Originally and political satire, ‘a historically defined moment

Originally referring to any business which served liquor in France, the cultural cabaret we recognise today was first popularised in 1880 when Rudolph Salis started Le Chat Noir in Paris and it quickly spread across Europe in the years following. There is a degree of divergence prevalent among many critics as to how far the Weimar Berlin cabaret truly was political, with some arguing that post – war Germany was a hotbed for social and political satire, ‘a historically defined moment of reception, which makes it a valuable source for examining cultural and political tensions.’ (Mcnally 1991, p.81) with others arguing it was not political as many suggest ‘politics was never the central theme of Wilhelmine or Weimar cabaret; to the extent that those stages were politicised at all’ (Jelavich 1996 p.3). Jelavich sheds light on the differences between Cabaret and Kabarett, ‘The german language differentiates Cabaret and Kabarett…Cabaret has referred to a strip show, while Kabarett is reserved for social criticism and political satire’ (Jelavich 1996, P.1)Berlin Cabaret is particularly insightful when exploring the political effect of cabaret as there were prevalent political changes occurring during this period, with the end of the first world war and the emergence of a new government. The end of the first world war ensured greater popularity for the cabaret across Europe but particularly in Berlin. Prior to this period in Germany, as conveyed by Peter Jelavich, ‘satire and parody were discouraged as censorship came under the control of military authorities and the country’s political tone turned virulently naturalistic’ (Jelavich, P.119). The political motivations of cabaret are examined in detail by Jelavich who notes the existence of a biased cabaret during the war period. Cabaret and variety shows in Berlin had always existed but the content was ‘one-sidedly nationalistic’ (Jelavich, p.119). After the authoritarian leadership and censorship imposed by the previous government, that had banned political satire, nudity and provocative humour, the cabaret was expected to blossom into a place of expression both politically and artistically. However, this was not immediately the case, according to Alan Lareau,  ‘For the lifting of restrictions did not bring about a wave of political entertainment, but rather a flood of obscenity and nudity worse than before'(Lareau, p.475). Cabaret flourished despite the economic hardships of a politically chaotic post war Germany, by 1922 there were 32 cabarets in the city but audiences in post war Germany wanted to enjoy the cabaret rather than be reminded of the economic troubles they were experiencing and the uncertain future they faced. As the 1920s progressed many Germans enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and the cabaret enabled a form of escapism, ‘The influx of American money and the economic revival of the mid to late 1920s encouraged celebration, spending and decadence’. The the social attitudes of Weimar Germany certainly ensured a more relaxed cabaret, and some critics maintain that this attitude was owing to the idea that the Germans knew their new-found freedom would be short-lived.A major example of these loosened ideals which aids in determining the extent of politics present in Berlin cabaret is the repeated exploration of gender and, particularly interesting gay sexuality prevalent in the performances. Although not explicitly commenting on current political affairs, this notion was a new one and a place for minorities was born. The cabaret became a place of expression for much of the gay community who would otherwise be persecuted against. As Alan Lareau states ‘The cabaret in particular is remembered as a pivotal site of experimentation, taboo-breaking, and moral and intellectual revolution’ (Lareau, p.16). Despite Lareau’s comments in other writings where he notes that the Berlin cabaret did not become a breeding ground for political satire after the war, ‘Critics in the field cried themselves hoarse damning… no longer even tried to offer witty double entendre, let alone use eroticism as a means of political satire’ (Lareau, P.475), this form of expression at this time is inherently political, and comments of social culture. It must be remembered that this explosion of gay culture was so during a time where the Nazis, who would go on to imprison and murder many gay people, were gaining political power in Germany. An example of a song, that reaffirms this idea is Das lila Lied (The Lavender Songs), which was dedicated to German doctor and ‘sexologist’ Magnus Hirschfeld, whose institute would later be targeted by Nazi violence due to their vigorous efforts in campaigning for gay rights. Das lila Lied was performed frequently on the Berlin Cabaret stage, and as Larau represents, it certainly expressed and idea that actively opposes a law in Germany ‘arguing in the first person plural that homosexuals are intelligent, good, playful, and loving people and that narrow?minded Philistines must learn to accept and appreciate them’ (Lareau, p.17).  It cannot be denied that this is a political statement and would have been perceived as one at the time as homsexuality was a punishable crime. The very existence of cabaret in Berlin can be seen as a political event due to the censorship artists had to abide by previously, a place for the previously marginalised to flourish and to be accepted, where some political ideas seeped in regardless. As Jelavich writes ‘compared to political issues, sexuality and gender were much more prominent themes on cabaret stages.’ (Jelavich, p.5), which demonstrates the existence of the other. This quote is problematic and Jelavich seems to ignore the idea that gender is a central can, and should be, considered a  major political theme. I would argue that the inclusion of such themes so early in the 1920s, in a divided society certainly earn Berlin cabaret the label of political. The Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich is also of paramount importance when researching political cabaret. Founded in 1916, by Hugo Ball, Cabaret Voltaire was born partly because of Ball’s growing anti-establishment feelings as well as as a reaction to the increasing number of expatriates arriving in war time Zurich. Harold B. Zegel writes ‘colony of expatriates grew..to share experiences and views and to break out of the isolation imposed on them by swiss law and custom’ (Segel p.325). This idea is particularly significant as Switzerland was a neutral country during the war and many artists came to Zurich to escape the war they so fundamentally disagreed with, and the Dada movement grew out of this feeling. This theory is repeated in many readings, with Harold B. Segel commenting ‘Dada represented a repudiation…brought on by a profound disenchantment with those values that were now held ultimately responsible for the brutal, and to the Dadaists,mad war then raging in Europe’ (Segel, p.330). This can lead to the assumption that the Cabaret Voltaire was a profoundly political event. The anti-establishment and  anarchist ideals are inherent among so many of the Dadaists. Cabaret Voltaire was the birthplace of Dadaism, Hugo Ball, one of the leading artists and founders, read his manifesto at the Cabaret Voltaire. Developed in reaction to the first world war, much like Berlin Cabaret, Dadaism was anti-religion and anti-establishment and grew out of disgust for the political situation in Europe at the time. This is demonstrated in a quote by Hans Richter, a Dada artist, ‘Revolted by the butchery of the 1914 World War, we in Zurich devoted ourselves to the arts. While the guns rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all our might.’ (Young 1983, p.12) Interestingly Hugo Ball’s decision to name the club Cabaret Voltaire has its own political ramifications, as François-Marie Arouet known under his pen-name Voltaire, was a prolific french writer known for his scathing attacks on the Catholic church.  Dadaism was a revolutionary movement, that to a contemporary audience who have explored its roots in reaction to war will undeniably label as political and anti-war. However, to audiences at the time, Dadaism was so avante-garde and new that much of its content was lost on audiences. ‘The early soirees in the intimate setting of the cabaret voltaire and galeria dad displayed a great deal of serious intention and were generally appreciated by those member of the audience who had an interest in modern art of literature and had not just dropped in for a beer and some light entertainment.’ this quote suggests the to broader audiences Dadaism may not have been considered political to wider collectives who were not aware of its roots. This does reiterate however, that Dadaism and the content of the Cabaret Voltaire demonstrated serious thought and subject matter, and was not just created for entertainment purposes. Dadaism, although it defies an easy or simple definition, was decidedly anarchist, and obsessively against the capitalist society. Politics is a major theme in which this movement grew out of s this undoubtedly would have flowed into the performance art. Richard Huelsenbeck, a Dada drummer, recount of Emmy Henning’s performance at the Cabaret Voltaire confirms this ‘These songs known only in central Europe, poke fun at politics, literature, human behaviour, or anything else people will understand. The songs are impudent but never insulting…only to express an opinion’ (Huelsenbeck in Segel. p.329). Clearly, Dada performances at the Cabaret Voltaire were not uniquely just political but enveloped a range of themes, ideas and techniques in order to express the Dada ideals. It could be said, that Dadaism was inherently political just by existing. Despite birthing many forms of art, such as literature, poetry, performance and song, the phrase anti-art is much associated with Dadaism. They named the movement themselves, a practice unheard of, as artistic movement are typically named by critics. This enabled Dada to maintain control, but also to remain elusive and avante-garde. There is still debate today as to why they chose that title. Some suggest it means ‘Yes, Yes’ in the Slavonic language of Tzara and Janco but the more accepted version is that it means ‘hobby-horse’ in French, discovered by Hugo Ball and Richard Huelsenbeck when looking through a dictionary and chosen for its childlikeness. Dada released a number of manifestos which attacked the establishment, capitalism and often forms of art, such as expressionism. ‘Expressionism wanted inwardness, it conceived of itself as a reaction against the times, while Dadaism is nothing but an expression of the times.’ This idea is multi-layered. Firstly, it reflects