Friedrich Nietzsche is popularly known for his criticism of the modern world and his unique perspective on history. Nietzsche proposed his worldview along with criticism and complaints in his book titled ‘The Birth of Tragedy.’ ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ was the first of the numerous books published by him. In the book, Nietzsche analyses ancient Greek history and the art/forms of art present during those times. Nietzsche focused on ancient Greek tragedy and viewed it as an art form that transcended nihilism. In ancient Greek culture, dramas depicting tragedy were often revered and considered as a work of art. Ancient tragedy found a place in the hearts of the Greeks, and scores of audiences often flocked the theatres for a viewing. Nietzsche analyzed the mentality of the audience and observed how an individual behaved as part of an audience.
Nietzsche focused on the Greek god’s Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo and Dionysus in “The Birth of Tragedy” are used as metaphors to analyze modern society. Nietzsche employs these metaphors to criticize art and modern culture. Apollo was considered as the deity of goodwill, hope and was frequently viewed as a voice of reason. Dionysus, on the other hand, could be considered as the stark opposite of Apollo. Tragedy often followed the presence of Dionysus, and he was considered the god of wine, fertility, ritual madness, ecstasy, and inhibition less behavior. Apollonian school of thought followed societal norms and preached proper behavior equipped with logic. Dionysian school of thought was more instinctual and ‘id-pleasing’ With Freud’s theory as a tool, the Dionysian thought process can be considered as the behavior/mindset of a person with an over powerful id and an obeying ego. Apollonian mindset is more balanced with a properly developed superego. Nietzsche considered the tragedy of ancient Greece as the highest form of art as it involved both Apollonian and Dionysian aspects. Dionysian elements were a part of the musical chorus while the Apollonian elements were the dialogues. Jointly, both the elements moved in harmony and complemented each other as well as the story. The tragedy/pain that accompanied Dionysus was weakened through the Apollonian dialogues. Apollonian elements function as a euphemism to the harsh and sharp feelings arising through Dionysian elements. Ancient Greek tragedy was so versatile that the audience as a whole was often engrossed in the art form. Nietzsche was fascinated by the possibility and reality of the audience experiencing a story in such depth. Nietzsche credited and admired the balance of Apollonian and Dionysian elements in the story.
Nietzsche went as far as theorizing and stating that modern art is hollow and meaningless as it has lost the balance between the elements. Modern art and society as a whole have succumbed to the Apollonian thought process. Nietzsche claimed that modern society is doomed if it abandoned the Dionysian elements as it is of utmost importance to both society and art. The Dionysian form of drunkenness, selfishness, and self-engrossment is taboo in modern culture and often looked down upon. Nietzsche considers the Dionysian elements in life as necessary. Nietzsche, in addition, used metaphors to draw parallels with Christianity. He urged that the concept of salvation and good deeds were a result of Apollonian elements taking over the culture. Dionysian elements are often shunned. Nietzsche revered ancient Greek culture and stated that only through immersion and acceptance of the Dionysian elements, can one be a part of the primordial unity.
Thus for Nietzsche, modern culture, society and art can only be salvaged and perfected again through acceptance of Dionysian culture/Elements. Nietzsche proposed that life as a whole requires a balance between both the elements. Like the ancient Greek tragedy, Apollonian thought process and vocality along with Dionysian indulgence and immersion is the ultimate way to experience the story and life.
Later on in his life, Nietzsche criticized his own work in ‘The birth of tragedy’ and deemed it as a work of naivety later on in his life. But he stood by his claim of accepting Dionysian elements and embracing it in order to lead a better life.
Nietzsche’s theory, along with Freud’s (ego, id, and superego) and Marx’s theory (class conflict) can be utilized to analyze Freddie Mercury’s life and his iconic personality. The objective of the analysis is to test the credibility of the metaphors stated in the theories and recognize the utility of them. The scope of the theories can also be tested in the analysis.
Freddie Mercury’s World
Freddie Mercury is known for leading a peculiar yet memorable life. Freddie is considered an icon and was the predominant face of pop for decades. The impact that Freddie had on the music industry is astounding. The admiration for Queen and its lead singer is refusing to fade and grows every day. Freddie’s rise to fame was tumultuous, and his worries didn’t end there. An analysis of his life through the lens of Nietzsche’s theory can help to decode his life and modern society better.
According to several interviews, it is known that Freddie came from a conservative immigrant family. Freddie depicted a great interest in music since childhood and used to write his own songs. Although his parents didn’t approve of his musical endeavors and asked him to look for a monetizable hobby, he still persisted. It can be observed that his parents followed a more rational and logical point of view. Whereas, Freddie seemed intoxicated by his love for music and turned a blind eye to his parent’s qualms. Freddie’s personality, in this case, had Dionysian elements while his parents were devoted to the Apollonian school of thought. Traces of Apollonian elements were still present in Freddie, as he continued to hide the curiosity of his sexual orientation from his parents (which exhibits the rational thinking ability). The parents were observed to be devoid of any Dionysian elements and considered the behavior of his song as ‘crazy’ or ‘Reckless.’ (Which was often the case as the Socratic and Apollonian mindsets shunned irrational behavior.)
Once Freddie got acquainted with the rest of the band, his interest and love for music grew. The immense love and admiration that Freddie received from the audience initially, had him deeper into his intoxication. He realized the scope of the music industry, and the endless possibilities had him feeling unstoppable. This can be considered as Freddie indulging the Dionysian elements more than before. With this indulgence, the Apollonian elements seemed to fade as Freddie no longer felt ashamed or guilty of his sexual orientation. (It is to be noted that Homosexuality, in this case, is considered taboo. Hence, a conservative would find it rational to hide his/her sexual orientation let alone, be ashamed of it.). The dying of rational thought within Freddie can be a sign of fading apollonian elements.
With his rise to fame, Freddie’s indulgence in the Dionysian elements grew deeper. Nietzsche suggested, an imbalance of both elements can lead to destruction or ill-functioning of the person/society. With Freddie’s indulgence growing deeper, his ego inflated, and he started viewing his band members as inferiors. Freddie at the time was also infamous for his lavish and notorious parties. Apollonian elements seemed completely abandoned within Freddie at the time, as he was completely engrossed in self-indulgence. Self-indulgence and intoxication, known to be traits of Dionysus are helpful only in trace amounts. Self-indulgence ever so often is not harmful, but overdoing it does harm to oneself and the others around him/her. It is the imbalance between Rationality and Madness Or Apollo and Dionysus.
Freddie went as far as parting ways from the band and turning into a solo artist. It is then when the consequences of the imbalance started to show up. Freddie’s fame declined and his solo albums were obliterated by critics and the charts. Nietzsche’s theory about the imbalance between the elements leading to chaos can be proven in this case. Nietzsche stated that modern society lacked Dionysian elements, hence its destruction or demise is inevitable. In this case, Freddie’s life was dominated by the Dionysian elements/Lack of Apollonian elements which lead to the downfall of his career. Freddie later made amends with his previous band members and started playing again. This is an example of Rational/Apollonian thought working in favor of Freddie.
Freddie later realized his wrongdoings and received clarity. Freddie then went on to perform with Queen once again, only to turn into a legend year later.
Freddie, in his later years, applied rational thought while making decisions (Apollonian element) and indulged in the intoxicating music while playing for the band (Dionysian element). He found the balance and it worked in his favor. Hence, Nietzsche’s theory stands correct in the case of Freddie Mercury’s life.
Psychoanalysis of Freddie
According to Freud’s theory, Freddie was also a victim of the conflict of his ego, id, and superego. At his time before the fame, the desire to achieve and pursue was still prevalent in Freddie. This can be perceived as a desire of the id. Freud theorized that the id in most cases depicted the deep carnal desire embedded within a personality. The desire within Farrokh was his love for music. The rebellious nature of Freddie might have been a result of an underdeveloped superego. His over powerful id dominated his ego which in turn resulted in his instinctive decisive process. Throughout his life, Freddie seemed to have suffered from a poor superego. This affected his life and the weakened state of his mindset was visible to all of the media. Whether it be him storming off a press conference or his lavish, over the top and overly sexual birthday parties. His insecurities were evident, and it could be on account of the conflict within his mind. He later was able to resolve the conflict and strike a balance between the ego, id, and superego. Freddie confronted his sexual orientation through rational thinking and came out in a socially acceptable way. He also, got back together with his group as it was naive of him to split up. This can be identified as signs of a developing/developed superego.
It can be seen that throughout the ups and downs of his life, the conflict accompanied him. Only when he sought to resolve this conflict (through the reality principle OR sublimatory resolution) did, he grow as a person.
Freddie Through The Lens of Marx
Marx’s theory of class conflict is an appropriate analogy to study Freddie’s sexual orientation and his struggle with it. Being Homosexual, Freddie struggled as he came from a conservative family. Homosexuality wasn’t acceptable in society at the time and was still considered taboo. Thus, Freddie’s sexual orientation can be considered as the Proletariat in this case and the society/his parents can be considered as the oppressors/Bourgeoisie. As Marx revered, the proletariat possesses a hidden desire and them overthrowing the oppressors is inevitable. The proletariat in this specific case was successful in overthrowing the oppressors. Freddie came out as a homosexual and expressed his sexual desires to the world and his family after years of hiding. He came to terms with his sexual orientation and realized that he was obliged to express it to the world, in order to calm the rumors, empower the LGBT community, satisfy his id and overthrow the oppressors.
In conclusion, Freddie’s enigmatic life can easily be broken down if one analyses it from a purely philosophical and psychological standpoint. When used as tools, Freud’s, Marx’s and Nietzsche’s theory greatly help in the analysis of Freddie’s life.
Freddie was eluded in self-indulgence and the lack of Apollonian elements worsened his situation. Freddie got his life back together when he chose to focus on his passion for music through rational and logical thinking. He embraced the previously abandoned Apollonian thought process and utilized it to empower the Dionysian elements. Like an ancient Greek tragedy, the traits of both the Apollonian and Dionysian elements complement each other and work in harmony in Freddie’s life. Unknowingly, he struck the balance between the Apollonian and Dionysian elements which led to the flourishing of his career. Freddie not only got out of the rut he was in but also found his place in the world as a more competent musician and icon. The impact of the balanced elements was so profound, that it propelled his career and transformed him into one of the most admirable pop stars. Freddie’s life is a prime example of the importance of controlled Dionysian elements in one’s life. A proper balance of these elements can lead to a better personality, society, culture, if not the world. Freddie’s success and rich history are a result of his musical talent and persistence albeit the balance playing an integral part in his life.
- ‘Birth of Tragedy’ by Friedrich Nietzsche
- Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.
- Freud, S. (1923). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.
- https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/CIP.CHAP5.HTM (Marx’s theory)
- “Freddie Mercury (real name Farrokh Bulsara) Biography”. Inout Star. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2010
- Queen Online – History: Freddie Mercury, Archived on 8 August 2010.