An Unseemly Parable for Our Times: Cabaret

Oh Fatherland, Fatherland, show us the sign / Your children have waited to see / The morning will come when the world is mine / Tomorrow belongs to me…  —sung by a proud young member of the Hitler Youth, in Cabaret

Cabaret is a great movie. Only the collaboration of Hollywood and Broadway could produce a film about debauchery, jadedness and impending doom in such a compelling way. —a YouTube commenter named Glenn Howden

     Ever since watching the Bob Fosse musical Cabaret for the first time a few years ago, I have entertained the opinion that this one classic movie, strangely, may be one of the best in helping a person to understand the spirit of our times and our likely reactionary future. The following discussion of Cabaret’s unsettling relevance to the postmodern west is no doubt laden with spoilers; but if you haven’t seen this artistic wonder of a movie then too bad for you. Although watching entertainment shows and listening to music are, from a very straight-laced Buddhist point of view, a mildly unethical case of wallowing in sensuality, I nevertheless brazenly suggest that you watch it. It is culturally significant, and a really good movie, and, as I’ve just said, it vividly portrays the spirit of an age—or rather of two ages, that of the Weimar Republic of 1931, and that of the entire western world right now.

     Cabaret was considered very shocking when it came out in 1972, and was even awarded, temporarily, an X rating, despite the lack of nudity, mainly because of scenes portraying sexual “degeneracy”; at least two of the main characters are bisexual; at least one minor character is apparently transsexual, with a major one occasionally dressing in drag; the climax of the plot concerns a young single woman having an abortion; and furthermore, in stark contrast to the foregoing, the film shows a certain natural logic in the people of pre-WW2 Germany turning in droves towards Nazism.

     The central theme of the movie is the decadence, especially the decay of spirit and moral bleakness, of Weimar Germany, with some obvious applicability to our own times—in fact there is probably more explicit applicability now than there was in 1972. Now the Nazis, or rather the 21st century’s functional equivalent, may really be at the beginning of a new ascendent, in reaction to a very similar demoralization and nihilism infecting the mainstream culture that precedes it.

     The leading “lady” of the film, Sally Bowles (played by Liza Minnelli), is a flapper; she has bobbed hair, wears rather Gothic-looking blue and green nail polish and elaborate, beyond-Cleopatra eye makeup, is a hard drinker, is sexually promiscuous, and is practically obsessed with being exotic and fascinating—she can’t bear the thought of being an ordinary person, a wife, a mother, anyone not the center of attention and lavishly admired. In other words, she’s a 1931 version of a stereotypical type of millennial female, except without a smartphone and social media. She’s also a lost soul, probably damned, using old-fashioned Christianity jargon (although more on that thought later). Even so, Sally is certainly not a bad person. She’s really quite likable and charming, as fascinating as she tries to be—as well as being a bright-eyed, vivacious young woman who’s overflowing with life, and unable to contain it all. In a way she just can’t help being what she is. She’s a product of her culture as well as of her karma, and her DNA, and whatever else there is that makes us what we are.

     Two of the other main characters are bisexual men, both of whom mate with Sally as well as with each other. The character of Brian (played by Michael York) is also not fundamentally a bad person; his bisexuality appears to be his only vice, if that could even be called a vice today. He’s relatively innocent, even, especially when compared to the company with which he finds himself surrounded. The same can’t be said for the Baron (Helmut Griem), the third angle of the debauched love triangle. And then there is the symbolic, Mephistophelian Master of Ceremonies whose job, seemingly, is to encourage society’s toboggan ride into depravity and darkness with jokes and songs, winks and smiles. Then there’s a subplot involving a rich, pretty Jewish girl and a crypto-Jew who initially just wants her money but eventually really falls in love with her.

     Getting back to lost, vivacious Sally though, she gets pregnant, doesn’t know which of the two bisexuals is the father, agrees to marry the relatively innocent one, who loves her (the other one having already dumped both of them and moved on to other pleasures)…but then the darkness calls her, and she secretly goes out and has an abortion, signifying to dear Brian that she can’t settle down to an ordinary life, or can’t want to do it—which amounts to the same thing anyway. At the end she essentially commits herself to a life of dissipation and spiritual death, as indicated by the song she sings at the cabaret soon afterwards:

I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie
With whom I shared four sordid rooms in Chelsea;
She wasn’t what you’d call a blushing flower…
As a matter of fact she rented by the hour.

The day she died the neighbors came to snicker:
“Well, that’s what comes from too much pills and liquor.”
But when I saw her laid out like a queen...
She was the happiest corpse I’d ever seen!

I think of Elsie to this very day;
I remember how she’d turn to me and say:
“What good is sitting all alone in your room?
Come hear the music play!
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret!”

And as for me, ha! and as for me,
I made my mind up back in Chelsea:
When I go, I’m going like Elsie….

     The songs sung in the movie are what is called, in musical theater jargon, diagetic, which means the lyrics of the song serve as a kind of chorus or commentary to support the narrative of the story; and although she puts a cheerful face on it (after all, she’s on stage at a nightclub), one can see that deep down she has acknowledged the bleak fact that she is destined to live and die like a cheap whore, to be a happy-looking corpse like Elsie. I have read that in the original Broadway version of the musical Sally is clearly at the verge of an emotional breakdown, barely holding it together when singing the song; but in a movie, in which one can see the face of the singer close up, the expression of despair can be more subtle.

     Although her spiritual fall is fairly certain, it is less certain how her story would end at a more superficial, physical level. Probably not so well, as a single American woman with very “liberal” values and not much of a moral compass, living in reactionary Nazi Germany. The Jewish lovers are also an open question. On the other hand, the rich, debonair, cultured, depraved, adulterous, bisexual Baron would probably be able to get along well enough, as an aristocrat with money and connections.

     One of the most important characters in the film is the nameless, ever smiling Master of Ceremonies (played by Joel Grey), who remains detached from the specific little dramas of the other characters but rather just oversees the whole tragicomedy, and cheers it on. As I mentioned above, he is Mephistophelian, a symbolic diabolical force or entity, a personification of the spirit of hedonism, decadence, and depravity of Weimar Germany—at least for the time being, until some other form of chaos and destruction takes its turn. He’s not violent at all, although he does smile and nod at the prospect of it. I think it is significant that he embraces Sally towards the end of the movie, just before she commits herself on stage to a life of dissipation (by singing the song quoted above). He’s almost like a cheerful version of Rogozhin claiming his prey in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Some may be skeptical of the idea that the MC is symbolically demonic, and he apparently wasn’t in the Broadway version, although there is one important scene in particular that pretty much clinches it, a scene of such key significance that it deserves its own paragraph.

     The scene is at a beer garden, as the weary participants of the lust triangle stop briefly on their way back to Berlin after a weekend debauch in the country. Sally is sleeping off a hangover in the back seat of the car while the two men have a drink. Suddenly a teenage boy begins singing a very buoyant, idealistic song entitled “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” in a strong, high, clear voice. Before long we see that he is a proud member of the Hitler Youth. As he sings, the song steadily builds to a kind of emotional crescendo, with one person after another standing in a state of exultation, and many of them joining in and singing along. This song is very unlike any of the others in the movie, and the whole scene stands out in marked contrast to the rest of the story. It’s the only song not sung at the cabaret in Berlin. Instead of a raunchy song performed before a jaded, cynical audience in the smoky murk of a nightclub, it is sung on a bright, fresh, clear, sunny day in the country, and the people are moved and inspired by it in a way that is practically unthinkable at the veritable den of sin of the cabaret. The scene demonstrates that Germany’s turn to Nazism was totally natural; it was largely a turning away from the dark, nihilistic badness of Weimar decadence towards the bright, idealistic badness of National Socialism. It’s not difficult to surmise why, when the film was first shown in West Germany, this scene was omitted. Anyway, the clincher for the Master of Ceremonies being literally diabolical is the fact that, as the song at the beer garden is reaching full crescendo, suddenly, mysteriously, there is the face of the MC, smiling and nodding. He seems quite agreeable to the impending change from one sort of badness to another, from moral degeneracy to militant fascism.

     Nazi Germany was arguably much, much worse than Weimar Germany was; at least the decadent liberals didn’t start a world war. But Hitler and the Nazis gave the people something that filled a void: it restored their sense of dignity and purpose, without the moral bleakness and nihilism of Weimar decadence. Evidently, then as now, the moderate political center began to collapse, and the mass of the people were left with a choice between two radical extremes, Nazism and Communism…or now, between European ethnic nationalism and cultural Marxist globalism. Or possibly between European ethnic nationalism and the Islamism of invading, multiplying, non-assimilating migrants.

     There are very obvious differences between Germany then and Germany now. Now the nation is relatively prosperous, without rampant inflation, a Great Depression, or the humiliating and impossible terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Now the stresses on society are rather different; but still, there is a growing feeling of having been betrayed—not by the “November traitors” who sold out to the west but to a globalist elite who obviously don’t give a damn about the common people and will readily replace them and their culture with foreign migrants if it seems expedient. A primary source of social stress is the looming extinction of German culture, essentially Germany itself, as a result of non-German and even anti-European immigrants who could easily breed the ethnic Germans into a minority, quite possibly a despised and persecuted one, as the newcomers can be very violent and barbarous, especially where they form a majority. Also, there are many Germans themselves who have been indoctrinated since childhood to be ashamed of being German, some of whom even welcome Germany’s impending ethnic and cultural usurpation. I have also been told, although the mainstream news media hardly mention anything of the sort, that the economic system is practically designed to keep people hopelessly dependent upon it, owning their souls, so to speak, which is a great demoralizing force for many—or so I’ve been told. There is still the threat of Marxism, although now there is a different manifestation of it, being more anti-white and anti-male than anti-bourgeoisie. Possibly the greatest source of demoralization is the progressive globalism and politically correct culture rendering the population throughout western Europe (including Germany) a rootless society of culturally emasculated social eunuchs, with their freedoms taken away one by one by the feminized Nanny State, which is of course very conducive to replacement by immigrants in the not so distant future if the people don’t learn to regrow some bollocks. Jews may still be involved somehow, still being accused of being Marxists as well as capitalist overlords, both at the same time.

     Though the movie portrays the Weimar Republic as tobogganing into moral depravity, it was celebrated by the gay community, in the 1970s and after, as one of the first major Hollywood productions that more or less openly celebrated non-heterosexual relationships. Similarly, some people consider Sally’s hopelessly cheerful song about Elsie to be some sort of celebration of freedom rather than an admission to being a fallen spirit. All of this points to the pretty plain fact that the post-WW2 western world is on a similar toboggan ride, and accelerating down the slope. What we have now is far beyond the rather mild depravity of the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin; the concerts of people like Miley Cyrus are beyond the level of depravity, and with much larger and younger audiences, than the murky environments of the cabaret venues in 1931 Berlin. And now we have public orgies in America (I can’t speak for Europe) called “gay pride parades” in which homosexual men masturbate on rooftops above the street crowd, and people below tilt their head back, trying to catch the flying semen in their mouth. In broad daylight.

     So, in conclusion, Cabaret showed fairly well why Germany rejected Weimar “liberalism” for the Third Reich, from one cultural perspective anyhow. People need something uplifting that they can believe in, and the same is true today. It appears that the people of the west, especially in Europe, have the choice of a more or less radical swerve to the nationalist right (preferably a less militaristic one), or collapse—possibly into an Islamist Caliphate. The nameless Master of Cermonies’ spirit of decline and depravity does not provide a sustainable force for maintaining a society, regardless of how open it is with regard to sexual kinks and aberrations, or how welcoming it is to immigrants who reject and despise it.


  1. Exactly what I was looking for, appreciate it for posting.

  2. For some perspective on the claim that Nazi Germany "start[ed] a world war," I suggest Hitler's Revolution by Richard Tedor.


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