• Steven Krage

On Male Accountability via Berg's "Lied der Lulu"

One of the myriad blessings of the #MeToo movement has been a renewed interest in discussing the role of men's accountability in regard to sex crimes.


How often do we hear, "She had it coming?" or "She was wearing a bikini - how could I not rape her"? Shifting the blame onto the victim has become a loaded game of Hot Potato; a game rigged in favor of men. A sexual encounter, legal or illegal, never involves just one person and, often, men can diffuse the blame based on the fact that they believe a woman, in herself, inherently "wants" the life she lives.


In Alban Berg's genius 1937 opera, Lulu, the heroine is a creature of perfect femininity. Without getting too in-depth, the men that swarm to Lulu are moths to a flame - tragedy befouls anyone who gets to close to her flame. As a result, the men, before they meet their fate, blame Lulu for their downfall, often to her face. When the first scene starts, Lulu is an orphaned young girl - using context clues, one can surmise she's between 16-25 years old.


The most ardent, violent, and irrational lover (eventually husband) Lulu interacts with during the course of the opera is Dr. Schön, Lulu's former guardian since she was twelve. They met, according to Schön, "after my wife’s death when I was first courting my present fiancée. She got in between us. She had made up her mind to become my wife." From the beginning, he casts Lulu as the agitator.


Several men commit suicide or die after becoming romantically linked with Lulu until Schön's number is up. He forces her to marry him, despite being engaged to another women of Lulu's age, despite couching his lust in the "she made up her mind" shroud.


It takes until the first scene of the second act, when Schön hears his son, Alwa, confess to Lulu that he loves her as well. Schön admonishes Lulu, despite her being the innocent party, and tries to force her to commit suicide. Her response to his vitriol and violence becomes the core of the opera, the eponymous "Lied der Lulu":


"If men have killed themselves for my sake, that

doesn't lower my value. You know just as well the

reason you made me your wife as I knew why I took

you for husband. You had deceived your best friends

with me; you could not well go on deceiving yourself

with me. If you bring me the evening of your life

as a sacrifice, still you have had my whole youth in

exchange. I have never in this world wished to seem

to be anything different from what I am taken for;

and I have never in the world been taken for anything

different from what I am."



In this, we see the primal screams of the modern feminism. How, in a civilized society, have we become so myopic that men are seen as the default victims? If a teenage boy gets a boner in math class because a girl is swearing spaghetti straps, the girl is the aggressor, despite wearing an article of clothing that reveals nothing of a sexual nature. Every minor distraction is blamed on women because it interferes with a man's primal lust that he "can't control."


Lulu's song is a war-cry: Just because you believe what you see in me, it does not mean that my reality must conform to yours. Yet,as is tradition, men continue to blame women for every irrationality that swirls within their mind. Sex, to them, is a drug pumped into the air by women to destroy their lives. You often hear rapists say, point-blank, "I raped her, but why should that ruin my life?"


Human beings, despite being the most evolved species, often have a firm tradition of missing the point entirely. That's why we're still having these rudimentary conversations in 2020.


Lulu's correct: women give their men the best, but are often given nothing but consolation prizes. A man's declining years aren't worth a woman's youth. Lulu knows her worth, despite a puritan society teaching her that the iniquity of lust falls solely at her doorstep.


This short meditation, and a woman's response to toxic masculinity, can be summed up by the "Lied der Lulu's" closing words:


"I have never in this world wished to seem

to be anything different from what I am taken for;

and I have never in the world been taken for anything

different from what I am."


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