The Life of the Party

The commissar, in his most common clothes,
Patrols the margins of their conversations,
And tries to feign that cheer which he so loathes,
But is too cluttered with recriminations
To offer more than trite regurgitations
Of the most tedious new orthodoxies.
Instead he listens while he quietly waits,
And, though about as welcome as the pox, he’s
Impervious to sighs and tolerates
The silences of those he nauseates,
So single-minded is he in his cold
Determination to avenge some great
Humiliation, for so long oversold
To sanctify his spite and obfuscate
His fear of those who fail to promulgate
The party line. In truth he cannot bear
To see them free from social trepidation
And so each time they laugh without a care
It’s yet another cause for consternation,
Feeding those feelings of emasculation
Which boil behind his weak and watery eyes.
But he will make them choke upon his shame,
Wielding his impotence to brutalize
Some sorry soul who has not played his game,
Some sorry soul who he can safely blame
For all the faults of their infernal race;
So, once he spies some trivial infraction—
A misplaced word or failure to embrace
The latest lie—he splutters into action.
His well-rehearsed, hysterical reaction
Stuns all observers into mute submission,
For, though deep down all know what waits ahead,
Not one will mewl a word in opposition
From fear of being next, struck dumb with dread
Of such untold embarrassment. Instead
They cringe with mounting horror as his wet
And bulging, bloodshot eyes look set to burst
And quivering lips spray spittle with each threat
Incoherently spat, all interspersed
With moans of mocking disbelief. His thirst
For marked-down martyrdom outweighs all pride,
And, even if he had the will, he could
Not stop this minstrel act, undignified
Though it may be to covet victimhood
At some offense which, in all likelihood,
Resides entirely in his fevered mind.
The mark soon learns it’s useless to appeal
To reason, rights or decency and kind
Attempts to pacify just pique his zeal,
Prolonging this most onerous ordeal.
Much better then to skulk away and lick
One’s wounds than to defend a reputation
Against the ravings of a lunatic;
But, while this might cut short his shrill oration
It can’t assuage his lust for indignation
So he moves on to find some other dupe,
Some other conversation he can crash.
Feigning a limp to lull the wary group,
He plays his sickly part with such panache
That chatter held in check soon grows more rash.
And so it goes. The party dwindles one
By one as his performance clears the room
Until, before too long, the job is done;
His throat is ragged, his chin slick with spume
But all is still and silent like a tomb.
This craven victory though is bittersweet:
For what will feed that rage he so reveres
If he must dwell alone with his conceit?
But then he sets aside such foolish fears
As peals of distant laughter prick his ears.



Shaun C. Duncan is a picture framer and fine art printer who lives in Adelaide, South Australia.

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19 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    ¹Many are right with you, Mr. Duncan, and many (including women) are there whom your description fits. The room-spume-tomb rhyme is quite impressive.

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    You captured the essence of the aging overweight Commissars and their obnoxious reputations with some excellent inspired rhymes that bring their nature to life.

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thanks Roy – I’m glad you think I was able to capture something of the essence of these odious types!

  3. Brian A. Yapko

    This is a terrific poem, Shaun. It makes the reader cringe — how could it not? — because it is wonderfully observant of those dour people who are self-appointed thought-police, monitoring, monitoring, ever-monitoring for the wrong type of thought and, these days, for trivial things that might hurt minorities who they do not know and have never consulted. These are the studious “theys” and thems” who think the use of proper pronouns will psychologically wound the masses, and who carefully assess reactions to the words “Choice” “Israel” “Immigration” “Colonialism” “Privilege.” Their favorite phrase is “how dare you?” And they aspire to be Dolores Umbridge, the corrupt Ministry-appointed High Inquisitor of Hogwarts who not only terrorized the school but sucked all joy out of it. Literature is replete with such spies — A Tale of Two Cities, Dr. Zhivago… Real life is replete with them too. Even more so.

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Well said, Brian, and I’m so glad you liked the poem! We have created a society which awards victimhood and where wounded feelings may be used as a tool of aggression, so the issue of pronouns and the many and varied forbidden terms are more often than not just fig-leaves for sheer hatred. Umbridge is an excellent example of the type and it’s telling that characters like this will always side with power.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    Shaun, you seem to have had some very direct experience with this type of self-appointed commissar of Political Virtue. Academia is filled with them, as are most of the mainstream churches and the NGOs.

    They are insufferable prigs, wrapped up in their own Categorical Imperatives and their compulsive need to teach the rest of us proper behavior and acceptable speech patterns.

    I have found that the only effective way to deal with such persons is to call them out directly and forcefully as soon as they start in with their routine. Be loud, be annoyed, and if necessary be offensive. This generally shuts them up, and gives courage to others in the group who would otherwise remain silent.

    If someone had done this early with that little Swedish meatball Greta Thunberg, maybe she wouldn’t have grown into the horror show that she is today.

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      I’ve had a few run-ins with this type, including a fairly heated argument with a customer who held a PhD in literature (but had never heard of Chaucer) and likes to leave sycophantic comments under Ms Thunberg’s Facebook posts. I’ll admit that I started it by saying something deliberately inflammatory to see how she’d respond, but the reaction was more spectacular than I’d anticipated. Thankfully, I’ve yet to be publicly denounced but I chose self-employment precisely so I could remain master of my own destiny and mouth.

  5. Paul A. Freeman

    I get a Soviet, East European, pre-Berlin Wall-coming-down vibe to your piece, Shaun.

    In Saudi we had the morality police who counted laughter and music as sinful. I also recall seeing a documentary about China some years back about neighbourhood grannies whose job was to nose around making sure everyone in their appointed area was compliant with whatever orthodoxies were in force at the time.

    The worst ‘commissar’-type behaviour I came across was under the regime of His Excellency, Life President, Doctor Hastings Banda, of Malawi. You had to say his full name and titles every time you mentioned him – or else. Old men in the rural areas used to wander about dressed like Banda, in a black suit and trilby, I believe (he became a doctor in Britain in the 1950s), listening in to people’s conversations, riding the bus from village to village and reporting those who were not toeing the line.

    It’s all well and good saying stand up to these people, but when they are government sanctioned watchers and confronting them could result in incarceration, torture, or even execution, it’s easier said than done.

    Thanks for the read and the character insights into these treacherously immoral people.

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you, Paul. There is a dour, late-Soviet vibe to it but that’s metaphorical in large part. Obviously this sort of behavior is currently synonymous with a faction of the far left in our society but, as you rightly point out, these people exist in many differing political environments. The common factor seems to be that they live vicariously through the powerful and they hate the people who surround them. You are also correct to point out that they are extremely dangerous. The cruelest of authoritarian regimes thrive by elevating the weak and vindictive to positions of power.

  6. Mike Bryant

    This poem is great and right up to the minute. These people are everywhere. It is now required that all people must be 100% for whatever the current thing happens to be this week.
    Susan lost her job because of these busybodies and I know that you have suffered consequences yourself. I suppose that’s how you nailed this personality so perfectly. Someone somewhere may have their own beliefs, customs and actual lines they will not cross for anyone. Any joy these rebels may experience must be immediately extinguished by the all-cleansing corrections of the State and her admiring sycophants.
    Free speech and correct English has went.

    Look what is happening to this guy!
    If you read further down you will see that it is perfectly fine when they do it.


    • Shaun C. Duncan

      I had no idea that Susan had fallen victim to this sort of behavior, though I’m aware she’s something of a magnet for trolls on this site. Indeed, that was what originally inspired the poem.

      I’m familiar with the Douglass Mackey/Ricky Vaughan case. These sort of prosecutions are quite common in Britain but it’s disturbing to see it spread to America which should, in theory, have safeguards to prevent it. It seems the mask is off now – the rule of law is ended and only power matters.

      • Mike Bryant

        The mask has been faithfully maintained by the CIA paid mockingbird media for so long that most people have fallen in with the powerful. When the World Wide Web was built out I thought that truth and common sense would naturally take over. And, fortunately real journalism is still practiced by many citizen watchdogs all over the world. Still, though, the commissars are in every country, state, city, and on every computer screen, spreading the current dogma of a world-wide collectivist utopia, because THIS time they’re gonna get it right.

  7. Margaret Coats

    An excellent description, Shaun, that applies to any “party,” including one established by a domineering individual, or a social or professional organization taken over by a loudmouth who bends it to his own agenda. I like the title, because the “commissar” actually sucks the life out of any party by his attentive monitoring of party life. He may, of course, recruit accomplices who do likewise in particular portions of larger groups. But from your note of his loneliness “with his conceit” in your last lines, you must be thinking especially of someone who enforces that conceit in his personal sphere. He doesn’t convince anyone, but makes the party unpleasant enough that other partygoers abandon any challenge to him and may depart. This “craven victory,” though, deprives the commissar himself of life. What life is there in dominance without a party to dominate? You shape a perfect ending with “peals of distant laughter prick his ears.” He has a desperate need for the party from which he has estranged himself by critical surveillance. Your details about eyes and mouth portray emasculated impotence in this unattractive peripatetic minstrel, not to be envied while you’re around!

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you for this insightful comment, Margaret. The poem was originally inspired by people concern-trolling the comments here at the SCP, most likely in response to a poem by Joe or Susan. Often such people are employing a deliberate strategy to simply make life unpleasant for the other commenters – to simply stink up the place so others are less likely to engage. In some cases, usually in more explicitly political spaces, they have been paid to do it but the subject of my poem engages in this behavior to satisfy his own twisted psychological needs. It’s personal for him and he has no particular loyalty to the ideology he espouses – he’ll simply cast his lot in with whoever promises him power over others. As I said to Paul above, the sadism of so many authoritarian regimes is achieved by deliberately elevating the weak and vindictive to positions of power and this why they never really achieve a state of peaceful equilibrium but must endlessly create new classes of thought criminal to liquidate.

  8. James A. Tweedie

    I suppose there is the hint of a commissar in all of us which is, no doubt, why we can relate to this extended, inspired riff on forced socio-political conformity with such squirming revulsion.

    The rhymes are clever as the narrative flows downhill in a spiral that goes from bad to worse as it dips into darkness tinged with madness. May God deliver us from such evil as this poem so graphically describes and Paul’s real-world examples so painfully illustrate.

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you for relating this to the personal rather than the political, James. In our society, victimhood is the path to privilege and weakness is a weapon so there’s always the temptation to play that game to get ahead. Obviously it’s most commonly associated with the left wing of politics in the current environment, but conservatives are certainly not above employing the same tactics when it suits their purposes. It’s human nature in a sense, but it’s not one of our noblest instincts and encouraging it has been disastrous for our political discourse.

  9. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree that this is an extremely well-written piece that excels in both description of the actions of this person, and an insightful psychological analyis of someone who is “wielding his impotence to brutalize….”

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you, Cynthia. My hope was to get beyond the political and into the psychological because I feel that, although this often manifests in the political sphere, it isn’t a political problem per se. This sort of behavior is product of a mental disorder and empowering these people is a very, very bad idea.


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