Allan Bloom traces the popular enthusiasm for criminality to the 19th century German philosophers. Culturally - according to him - the new appetite hits the mainstream with "Mack the Knife" from Brecht's and Weill's The Threepenny Opera, in 1928 Weimar Germany. It was the first time the bourgeoisie could blithely - almost compulsively - sing along to a celebration of murder and degradation. Bloom wrote a few decades later:
Our stars are singing a song they do not understand, translated from a German original and having a huge popular success with unknown but wide-ranging consequences, as something of the original message touches something in American souls. But behind it all, the master lyricists are Nietzsche and Heidegger.
(The Closing of the American Mind – p151)
Someone described to me the plot of the Cannes Grand Prix winner - the prison drama Un Prophète - with its semi-deification of murder, drug dealing, and tribal identity. Bloom's point immediately came to mind; it always does when pleasant civilised people tell me I simply must see whatever gritty rendition of the war-of-all-against-all is currently in vogue (The Wire, etcetera.)
Swept along by the prevailing nostalgie de la boue, I saw the film myself a week later. It presses all the right leftist buttons: the idea that the only crime is to imprison people (Foucault); the nobility of the savage (Rousseau); the sacralisation of other cultures/races (Levi-Strauss) vs. an assumed guilt for ones own (almost all 20th century French thinkers).
And guess what? The music on the closing "crime pays" redemption scene is... Mack the Knife.
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