The U.S. is a Three Stooges nation, and the Moes are on the rise

The U.S. is a Three Stooges nation, and the Moes are on the rise

Several generations have grown up with the Three Stooges. We think we know them. We think we know all there is to know, yet only now can we realize their deeper cultural significance.

The Three Stooges, it’s clear, represent timeless archetypes of the American electorate, and they have more relevance today than ever before.

For those not acquainted with their work, the Three Stooges were a comedy trio that made film shorts starting in 1934. Though the personnel changed over the decades, what we might call the iconic Stooge lineup consisted of Moe (Moe Howard), Larry (Larry Fine) and Curly (Jerome “Curly” Howard). Of these, the one genuine comic genius was Curly, but an elucidation of Curly’s genius must wait for another day.

As their name suggests, the Stooges presented themselves as three idiots. Each was as stupid as the others. But the key feature of each character was his relationship to his own stupidity. These relationships were very different and made for entirely different personalities.

Curly was from Jupiter. He had no idea he was stupid but didn’t think he was smart. He was unconcerned about such matters. He’d drop to the floor and run sidelong in a circle. He was prone to yelling, “Woo woo woo woo woo!” He was in his own world and fairly happy within it.

  The Three Stooges

Larry, by contrast, had an inkling. He hoped he wasn’t stupid but had a feeling he probably was, and that made him the most melancholy and reflective of the three. He was just trying to get by as best he could.

But Moe — Moe was someone else entirely. Moe was as stupid as his two companions, but he didn’t know it. He was sure that he was smart, and his baseless self-assurance made him a dangerous man. He was so certain of his superior intelligence that he assumed the authority to beat up on the other guys if he thought they needed discipline. And he always thought they needed discipline.

The significance of this is obvious: We are living in one of those unfortunate periods of American history in which the Moes are ascendant.

Indeed, we appear to have a whole political party whose mission is to cater to Moes and foster the creation of more Moes. It tells them: “Don’t believe science, don’t believe experts, don’t feel bad about not knowing anything because you know everything already. And what is this everything? It’s everything we just told you! And you understood because you’re so brilliant!”

  Shemp Howard

The manipulation of this message is transparent, but not if you’re a Moe. If you’re a Moe, it’s what you’ve been waiting to hear all your life. The message has appeal. It certainly has lots more gut-level appeal than that of the other party, whose half-hearted pitch is to the Larrys of America: “Sure, you’re uncertain. So are we. But we’re all stronger together.”

Moe is scary. He’s stupid, he thinks he’s brilliant, and he has a ridiculous haircut. There’s no limit to the power he might attain. He thinks his ignorance is a form of purity. He thinks his stupidity isn’t stupidity but a rare gift for perceiving the simple essence of things. And because he is convinced of this, he is immune to thought and reason. To even begin to think, he’d have to climb down from his erroneous self-conception. And what could persuade him to do that? Probably nothing short of waking up in a destroyed country and finding himself up to his knees in rubble.

  The Real Reason Shemp Howard Left The Three Stooges

But you know what? Larry is a little scary, too, because you worry that he’ll always doubt himself too much to be effectual, and that he’ll never really have enough energy to confront Moe, or even to acknowledge the real problems we face. There may be a lot more Larrys than Moes, but the Moes get organized.

As for Curly, he’s not getting involved. He’ll never vote. You can register him, but he won’t show up.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve seen this comedy short before. It’s even less funny the second time.

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