You Say You Want A Revolution

YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION

A Short Play in the Revolution Cycle

by

J. Nelson Leith

_

CHARACTERS

TERRAMY D. BROWNFOUR, PhD – A college professor of political history and economics, mid-50s

JOE – A grad student, late 20s

MARIE – A grad student, late 20s

_

SCENE

(The office of a college professor, after sundown. The rear wall is lined with built-in shelving, filled with books on political history. There is a land-line phone and computer on the desk, behind which sits DR. BROWNFOUR in a leather-upholstered swivel chair. Two cloth-upholstered chairs face him on the other side of the desk. As the lights come up, Brownfour is waving grad students JOE and MARIE to have a seat.)

JOE
(sitting)

Dr. Brownfour, thank you for seeing us on such short notice. Your scheduler was out, I was afraid you wouldn’t be able to see us.

BROWNFOUR

She leaves early on Thursdays.

MARIE
(sitting)

I guess we were lucky to bump into you in the side lot earlier.

BROWNFOUR

Let me be upfront with you. I have to admit that I am not entirely comfortable allowing two students who are romantically involved to collaborate on their theses. However, when you indicated that your topic would be the role of the middle class in the progress of civilization, you caught my attention. Especially since, if you don’t mind me pointing this out, neither of you grew up in the middle class. You’re taking on a bit of a challenge, yes?

MARIE

The subject is kinda like beating a dead horse, I guess.

BROWNFOUR

I am sure the two of you can shed new light on the subject. After all, Marie, you’re looking at it from a working class background. You wrote an essay in my class last year— what was it? Your father is a delivery man?

MARIE

A truck driver. Retired now.

BROWNFOUR

And, Joe, I am particularly impressed with your enthusiasm. I know your mother has controlling interest in— which corporation is it?

JOE

She’s an heiress, you mean. Yes.

BROWNFOUR
(still to Joe)

I’ve seen kids like you come through, they get their titular degrees, get their grades secured by donations to the university’s endowment, and just go back to their inheritance. You’ve shown sincere initiative to really make something of yourself.

(takes both of them in)

In fact, the pair of you are two of the university’s star students.

JOE
(to Marie)

Star students.

MARIE

Which raises the question of why the student government, student journals, and academic societies are all run by idiots.

BROWNFOUR
(laughs nervously)

Now, okay, easy. Jeremy Bivens, for example, is a fine student and head of the history honors society. His father is a celebrated researcher over at our city campus.

JOE

Jeremy’s an administration drone and his father is a hack who does nothing but half-assed peer review of other people’s high-profile research, just to keep his name in the journals.

BROWNFOUR
(taken aback)

Well, Joe … that’s not really fair.

(Joe and Marie look at him blankly)

Um, why don’t we get to your thesis?

MARIE

We want to take on the constant academic drumbeat about the rise of the— what was your word? The rise of a vibrant middle class as the hallmark of civilization.

BROWNFOUR

Yes, that’s general knowledge. You have new supporting argumentation or evidence?

JOE

Yes. Our argument is that a newly risen middle class is not a class at all, because it’s made up of expats from the working class. The star students, as you put it. Their descendants, who become the real middle class, love to take credit for all the good those working class stars did—

MARIE

Especially when writing their histories. They also love to blame the decline of civilizations on the decadent elite and lowly barbarians.

JOE

In other words, everyone but themselves.

BROWNFOUR
(huffs smugly)

And, you think it’s the middle class’s fault?

JOE
(to Marie)

Let’s go through our points. See, the typical members of a hereditary elite, the investor class, tend to stay out of the way of their own stars, out of sheer human laziness.

MARIE

Or, efficiency.

JOE

Fair enough. Most of them, like my mother, have no special talent. So, they have no natural desire, no drive—

MARIE

What the Germans call funktionslust.

JOE

—no drive to do much except hand over money to financial advisers. And this is a good thing, actually. It keeps important matters from getting mucked up by the incompetent.

BROWNFOUR
(scoffing)

You plan to defend the idle rich in your thesis?

MARIE

Not defend them. Examine the relatively innocuous nature of the idle rich.

BROWNFOUR

Relative to what? The working poor?

JOE

No, we’re not here to blame the barbarians, either.

BROWNFOUR
(amused, or pretending to be)

That’s hardly how political historians discuss the plight of the working poor.

JOE

Not to their faces.

MARIE

That’s the flip side of our thesis. Most workers, like my dad, have no special talent for anything beyond their trade, so they have no funktionslust to do more than put in an honest day’s work and spend their free time fishing, watching football, and having a drink with their friends. They’re not idle, but they are simple. And that’s a good thing, just like with the idle rich, because it keeps them from mucking with things that require special talents.

JOE
(aside to Marie)

My mom doesn’t mind a drink with friends now and then, too.

BROWNFOUR
(frustrated)

Now, wait. To say they have no special talents is just unfair—

JOE

The word “special” has a meaning. The very nature of the special, the exceptional, means that most people are not it. Otherwise it’s not special, not exceptional. And most working class and investment class people understand this, and they’re fine with it. It’s the middle class that’s awash in delusions that everyone can be a winner, everyone should get their 15 minutes of fame, everyone has a novel in them, and…

(increasingly sarcastic)

…you can be whatever you want to be if you just try hard enough.

BROWNFOUR
(ignoring Joe, to Marie)

And you think it’s fair that your father labors while his mother sips mimosas?

JOE
(shaking his head)

Mimosas are a middle-class drink.

MARIE

His mother puts in a lot of time doing volunteer work for charities, actually.

JOE

Probably not as much as she should. Maybe 20, 30 hours a week.

MARIE

Fair enough. The point is that, out of sheer efficiency, folks like my dad and his mom stay out of the way, so that the “star students” can shine. Which is not what middle-class Jeremy Bivens and his dad are doing.

(She pulls two pairs of surgical gloves from her handbag, hands Joe a pair. Brownfour eyes them suspiciously.)

JOE
(putting on the left-hand glove)

See, what we’ve noticed is that traditional societies tend to rely on the star students from the noble caste alone. This is the normal pattern in human cultures with any hierarchy or organizational sophistication, so from chiefdom societies on up. It’s a stable and sustainable model, but it doesn’t pop!

(JOE snaps the edge of the left glove dramatically, and starts putting on the right-hand glove.)

BROWNFOUR

What are those—

MARIE
(also putting on gloves)

Stable and sustainable, but there’s no growth. The pool of exceptional talent is too small.

BROWNFOUR
(sitting back uncomfortably in his seat)

Right, which is why the rise of a vibrant middle class—

JOE

—is not the rise of a vibrant middle class. It’s the rise of exceptional people from the working class. Tradesmen become merchants. Farmers’ kids become lawyers.

MARIE
(slipping on the last glove)

One way or another, circumstances make room for talented outliers from the working class—

JOE
(leaning to kiss Marie’s cheek)

Like you! —to join the talented outliers from the “idle rich”—

MARIE
(smiling and pointing with her newly gloved hand)

Like you! —and fill up the vacuum in the middle. Thus vastly expanding the pool of talent.

JOE

Thomas Jefferson meets John Adams—

MARIE

—or George Washington meets Alexander Hamilton.

JOE
(to Marie)

Nice!

(to Brownfour)

And then the whole world changes.

BROWNFOUR

Can I ask you what you think you’re doing?

MARIE

Well, we’re not proposing a Master’s thesis.

JOE

But we are putting forth a thesis, and testing our commitment to it.

(JOE calmly reaches over and puts his hand on Brownfour’s desk phone. The professor grabs for it, but Joe has already removed the cord. Brownfour reaches into his jacket and produces a cell phone. Marie pulls a pistol from her handbag and casually aims it in Brownfour’s direction.)

BROWNFOUR

Are you insane?

(Marie gestures toward the desk with the barrel of the pistol. Brownfour slowly sets the cell phone on the desk. Joe picks it up, starts searching through it.)

 MARIE

See, here’s the problem. The middle class exists to do the complicated stuff, tasks that are more sophisticated than labor or owning resources. When it’s a meritocracy of outliers—

JOE
(to Marie)

Nothing on his phone calendar.

BROWNFOUR

I … I don’t know—

MARIE

Anyway, after the first generation or so, the middle class ceases to be a meritocracy of star students. The sophisticated roles stop going to stars who want them because that’s where their talents are, and they start going to legacies who want them because that’s where their class expectations are. The middle class becomes an entrenched clan of entitled brats, most of whom should be living simpler lives, like driving a truck —

JOE

—or handing out blankets and box lunches to the homeless.

(Joe steps over to Brownfour’s desk computer)

Because, even among the middle class, exceptional talents are the exception, and the unexceptional is the norm.

MARIE
(peering down the barrel at Brownfour)

But, instead, they’re all trying to be doctors and lawyers and scientists and professors…

JOE
(clacking away on the desk computer)

Just like their mommies and daddies and aunt Anna and uncle John.

MARIE

Mucking up everything and getting in the way.

JOE
(looking up at Brownfour)

In our way.

MARIE

And, in the way of a vibrant and sustainable civilization.

JOE

He didn’t put us in the online faculty scheduler, either.

BROWNFOUR
(weakly)

I don’t know how to use it. One of the assistants does it, and she’d already gone home when you asked—

JOE
(rolling his eyes)

Of course you don’t know how to use it.

BROWNFOUR
(in realization)

You’re making sure there’s no electronic paper trail.

MARIE

It’s not a “paper” trail if it’s electronic, you dinosaur dumb-ass.

JOE
(to Marie)

What do you expect? Anyway, the thesis.

MARIE

It’s not that the upper class gets decadent. The real upper class doesn’t have any function or desire other than to invest and wear wool, so their decadence doesn’t matter.

JOE
(moving back to his chair from the computer)

It’s the fake upper class, the upper middle class, that’s the problem, mostly unexceptional minds who expect exceptional responsibilities and privileges. The undeserving ambitious. They’re the John Quincy Adamses of civilization, riding on the coat-tails of their betters.

MARIE

Or, sperm-tails, as the case may be.

JOE

Ha! I love you.

MARIE
(smiling aside at Joe)

So, once society no longer has a selection of exceptional star students to do the hard stuff, because the bulk of the middle class is blocking the way and stumbling forward on its long-dead laurels, we end up with bad lawyers, bad doctors, bad politicians, bad businessmen, bad educators.

JOE

All struggling with each other, trying to live up to their family legacy and keep one step ahead of the Joneses—

MARIE

—or the Kardashians—

JOE

—in their pretentious, overpriced McMansions, squandering money on their ridiculous luxury sedans that nobody with any real class would be caught dead in—

BROWNFOUR

Stop! Just stop. The middle class has always, always been a force for social progress. The idea that the middle class is who suppresses the working—

MARIE

Oh, if only Lenin had survived!

JOE

If only Trotsky had survived!

(Joe and Marie laugh together)

MARIE

Middle-class progressivism is a marketing scheme. A bait-and-switch. “Workers of the world unite…

(She waggles an imaginary Groucho Marx cigar at Joe)

…under our leadership of course…

JOE

…and together we’ll throw off the yoke of tyranny!

MARIE

The slave trade? Bad middle-class planters trying to get a leg-up on other bad middle-class planters.

JOE

Nazism? Fascism? Sovietism? Ambitious middle-class lawyers and military officers exploiting the working class, just before they start slaughtering them.

MARIE

Every corrupt king ever? The child or grandchild of some star player elevated to his role by an investor class who just wanted to relax in their castles.

JOE

Every corporate crime ever committed? Some middle-class functionary trying to impress investors so they’ll give him more capital.

BROWNFOUR
(sneering)

That’s ridiculous!

(Marie levels the pistol at him.)

What is this, then? You want me to change the grades of the middle-class students? Knock them all down a notch?

JOE
(to Marie)

Oh, honey. You forgot the thing.

(He nods at the pistol)

MARIE

Oh! Right.

(She reaches into her handbag, pulls out a suppressor, starts screwing it onto the barrel)

Thanks, love.

BROWNFOUR

Are you two out of your minds? There are security cameras all over the faculty building! They’ll know you—

JOE

Eh, the guy who owns the security company is probably just another middle-class moron. There’s a clear path from the side lot, up the east stairs, and through the lounge that none of the cameras cover.

MARIE
(grinning at the professor’s dismay)

Star students!

JOE

You entrenched middle-class idiots are always blaming the decay of civilization on the monied elite or the unwashed masses. You’re always taking credit for those who rose from the working class to become your ancestors. But, those ancestors rose to the middle on their merits; you did not.

MARIE

The middle class are not the champions of civilization. You’re the toxic waste product of its success. You’re cultural kidney failure, poisonous mediocrity building up in society’s brain so that civilization slowly dies. It’s only by the occasional swarming of the middle-class by working class stars that America has survived as long as it has.

JOE

But, being the star students of political history that we are, we can’t just leave this process to accident any more. The cycle has to be broken, and to break it, we have to break the middle class, and set up a new model without a middle class. Just a small class of investors with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down say over resources, but only to give them to talented outliers from the working class.

MARIE

No rights or privileges whatsoever for the rich except to say Yea or Nay. And, to show we mean it, we start with ourselves. Which is why I came up with this plan, and Joe is simply financing it.

BROWNFOUR

Financing what?

JOE
(shrugs)

I bought the gun. And the suppressor. Those things are not easy to get hold of in this state, even with lots of cash. Off the grid and off the market, of course.

MARIE

We have to prove to ourselves that we’re willing to do whatever is necessary. To go all the way, and not just gripe in private about it.

BROWNFOUR
(shaken)

All the way?

JOE

Show the man, honey.

MARIE

Like any caste of entrenched functionaries, America’s middle-class won’t be broken without a little bloodshed.

(She levels the pistol at Brownfour’s face.)

Like this…

(Lights cut suddenly)

6 Comments

  1. I have to agree with DBF this is a typical disgusting rich white boy fantasy, hook up with a poor girl who will depends on you for everything and blame everything on liberalism.

  2. Very Tarantino-esque! I want to see where these two go after this. It feels very much like an opening scene for a film.

  3. I was going to say that this is darker than your other stuff, but maybe I’m just taking it hard. It’s certainly not as dark as Blue Marker. And I agree that it reads like Quentin Tarantino. I can almost hear the music start at the abrupt ending.

    Why does she do the shooting?

  4. David, thanks!

    Cassie, I just didn’t want to give her a “going along for the ride” vibe, so I let her take the most powerful action in the scene. I struggled with the genders of the two students, whom to make which demographic. Being from working class origins (nice try, “anonymuos”) I thought it would be better to make the dude the rich guy, so I could have a point of identification with each of the protagonists.

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