Nietzsche often gets used in popular culture as a kind of shorthand for dark mysterious anger and brooding solipsistic intellect. I take this to be a serious misunderstanding of this fundamentally life-affirming philosophy. Nietzsche’s work was infamously first misappropriated by the Nazis (with the guidance of N’s conniving sister). The Nazi’s misreading of N’s concept of the superman helped gird a genocidal machine with the false semblance of ‘philosophical’ armor.
This weekend the wife and I saw and thoroughly enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine (this is not to be confused with the Roger Hargreaves epic from the Mr. Men and Little Miss series)
This movie depicts the bizarre odyssey of the dysfunctional Hoovers as they try to get little Olive Hoover (charmingly acted by Abigail Breslin) to the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant all the way in California.
Olive’s angry, intense teenage brother Dwayne has not spoken for over 9 months. He communicates only through sullen glares and written notes (sample — “I hate everyone!”)
Dwayne is inseparable from his battered copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He also has a huge banner with an imagistic drawing of Nietzsche (with a powerful mustache) hanging on his wall. A strange moment occurs when suicidal Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) looks at the banner and nonchalantly avers: “Nietzsche, huh?” Frank later claims to be America’s pre-eminent Proust scholar.
I haven’t read Proust.
I liked the movie a lot, and of course I love literary references. But Nietzsche is my favorite philosopher and I hate to see him misrepresented as a humbug or a misanthrope or a miscreant of any sort. Nietzsche wanted people to think for themselves and avoid the static slavery of indoctrination (“the herd”). In this sense, N’s ideas do inform Little Miss Sunshine‘s heroes, the bizarre, nonconformist Hoovers. But N’s work also warns against easy symbols and singular readings, while stressing the importance of embracing life. Nietzsche’s writing is not the mute echo of anger and resentment and hate; Nietzsche’s wiritng is the booming voice of joy and movement and life. And maybe sunshine.