Do you think your art has some kind of mission? Do you have a mission statement (real or imagined) as an artist? Does what you create fall into (in general, not necessarily always) some kind of grander, you know, vision? What is it?
(And for those of you who might be inclined to say "I just try to do good work, dude"... I think I'm just asking us to take a minute and examine what we do on a somewhat deeper level... there must be something that makes a particular project or idea appeal to you even though there are other "good" projects/ideas that don't)
(Ex: I talk a lot about reconnecting ourselves with what is human about us instead of further alienating myself and my audience from their humanity. I think that is a mission of the art I do. It helps inform what I think of an aesthetic exeprience after having had said experience, it helps inform the projects I choose etc. I don't expect an audience member to see a play I've directed and go "Wow, I feel so in touch with my human-ness now!" it's just one of the many things that go into my work)
Matt Yglesias is swiftly becoming my favorite political blogger. Not only is he like a mega-super-grade fan of The Wire, but he regularly cranks out really great posts like this one, about our national conversation vis-a-vis Iran. Read it. It's really great. It makes me jealous, actually, since he's like 12.
So Senator Allen not only calls someone a racially derogatory term, hangs a noose in his office and loves the confederacy even though he's not from the south... it turns out he also likes to hang out with White Supremacists.
I don't think this is guilt by association. While Governor, Allen "personally initiated an association with the Council of Conservative Citizens, the successor organization to the segregationist White Citizens Council and among the largest white supremacist groups."
Good luck explaining that one.
Please, go read the linked to article above if you get a chance. It's a doozy.
In other race-baiting news:
I know the southern white vote is important. But is it so important that Joe Biden needs to brag on national television that Delaware was a slave state?
Seriously, dude, WTF? I mean, there's pandering and then there's bullcrap like that. Not that Biden was likely to get my vote in the NY Presidential Primary, but he certainly lost all hope of it right there
I'm asking this next question because I've been telling people (and have planned a blog post) centered around the idea that The Wire is, quite simply the greatest. Hour long. Television show. Of all time. But I haven't seen every hour long television show. So obviously, I can't be speaking from comprehensive knowledge.
So let me ask all of you...
What is, in your opinion, the greatest hour-long fictional television show you have ever watched? What about that show makes it the best?
If your answer would normally be The Wire, please substitute your 2nd favorite.
UPDATED BELOW WITH LOGISTICAL INFO!
Okay, blog. If I'm not going to abandon you for a week, you can at least help me get organized.
My next few projects, in chronological order:
(1) Lee's Miserables (Friday, Sep. 1st). A reading of a new play by Clay McLeod Chapman, directed by yours truly. Clay is my most frequent collaborator. Not counting Rapid Response Team, I've directed four of his plays and acted in one. I'm in the process this week of directing a developmental reading of the piece to help take the script to the next level. We've got three rehearsals, on every-other-day with Clay and I meeting on the off-days to do rewrites and talk about the script.
(2) Starbucks Salon (Sunday, September 17th). Author Jonathan Lethem and I are performing together an adaptation (by me) of an unpublished short story (Their Back Pages by him) as part of the Starbucks Salon. UPDATE: The website is a little confusing. The event is at 4PM, the performance is at 76 Greene St., in Soho. There's a PDF map on the website, but it's kind of hard to find.
(3) In Public (Oct. 18-28, rehearsals approx. Sep. 15th-17th) The remounting (And re-invisioning) of George Hunka's play which we presented in workshop about a year ago. George details last night's callbacks here.
(4) The Rapid Response Team (ongoing, resumes first week of October). We'll be back. And in the meantime, we've gotta get enough marketing materials together that people will actually want to see us.
(5) Avow (First week of November) I'll be in Richmond, VA, to direct a reading of a play about gay marriage and Catholicism staged the same week that Virginia considers a bill vis-a-vis the issue.
(6) The Shadow (Ongoing). Matt Freeman and I are working (as you probably know) to adapt one of my favorite Hans Christen Andersen short stories, about a man whose shadow learns to pass for human, and then turns against him. Not sure when that'll be ready to go, but I'm definitely excited!
so the next month is pretty full. And then after that? Not a whole lot. Yet.
Perhaps I will be blogging some after all.
First, let me just ask that readers of this site go read what Joshua James has to say here in a post entitled The Common Touch-- The Problem With Theater Today... it's sort of like the theater blogging equivalent of Pulp's "Common People"... except I doub tthat William Shatner will ever do a spoken-word rendition of such lines as:
I think theatre has been replaced by film, first, then television and now the internet. The ideas and the immediacy theatre once offered is being handed out in other media for far less money, especially on cable, where you pay eighty to ninety bucks a month for six hundred channels and get your money’s worth in terms of risk and ideas and entertainment. Theatre costs more and earns less in return for the viewer, these days. Theatre has a power none of the other media has because it’s live, in front of you, and it can be electric when dealing with the ideas of today. It really can, I’ve seen it, seen others use theatre the way it should be, and I’ve done it myself. But it’s harder and harder to find our audience because they’ve been burned too many times at our table. They’ve given us their money, pulled up and chair and when it was over, they left still hungry.
Anyway... this is probably my favorite post JJ has written since I started reading his blog. Check it out.
UPDATE I would like to make it clear that I don't necessarily agree with what JJ has said, nor do I necessarily agree with everything I link to. I just think JJ has done a good job of crystalizing his opinions and this post will give you a good sense of where he comes from.
UPDATE II: Having just deleted a comment appended to this post, I would just like to restate that people should feel free to post their opinions on something, but I will delete posts that I find to be unnecessarily rude, abusive, dismissive or filled with name calling. The comment deleted did the latter of these. I invite the writer (who did not include an e-mail address and whose name I do not know or I would've contacted him or her privately) to rewrite the comment, sans-name calling.
This is a busy week for me, so I don't really have much time to blog. On a personal note, Anne and I moved in together over the weekend, so I'm also exhausted. And very, very happy.
I'm going to post questions again, for people to enjoy in the comments section. Have a good week!
1) The Sun Goes Down And The World Goes Dancing, The Magnetic Fields
2) Eros Entropic Tundra, Of Montreal
3) Muleta, Calexico
4) Nice 'n' Sleazy, The Stranglers
5) Skating, Vince Guaraldi Trio
6) Fell Off The Face of the Earth, Firewater
7) Lipstick Vogue, Elvis Costello
8) Jungle Soul. Johannes Fehring & The Orf Big Band
9) At The House Of The Clerkenwell Kid, (The Real) Tuesday Weld
10) Moonage Daydream, David Bowie
And it can be downloaded here. They still sound a cross between B-side Happy Mondays and a Car Commerical to me. But perhaps you'll feel different about it. Perhaps I'll need to see them live. Everyone I know who likes them bases said like on their live shows.
UPDATE And there's a new song from a band I quite like as well! The Rosebuds' Hold On To This Coat. Can be downloaded here. Bit of a departure for them in terms of relying on a programmed drum beat and a lot of atmospheric sound, unlike their last album, the really quite-good (and badly titled) Birds Make Good Neighbors
UPDATED BELOW (Several Times)
I just realized.... oh right, I'm a culture blogger. Whoops. For a moment, you might have thought that i was a potty mouthed radical leftist. I guess I'm that too sometimes. But I've kinda been ignoring the culture blog side of things lately. Sorry about that. What can I say? Swearing is fun.
Anyway... I want to talk about something that I don't have a coherent opinion on, as a way of trying to spark some conversation in the comments, and as a way of helping me codify my own opinion of it. And because I think it's something we don't talk about very often. Namely: what responsibilities do artists have?
1. I think our gut reaction is, typically, that artists have no responsiblities other than to create good works of art. But I don't think this reaction stands up to any kind of scrutiny, and it is riddled with assumptions. The first assumption: that you and your listener know what "good" is, and, in fact, agree on it. To some poeple, leftist art, for example, is automatically bad. To some people, misogynist art is automatically bad. But even setting aside politics for a second... the idea that we can appreciate a work of art completely on aesthetic grounds, and somehow divorce the social context of ourselves as audience members and the artist as human beings is, on some level, foolhardy. It might be a nice thing to reach for, but let's at least admit we're going to fail to reach it. It is impossible. Just like objectivity is impossible. That doesn't mean it isn't worth striving for, but still. Let's not fool ourselves.
2. But try quanitfying what responsibilities we think artists have, and we get on some very slippery slopes indeed. For example: I think it is perfectly valid to criticize a piece of art for its misogyny. But I don't think it's okay to dismiss a piece of art for its misogyny. I'll give a random example. The novel Dune (c'mon, blogosphere, you know you've read it) is one of the most virulently reactionary anti-female books I've ever read. The real villains of the Dune series are not the quasi-queer fascist Harkonnen, but rather the Bene Gesseret, a society of psychic women who control the world by deciding when and with whom they'll have children. Dune also arrives in bookstores around the time the birth control pill arrives on pharmacists' shelves. There's a lot to criticize in Dune's treatment of women. Just like there's a lot to criticize in Great Expectations' treatment of Jews. That being said, throwing out the baby with the bathwater robs us of many important and worthwhile aesthetic experiences.
3. But what about the artist's responsibilities as a human being. Picasso was a woman-beater. Mel Gibson is an anti-semite. Oscar Wilde was a homosexual. To various groups of people these are great artists. And to various groups of people, they have intrinsic things about them that are wrong/evil (for the record, I think Picasso and Oscar Wilde are great artists and that woman-beating and antsemitism are wrong/evil. Mel Gibson is a somewhat-okay kooky action movie leading man who somewhere along the way got it in his head that he's an Important Artist. Sadly, other people agree with him). Anyway, to what extent does the personality/behavior of the artist as a human being matter? Surely it matters in the case of The Passion, which is a cinematic pogrom (as Christopher Hitchens so accurately put it) so the fact that it's made by an anti-semite should be relevant.
4. But what about Oscar Wilde's homosexuality? I ask this because some of Wilde's most delightful writing is about the lack of a true self. He wrote about how the mask is the man. And how the lie we live with is far more interesting (and real) than the truth we're hiding. How does it complciate our appreciation of these theories and ideas if we know that Oscar Wilde was writing them while hiding what (in his day) was a Great Big Horrible Secret that, to some great extent, destroyed him when it was found out? I have no beef with Wilde's gayness. I don't think being gay is wrong. I support gay marriage, gay integration into the armed forces etc. This is not about that. THis is about... how much of an artist's life should inform our appreciation of his work? My literary theory professors in college said not at all. I think they're full of crap, frankly. But what about irrelevant details? Does knowing Roland-Barthes killed himself change your opinion of Image, Music, Text?
5. Finally... what about totally irrelevant personal failings. Is there a point where they cross over? What about, really... this is the one I've been struggling with... what about Roman Polanski? As readers of this blog might've guessed, child sexual abuse is something that' sbeen on my mind lately, as it is (as I wrote earlier) a plague that's affecting this culture. Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year old girl. He left the country rather than face the consequences of his actions (And before you write in the comments saying that it's ambiguous or whatever... (A) both parties to the rape have said that's what happened, and it's been well documented and (B) the grey area here is actually irrelevant to what i"m trying to explore). Should we conitnue to see his movies? If yes... should they continue to be financed? Can we name any other industry in which we would think it acceptable for someone to drug and rape a thirteen year old girl, flee the country, and keep their job? What if a politician did that (And it was possible for a politician to stay in politics over seas... perhaps as an ambassador? whatever, it's a thought experiment)? Why should artists get a pass? Why is that okay?
6. Is it a valid criticism of a director that they are abusive/degrading/assholes to their actors? I think it is. It might not be a valid criticism of the work they create but I think you can valid criticisms of an artist's process.
7. Finally, I doubt there's anything that's much worse than being a Nazi, an SS Officer, and hiding it for a few decades. Should Gunter Grass be stripped of his nobel prize? Should we still read his novels? Here's an article in the Times in which he addresses some concerns.
Anyway... those are my disconnected thoughts about this. What do you guys and gals think?UPDATE I: In the comments, George makes the point that there is a difference between an artist's responsibility as a human being (which is the same responsibility all humans have) and how their pass/fail relationship to that responsibility should or should not affect our appreciate of their art. Separating, in other words, artist from art. Which I think is a helpful distinction. I get very very reactive when people think that artists (usually by which they mean themselves) can act like spoiled, mildly autistic children simply because they are artists.
I have some new questions and thoughts, having slept on this:
A Does our calculus of all of this change when the art is bad? Should it?
B What obligation do artists in the here-and-now have to not make (for example) sexist art? I think it's pretty clear (for example) that Spike Lee doesn't think very highly of women. We sort of just chuckle and go there goes sexist Spike Lee. But isn't it worth talking about, even if he is never going to change? This is (i suppose) more a question about film criticism.
C Why is it okay for artists to be terrible people (okay in the sense of their art, not them as people) but it is not okay for us for people in other professions to be terrible people? Gunter Grass was a Nazi as a teenager. That's not okay in the human sense, but we still read and get a lot out of his novels. Pope Benedict was a member of the Hitler youth when he was much younger than Gunter Grass. We hold this against him. Why? Really, the question I think we should ask is what do we think makes artists special? Why the double standard?
UPDATE II Welcome all the new people contributing some really great stuff in the comments! I heartily recommend everyone reading this post wade through what's going on there. I get a sense that perhaps some people reading this post are relatively new to this site as well. If so, welcome. My name is Isaac Butler. I am a theater director based out of New York City. I started this blog a few years ago at a different URL and then moved over here. Parabasis is primarily a blog about culture and politics and intersections therein. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to browse throughh our lovely archives. I apologize in advance for the frequent profanity. As my dad says, I have the mouth of a stevedore. Whatever that means.
UPDATE III Matt Yglesias tackles something tangentially related, but probably more entertaining: what responsibilities do restauranteurs have? In this case, comparing a restaurant called Hitler's Cross outside Bombay and asking whether this is more or less offensive than KGB BAR and if so... why? Why is Nazi kitch not okay, but Soviety Kitch is? The Gulag was pretty terrible, after all...
UPDATE IV (sheesh): I just want to make it clear, as I try to do in the comments, that I'm really trying to ask these questions, not make arguments through questions. I don't know what an artists' responsibilities are, where they lay, towards their work, towards their audience, or towards the world. I think it is a big thing that we're constantly grappling with. Also. I don't think Polanski films should be boycotted because Polanski is a rapist. I also think Dune is a great book despite its misogyny (and homophobia), just like Great Expectations is a great book despite its anti-semetism. Much Ado About Nothing is a great play even though it containts the line "If I do not love her, I am a Jew". Merchant of Venice is a bad play, and it would be a bad play even if Shylock were Christ Himself. I'm really trying to ask questions to explore why/how we come to form our opinions of what an artists' responsibilities are.
The language has been atrocious and profane on the blog lately. I don't know why. Perhaps I've just been a lot angrier lately. I don't know. Anyway, to anyone who has been offended by my language lately... I apologize.
I've directed MacIvor's work four times in High School and College, so I should have a lot to say about him. He was my favorite playwright for many years. His play Never Swim Alone (which counted for two of those four times) is playing currently as part of the New York Fringe. Anyway... he's awesome. Check out the article.
So... awhile ago, I accidentally accepted a textlink ad from MoveOverMoveOn, a website created to counter the "socialistic [sic] [seriously outdated 1950's paranoia]" rhetoric of MoveOn.
I did it by accident, couldn't figure out how to take it back and figured, "What do I care if some damn fool wants to pay me $0.15 a week to advertise on my site for people who completely disagree wtih said fool's beliefs".
Then Abe suggested I actually, um, you know, look at their website.
Let me tell ya, they're grade-A douchebags. Like, macaca-grade douchebags. Like, not quite John Edwards Biggest-Douche-of-the-Universe-Winners... but close. Real close. I think "Psychic" John Edwards wins. But just by a nose. Or maybe by his teeth, like in that movie with Bobcat Goldthwait and a talking horse. Was that... Let It Ride? No wait, that's a horseracing movie with Richard Dreyfuss. And no talking horse.
Anyway, the 80's were awesome.
Where was I? Oh right. MoveOver-MoveOn. yeah, I'd include a link so that you can experience it for yourself, but really, you can just google it and find it. There's no fucking way i'm including a link on my site.
I'm going to pick three examples at random to demonstrate their doucheocity:
(1) The following is the first line of the "mission statement" (count the multiple syllables in those words, whydotcha) of Moveover-Moveon:
No Politically correct or anti americans allowed!
Abe just hit my shoulder (ow) to inform me that they forgot to capitalize "correct" in "Politically Correct", hyphenate "anti-americans" or, you know capitalize fucking America
(2) I will post the following quote from their site, sans comment:
The Nazis did not send as many ‘invaders’ into Europe or Russia as the Mexicans have sent here...
(3) They have the following graphical representation: A headline that reads DEMOCRATS (crossed out), then a picture of a donkey with "Mexican Looking" gear on it, and a picture of a little black girl with no face. Instead of a face, she has a word bubble that reads "SOLD OUT!" and then underneathe the picture "Millions of African Americans [again, no hyphen, what are they, hyphenphobic?] Sold Out"
Now, I remember in 5th grade when my math teacher-- who I had, I'll admit, a crush on-- would give us these pictographic representations of phrases. Remember... it would be like
And you'd go-- Dude, he's under the weather! And think you were really smart. Well, I was like pictographically disabled or something. I totally couldn't impress her with my pictographic know-how and deconstructive knoweldge because I didn't have any.
So maybe I'm missing something. Are donkeys having trouble getting tickets to a show involving black girls? Are black girls' jobs being outsourced to Mexico? Is that what's happening? I mean, according to Brokeback scary, sexy things happen in Mexico, but I didn't realize they were taking the jobs of six year old girls!
After staring at it for (seriously, I'm not lying) twenty minutes, I managed to figure out that what they're trying to say is that black americans are being sold out to Mexican illegal immigrants-- that illegal immigration hurts poor, unskilled workers the worst. Of course, saying that all blacks are poor, unskilled workers is, well, racist. So once again. Douchebags.
This is all a way of saying to you, dear reader, that I will try much much harder in the future to, you know, actually read the sites that pay me to advertise on my site.
Oh, but those Poker Ads... those are "in network"... I have no control over those. But I will say one thing... poker... is, if not the sport of kings, at least not the sport... of douchebags.
So please... support your local internet gambler... because the last thing you want is for them to outsource their black little girl dealers to Mexico.
PS: This might be my favorite thing I've ever written ever.
Good news. According to American Research Group, Lamont and Lieberman are in a statistical tie in Connecticutt.
But isn't there a problem here? The poll measures likely voters. Here's my question: The race as it stands is a race between a Democratic Challenger who is a left-of-center, anti-Iraq war dude, an ex-Democratic Independant who is an extreme hawk on war stuff but fairly middle-of-the-road on most social issues, and a Republican who no one really knows anything about. How the heck do you know in this situation who is and who is not a likely voter? It's not exactly precidented. A lot of this race is going to come down to turnout. That turnout is going to affect every down-ticket race. How do you predict that turnout at all?
So a friend of mine approached me awhile ago with a great idea:
There are quite a few Democratic primary elections coming up soon in New York City. There's a big one of the 11th congressional district (in which I reside) because the sitting Congressman is retiring. Running in his place are four somewhat-similar Democrats. It's a safe Democratic district (for those keeping score: it's the 11th district). Anyway, the seat has been held by a fairly ineffectualy, but dependably lefty Congressman named Major Owens for some time.
A lot of people don't vote in primaries because they can't tell the difference between people running. I want to find out what the differences are, here, and I could use your help.
So, Parabistas... here's my question:
What question would you ask a Democratic Primary Candidate in Brooklyn to try to figure out what makes them worth voting for or against?
Here's an example of one I came up with:
(1) You can assume in my neighborhood that all four candidates are against the Iraq War and want to bring the troops home. So a better question would be: When/how do you want to accomplish bringing the troops home? and then you might get different answers (according to a timetable, when there's a stable Iraqi government, ASAP etc.) that might help you figure out the differences.
So what should we ask? Please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments or send things to my e-mail box at parabasisnyc AT yahoo.com . I'll be asking the four candidates the questions and posting the answers here on my blog. And then, eventually, I'll be announcing who I'll be voting for.
(The four candidates, in case you're interested are David Yassky, Chris Owens, Carl Andrews and Yvette Clark)