouting their wealth! What this means is that, while you’re wallowing in poverty, at least you’ll have something shiny to look at.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll have baseball. You really do want baseball, by the way. Baseball is the glue holding the world together. That and Star Wars.

So, it may look like a bleak, desolate future, but hey: At least UKIP didn’t gain power! Then you’d be really screwed!


BREAKING: Mitt Romney Debating Under The Influence!

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Institute for Honesty in Political Discourse has announced that they have received evidence that Republican candidate for President of the United States was under the influence of performance-enhancing drug, caffeine, during Wednesday night’s debate.

The Institute, a watchdog group created soon after members of the public were shocked by the sheer amateurish nature of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation of satellite images of alleged Iraqi WMD bases, has announced that it has intelligence from a source inside the Romney campaign that former Governor Mitt Romney consumed “three to five” beverages containing espresso.

“We do not break this news lightly,” said the spokeswoman for the organization, Jessica Chalmers. “We know the implications of imbibing caffeine, not only on an individual level, but what it means for American political discourse.”

“Further,” she continued, “our source has confirmed that Governor Romney began utilizing caffeine during the Republican primary elections.”

The Institute primarily fact-checks political discourse, but will occasionally push politicians to be open about their private actions. One such controversial point in their history came in their involvement in the Representative Anthony Weiner Twitter debacle.

The Institute utilized a combination of evidence and guilt-laden recordings of Weiner’s mother to push the Congressman to admit his wrongdoing, a tactic that embroiled the organization in controversy.

Since then, the Institute has been largely silent, posting updates on claims made by politicians on its website, and little else.

However, with this latest announcement, the Institute has been thrust in the spotlight. Its president – Landon Jones, a former computer programmer from Amherst, Massachusetts – appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 to speak about the Institute’s past, its partisan relations, and where he wants to take it.

“We are not affiliated with either party,” he said. “That should be clear.”

Jones then brought the focus back to the Romney issue. “What we have here is a clear example of a politician utilizing drugs to gain the upper hand against his opponent. We at the Institute want to know: What sort of precedent does this set?”

Though the country has been sent into a whirl of speculation over the allegations, there is a history of caffeine in politics.

It has been said that Abraham Lincoln drank “copious amounts” of coffee while drafting the Gettysburg Address.

Theodore Roosevelt was a rumored coffee-fiend, as well; the assassination attempt on his life rumored as having been funded by a coffee roaster whose business was shunned by the president.

And, at the root of it all, the Boston Tea Party, the singlemost important event that brought America from the tea-drinking world to the coffee-drinking sphere of influence.

Political precedent aside, caffeine has become a mark of shame, an indicator that a politician cannot hold his or her own.

“Governor Romney has never – I repeat, never – utilized caffeine on the campaign trail,” said Romney campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul. “He comes from a strict Mormon upbringing, and to use caffeine would be tantamount to blasphemy.”

The candidate himself spoke out: “My track record of success in both business and politics is founded on a natural work ethic. Caffeine is a tool of the sheep-like mass of humanity who want nothing more than to be coddled by the government.”

Allegations that President Obama’s bedraggled appearance was a result of caffeine withdrawals have so far been met with silence from the campaign.