If you don't think the world's weird, you're not paying attention.

Binary Concepts: Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft

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Gesellschaft. (Subway by George Tooker, 1950)
Gemeinschaft. (The Peasant Wedding by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568)

Two of my favorite concepts are the binary pair of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. First introduced in print in 1887 by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft, in short, means community, a place where everybody knows your name. Gesellschaft, on the other hand, is a society where greed is good, and nobody sticks their necks out for anyone but themselves. It’s the difference between Bedford Falls and Pottersville.

Where do you live: Bedford Falls or Pottersville?


1. Film noir is often about a character who is stuck in a Gesellschaft world, but trying to get to a Gemeinschaft world. Think The Asphalt Jungle, The Killing, Johnny O’Clock.

2. The Wizard of Oz: the world over the rainbow, Oz = Gemeinschaft; Kansas, at the beginning of the film = Gesellschaft.

3. Brigaddoon = Gemeinschaft ; the New York City of that film = Gesellschaft.


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