April 19, 2012
“People should not fear their government. Government should fear their people.”
-Alan Moore (V for Vendetta)
The ballad in Scene 9 is a turning point in the story because Brecht shows the impact this information has had on the common people. It also bares to light the underlaying emotions and thoughts of these people who have been underestimated. At the beginning I thought the ballad singer was mocking Galileo and his ideas, however reading it a second time there is an undercurrent of irony in the singer's words. He says on page 98 that from the time God made the universe, “all beings here below were in obedient circles meant to go.” The key word here is 'obedient' because usually when someone is being obedient it is because what they are doing is something someone else wants them to do; they do not necessarily want to do it or even like to do it, but they must. The singer lists all the circles happening on Earth that is reflected in the Sun circling us from the Pope to the beggars and it is dismal when one looks at it. The servants and beggars who have it hardest and work the hardest are supposedly the farthest from God a.k.a the Pope. That does not make much sense.
The singer introduces Galileo as saying “almighty God was wrong” which is obviously a huge act of heresy. Galileo may not be a fly to the eagle but he is still only a small bird-of-prey at best and to say such a thing could cause a ripple in the common folk. The church does not want the common people to start practicing individual religion. The ballad singer states this when he says on page 99 “heresy will spread today like foul diseases. Change Holy Writ, forsooth? What will be left at all? Why: each of us would say and do just what he pleases!” That is a scary prospect for the church. The practice of individual religion is why Joan of Arc and Muhammad were condemned, because they went around the church officials and claimed to get their own personal messages from God. What is so wrong about that? Well the church would be practically useless at that point. Who needs a Pope to tell everyone what God is supposedly saying to them when one here's Him on their own? The last line made me laugh at how ironic it is. The singer says it like it is a terrible thing at the beginning but his tone slowly changes to one of hope and seriousness. What he says is absolutely true too because without the church to regulate peoples experiences everyone would be an individual and could say and do what they wanted.
Now the singer makes a great parallel between the previous stanza and one following it. He says that “heresy will spread like foul diseases” and then following it is “independent spirit spreads like foul diseases!” That does not sound bad to me. So if heresy runs rampant then that will lead to individuality running wild too, but to be an individual is bad or at least for the church it is. There will be “no altar boy [to] serve the mass [and] no servant girl will make the bed.” Sounds terrible doesn't it? If you are nobility it would be bad since the servants are who provide the life you are used to living. If all the servants stopped serving their masters and starting serving themselves I.e educating themselves and feeding themselves, and the nobility was left to do the same then they would probably starve. The nobility needs to keep their servants under their thumbs to keep their lazy lifestyles.
The idea of workers keeping what they make and produce is further pronounced in the next stanza on page 100. The singer says:
The carpenters take wood and build
Their houses—not the church's pews.
And members of the cobblers' guild
Now boldly walk the streets—in shoes...
The milk his wife once gave the priest
Now makes (at last!) her children fat.
These are some bold statements for the common folk. If Jesus was a carpenter wouldn't he want his people to build homes for themselves? He would not want suffering of any kind especially in building a church. However carpenters, who were immigrants in most cases, died of starvation while building the Vatican. The church paid carpenters little to nothing but required them to handcraft pews for their church with the overhanging threat that if anyone disobeyed they would be a sinner. Funny how God is being used as a scapegoat now.
Cobblers being able to wear what they make and walk in the streets? 'Blasphemy!' cries the church. Those expensive italian leather shoes are only for the circles within the church! That, by-the-way, you must make at an extremely low price or God will hate you forever. That price is so low you cannot even buy shoes for yourself. Heck you are barely surviving on the food that money gets you! But hell you will be redeemed once you die. You just have to suffer until then. The church is so nice to its followers.
Let us not forget about how malnourished those poor priests were at the time. Those fat bastards needed all the milk they could get to keep that nice round shape of their guts! Why would a growing child need milk anyway? Obviously God would redeem them once they die, which would be fairly young at that rate, but until then families had to give almost everything they worked hard to produce to the church. What would happen if everyone said no? What if they kept what they made? Independent spirit would spread like a 'foul disease' but it would be one everyone wanted to catch and then they would have clothes and food to boot! The ballad singer says “People must keep their place, some down and some on top! (Though it is nice, for a little change, to do just as one pleases!).” Ah yes the eagle must soar the skies and the flies must stay in the dung heap. However, I bet that fly longs to fly higher and to have talons for protection and a beak to rip open healthy flesh. Shit must get boring to eat every day when one is smelling roasting meat from inside a warm, wood house. The meat that came from their calf or their sheep. The meat that they themselves have never tasted. It would be nice to say no to the priest and keep that meat. God would not love them any less for taking their own needs into account first. I do not think God wants people to be starving and homeless when it can easily be the reverse.
Sexual revolution is also taking place within the common folk. Women grow up knowing they will be stuck with one man for the rest of their lives and they do not get any choice in the matter. However, as the ballad singer's wife says on page 101, “Now speaking for myself I feel that I could also do with a change. You know, for me—you have appeal, maybe tonight we could arrange...” Someone give that woman a good time tonight! She is tired of being tied to a man she does not like, though in reality the wife probably likes her husband, but there are many cases where the opposite is true. Women should have the option of who they marry and share their bodies with. The church does not own their body and neither does their husband. God would not want women to be used and abused and depressed. Would he? The church seems to think so.
The ballad's last stanza on page 102 leaves an electrifying effect in me. The sense of revolution and independence is bold in the words of the singer:
Good people who have trouble here below
In serving cruel lords and gentle Jesus
Who bids you turn the other cheek just so...
While they prepare to strike the second blow:
Obedience will never cure your woe
So each of you wake up and do just as he pleases!
The singer is addressing the common people who are 'below' the eagle laying in the dung. They must serve the church who are unjust and immoral just to feel close to Jesus. They must advert their eyes from what is happening to be redeemed in the next life with Jesus, but while that is happening they are getting beat again and again. Obedience is obviously not working. People are miserable and live in fear of committing a sin that will throw them out of favor with God. The singer is telling them to 'wake up' and stop obeying the church people. They need to get out of their misty illusion and see reality for how it is and then they can start saying no with confidence. They will not fear their church but instead the church will fear the common people. As it should be!