To The House That Karno Built (first letter)

I imagine hearing your floorboards creak as Frederick Wescott paces around on them, jotting down scripts on the backs of envelopes.
English music hall crowds knew him as Fred Karno, but his employees called him The Guv’nor. Maybe you did too. You would surround him, bemused and messy, as he searched your nooks and crannies with hurried eyes. He’d always hope the right props would present themselves.
Something within you might trigger the comedic scenarios he wanted to devise — those strange shenanigans to be noticed by audiences before the characters onstage. That’s when things, according to Fred, were really funny.
Was there ever a cream pie factory somewhere inside you?
The 20th century had begun in earnest, but you managed to retain the frazzled patience and disbelief of a peasant during the industrial revolution.
Did you know you were Fred’s consolidating nerve centre? You released a maelstrom of derision. You facilitated a for-profit assault on the relentless injustice and moral hypocrisy of society.
All that artful acting-out , the pantomime-derived mockeries of respectability and authority, those drunks and hobos clowning with the pretensions and failures of King and Country, Modernization, wage labor, The Law, upward mobility, High Art and representational democracy — it all got worked out under your roof, dreamed up in your spaces.
You sheltered a raucous libertarian chaos — “Fred Karno’s Army” — and the beginnings of mass cultural ossification.
We are Fred Karno’s army, we are the ragtime infantry.


We cannot fight, we cannot shoot, what bleeding use are we?


And when we get to Berlin we’ll hear the Kaiser say:


‘Hoch, hoch! Mein Gott, what a bloody rotten lot, are the ragtime infantry.

The most popular routine required a stage on stage and an audience in front of the audience. You must of known it well, but you couldn’t directly participate in its repeated attack — a merciless savaging of entertainment spectacle and the conditioned behaviors formulated by it.
You’d wonder what exactly you were aiding and abetting.
You’d ushered in your own demise. Fred’s epic scheme, and your place in it, became an ideal business model. Your mad halls would be remade as movie studio lots and corporate headquarters, theatre chains, distribution centres, shareholder meeting rooms and casting couch corners.
Fred would lose Charlie and Arthur (aka Stan) to America and the Silver Screen.
The entertainment arts would forfeit frontier access to the means of production.  Spectacle would now generate desire instead of expressing it.
The unspoken would be rendered invisible again.  Carnival has been fixed ever since.
jeremy