Leonard Jacobs replies to his critics (including yours truly) here.
Yesterday, I wrote a post which has garnered some criticism and generated some debate. I think it's worth it to address this in a way that might help you know me (and, hopefully, vice versa) a little better.
First let me say that I am not apologizing for the post, nor will I amend it further than I already have. I do wish that I had put my complaint in a way that was more constructive, but I stand by the spirit of what I wrote. I believe that Leonard Jacobs' derision towards Spike Lee would not have taken the same form, nor have been so vitriolic were Spike Lee white, and, given that he is a reviewer, I think that is worth pointing out. I said in the earlier post that I thought this was more casual/unintentional, and thus there are tonal and attitudinal adjustments that should've been made (more on that later).
Let me tell you a little bit about myself, and why issues of race, class, sexuality and gender matter as much to me as they do. I've written before about me diverse family, but I've tried not to spend much time elucidating it, because I don't want to use my loved ones as props to give myself some sort of moral authority. So I offer this in the spirit of explaining my history to you.
I come from a diverse family. My two older siblings are black. My younger sibling is a transgendered Orthodox Jew. My mother is a secular Jew. My father is a Christian Scientist. His ancestors (and thus mine) were part of the white power structure of the South... some great great great whatever uncle of mine was Andrew Jackson's law partner. I attended the first integrated school in the Washington, D.C. area and graduated in the least diverse class in its history. For six years I was involved in a romantic interracial relationship. Many of my friends are people of color, and I try to engage in frank conversations about race and privilege with them when possible. And I live in the most cultrually diverse cities in the world while simultaneously working in an art form that is rather behind the times as far as integration goes.
This is the background I come from, the context I live in. And it is impossible living in that context to deny that race still matters in America (as do class, gender, sexuality etc. but I'm talking about race today). It is impossible to have one's older brother sent to a service entrace at a posh hotel for no reason other than being black and go to a bar where your black male friends have trouble getting served and think that somehow treating people as just people is possible. It is impossible to know someone whose grandfather was a slave and think we've fully recovered from the wound of slavery. And it is unconscionable, I think, to live with the privilege I enjoy simply by accident of birth and not use that privilege to speak out against instances of bias, discrimination etc. when I see them. I didn't write about Leonard's post because I was offended for black people, I spoke out against it because I was offended.
Or to put it more stridently, I see evidence that, despite the progress we've made, we still live in a society that is racist, sexist, homophobic and deeply class striated. And you can't simultanesouly believe that and also think that that somehow we're immune to it. Those factors affect the assumptions we make, the attitudes we have, our opinions about people. My background doesn't exempt me from this.
It is from this place-- that we all are shaped by the institutionalized racism of our society-- that could've lead me to engage Leonard's comments in a more constructive manner that was more in keeping with the spirit of this blog, and I regret that shortcoming on my part. Frank conversations about race are difficult to come by and difficult to have, and hurling accusations at people (which is how some perceived what I was doing in the previous post, even if that wasn't my intent) can make those conversations more difficult.
People often say that racism (or sexism/antisemetism/homophobia/takeyourpick) is over-diagnosed. I disagree. I think it's under-diagnosed, but mistalked about. When we talk about someone's racism and/or racist actions, we talk about it as all their problem, they are the exception instead of the rule. We heap a lot of blame on them and say see, those are people who do racist things, over there as a way of comforting ourselves. There has to be a more a productive way to have this conversation and I hope we can perhaps work on doing that here on Parabasis. For example, one thing I learned is that the very usage of the term "racism" or "racist" when talking about a specific person or action makes having that conversation harder.
And there is the lesson that I relearned today, which I wrote about on this blog recently. Namely, that we can choose whom we try to engage constructively. Some people, even when disagreeing with you, leave a door open, others just want to pick fights. There is no point in engaging the latter-- nothing can really come of it without a level of energy that could be spent working with the former group (and with those who agree with you). There is a (ego-based) streak in me that very much wants to engage the more vitriolic accusations that have been made against me, but I think that's just further stepping into the trap. Instead, I offer my history, my perspective, I don't think it's necessarily the right (or the wrong) one to have, but it is mine, and now I give it to you. Maybe we can make something with it together.
by Rob Grace
I’ll be at the Sundance Theater Lab developing a play of mine this summer, so The Weekly 2008 will be on hiatus. A fitting time for abeyance, it seems, given the talk of September permeating the media. Before my departure, though, let’s examine how a September policy shift may necessitate tactical changes in campaign strategies.
Currently, Democrats can be roughly classified into three broad Iraq policy categories. One: redeploy most US troops, leaving some behind to train Iraqi soldiers and protect US interests (Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Dodd). Two: withdraw all US troops, replace with UN force (Richardson, Kucinich, Gravel). Three: urge the Iraqi government to increase regional autonomy (Biden).
The Republicans can be divided similarly. One: general support for the surge, advocacy for a military solution (Giuliani, McCain, Romney, Gilmore, Huckabee). Two: US troops should leave soon given certain conditions (Tancredo, Ron Paul, Hunter, Tommy Thompson). Three: urge the Iraqi government to increase regional autonomy (Brownback).
This somewhat broad spectrum, when distilled to the frontrunner battle (Clinton/Obama/Edwards vs. Giuliani/Romney/McCain) resembles the elections of 1812, 1864, 1900, and 1952 – with one party urging a continuance of military engagement and the other advocating for the war’s end. When September’s funding bill comes around, though, if the Democrats can garner the 9 Senate votes and 28 House votes they lacked in April, the campaign will become more complex. With the end of substantial US involvement likely, trends will most likely resemble the chaotic Vietnam elections of 1968 and 1972 - both sides will have to present themselves as better able to secure the most effective peace.
The result could be detrimental for Democrats. With some form of their plan enacted, Democrats would shift to the defensive, forced to illustrate progress and optimism during what will undoubtedly be a violent and unpleasant withdrawal. Republican frontrunners, all with solid Terrorist Fighter myth personas, would be in a good position to project strength and faith in America’s supremacy in the face of withdrawal. Democrats are favored more by the predictable current situation, in which they can campaign against Bush, effectively capitalizing on his unpopularity.
Some compelling illuminations come from the unconsidered political margins, being that they operate in relative independence from such concerns of salesmanship. Green Party candidate Alan Augustson, for example, believes that the US should withdraw completely from Iraq, at which point, “If the U.N. wishes to phase in, to ensure no massive outbreak of civil war, great. If not, tough.” Libertarian candidate Daniel Imperato believes the US should be legally entitled to a share of Iraq’s oil wealth. And this conservative editorial states the belief that Bush should assume the authority to fire and appoint Iraq’s elected political leaders until he finds people that can create a cohesive country.
The ways in which these views fail to fit in to acceptable rhetorical structures illustrates our restrictive political realities. The views of Auguston and Imperato, for example, don’t congrue with the notion that concern for the Iraqi people rests at the heart of our policy formulation. The conservative editorial can be dismissed due to democracy promotion’s prominence in current rhetoric. All the Bush administration’s justifications for invasion have been discounted, including that of democracy promotion, but paradoxically, none of them can be rhetorically abandoned. All mainstream candidates must present themselves as deterrers of nuclear proliferation, strong fighters of terrorists, supporters of democracy promotion, but more importantly, must propagate the fundamentally flawed assumption of the initial Iraq policy – that Iraq’s interests could be in congruence with those of America.
It needn’t be an actual quagmire, only a rhetorical one, as we can cast off the flawed assumption, freeing ourselves to thoroughly examine the conflict in unrestrictive ways. Perhaps we need a Murtha-like declaration that the balancing of Iraqi and American interests is impossible and should be unequivocally abandoned. Such a shift, though, is unlikely, given its complete lack of historical precedence. Consequently, all mainstream candidates are packaging their contrary policies in the same flawed assumption – a tactic that will most likely not change in September, and continue through to next November.
In Utah this summer, though, I’ll be immersed in issues more brutal and grotesque in nature - the pre-Westphalian nightmare of 15th Century Western Europe. By comparison, current events seem G-rated – illustrating something nearly invisible – mankind’s long, slow trajectory toward civility. It will be interesting to see how September’s decision fits into the gradual upward curve.
Is Seattle's theatre scene dying?
I only ask because I feel like over the past few years I've read a constant drumbeat of downer stories about Seattle's once-lauded theatre scene, including that the Empty Space has closed and now, one of the last low-budget rental houses has shuttered as well.
Does anyone living in that area wanna give parabasis readers a first hand account of what's going on? If so, please leave in the comments...
And I'm not talking about his Mormon beliefs, but rather that on a family vacation, he strapped the family dog to the top of his car for a 12 hour drive, which resulted in the dog being so terrified, it crapped itself.
For more on the story, I'll let Ana Marie Cox comment here.
So, the President of the United States invades Iraq, for reasons that are still not especially clear. The war is sold as some mixture between fighting terrorism and finding/destorying WMDs, but the country had neither (it now has a large amount of the former). One of the major accusations made by people in the Middle East is that the US is an imperialist power that's in the pocket of the Jews and is trying to do Israel's bidding. A few years and a massive insurgency/civil war later, this same President says that he would consider Iraq a success if it was a lot more like Israel.
Now, setting aside the context for a moment (namely that what he meant was there's a lot of terrorism in israel but life there goes on)... can we just marvel at the stunning idiocy of this moment?
Or... should we rather conclude that Bush Co. just don't give a fuck, that they know the war is lost and they don't care?
More coverage here.
Mark Armstrong links twice to Leonard Jacobs' reactions to the recent announcement that Spike Lee will direct his first play... on Broadway. First he links to this post in which Jacobs asks (snarkily):
...are you waiting to find out whether P. Diddy and Howdy Doody will both be cast in it?
And then he links to Leonard Jacobs writing here:
Are people afraid to actually say, "What up, yo? What's he doin'?"
I worry about Lee directing on Broadway because he neither sees nor particularly likes theatre, and that troubles me. So in this, Jacobs and I agree. Mark, who supports (at least tacitly) the decision to hire Spike Lee to directed Stalag-17 hints at something that I'll just come out and say: Regardless of whether he means to or not, I think Leonard Jacobs is being racist. He is using specific racial signifiers to criticize the Lee decision and using his blackness (will he cast a rapper? What up, yo?) for the express purpose of mocking him. I think it's important to note that I don't mean that Jacos is a racist, which is to say someone dedicated to oppressing black people. I just mean that he's cracking racially charged jokes on his site, which is a racist thing to do. He should apologize for the posts.
UPDATE: Freeman raises a very valid and important criticism (of me, not Jacobs) in the comments-- that perhaps i'm being overly harsh. Which has left me in a bit of a state. I still think Jacobs' jokes were problematic, and that he at the very least should explain them, but the particular hair I was trying to split (I thought the jokes were racist, which is different from saying Jacos is a racist) is perhaps a bit of a fine hair to slice. Esepcially on the internet. In the past, I probably would take this post down or significantly retool it, try to find a less-harsh word for racist (racially charged? problematic?), while keeping the specific criticisms and repost it. But that also seems to hide myself from the criticism that I may have done a boneheaded thing. Hm. Now what should I do, dear reader?
With Young Vic artistic director David Lan. It's a few years old, but it can be found at the Guardian's website. Lan was an actor, and then a writer (for American readers, he co-wrote Mouthfull of Birds with Caryl Churchill) and turned to directing late. So he has a rather interesting perspective. Here's a section I thought worth clipping:
Is there anything we're particularly good/bad at in this country? What do you think are the industry's real strengths and weaknesses, compared with theatre elsewhere? We're fantastically good at acting and designing and production management. We're not very good at writing any more. We have some brilliant directors but no means by which directors can learn from each other. We're far more interested in European and Asian theatre than we used to be which is good. We're bad at continuity. We're always starting again with few lessons learnt.
How could British theatre be stronger? What would make your work easier/more rewarding? I'm out of sympathy with the taken for granted division between so-called physical and text-based theatre. Speech is movement and all theatre is movement in space, for the eye, for the ear, for the brain and for the heart. The Royal Court idea that the writer is key is obviously wrong - the writer is key in novels and poems. The whole point about the theatre is that it starts at the moment that the actor intervenes and, with any luck, starts to sing. So cross fertilisation is good, collaboration is good, research is good, young people are good, singing is good, fun is good, debate is good, money is good - intelligence, energy and pleasure.
Anyway, just thought I'd toss that into the ring. Your thoughts?
Is the point of charity to help people or to feel better about yourself? Is it about the giver or the receiver of charity?
Let's say you have a choice between living in two societies. In one, there isn't much charity, people don't give a lot of money away. Instead, that money is taxed, and then the government spends it on (amongst other things) taking care of the poor. Poverty is very low in your country, as are infant mortality rates due to the fact that you have universal health care.
In society b, people give lots of money to charity, but the government does little for people (and taxes are low) thus, poverty and (for example) infant mortality rates are relatively high.
The second society is of course the US. Now, there are all sorts of reasons to defend the US' way of doing business, but I've read a number of bloggers (including Andrew Sullivan) recently using a revealing canard: that US citizens give more money away to charity and this proves that our system works better. But that's only true if what you care about is the giving of charity as opposed to, you know, poor people not living in poverty. US citizens give more money away to charity because we do such a shitty job of taking care of our populace.
Now, you can make the argument that the habit of giving money away is good and in countries like Denmark, once the social safety net dissolves they'll have no idea what to do with themselves (I'm told Australian theatre companies are running up against a similar problem) but I'm still not sure that makes the US system preferable.
37 comments and counting... and I thought I was just being silly! Go check out the comments thread on the "most influential work of drama of the last 100 years" which has turned into a lengthy conversation about influence itself and all sorts of different works, from Buchner to Ibsen to Beckett to Thorton Wilder to Brecht.
First of all, people who've seen my work have also probably seen the delightful work of Patrick Shearer, Abe Goldfarb, Brian Silliman, Sabrina Braswell and Ronica Reddick. Well, gues what? They're all doing a show together. It's called The Magic of Mrs. Crowling and you can read all the info about it here. Oh and did I mention I went to reading of it that was delightful? And (keep in mind it was a reading) several people cried watching it?? It's funny and sad and lovely and Brian wrote it and Abe's directing it and Patrick and Brian and Ronica are in it and Sabrina's doing the lights. Go see it.
Next up is Rapid Response Team member Mac Rogers' show about Robots. That's right, motherfuckers. Robots. It also stars Jennifer Gordon Thomas of In Public fame. I couldn't find a website for it, so here's the info on the show:
written and directed by Mac Rogers
Inspired by the play "R.U.R." by Karel Capek
Assistant Directors - Shey Lyn Zanotti and Sandy Yaklin
Featuring Esther Barlow, Jason Howard*, David Ian Lee*, Michelle
O'Connor, Ridley Parson, Nancy Sirianni*, Tarantino Smith*, Ben
Sulzbach, Jennifer Gordon Thomas, and James Wetzel*
"The year is 2007. The last human being died in 1961. Each year we
gather together to tell the story, that we never ever forget."
Mon - Thu, July 9 - 12 at 8pm
Mon - Thu, July 16 - 19 at 8pm
177 MacDougal Street
A, C, E, B, D, F, V to West 4th Street
What's that, you say? One show called Universal Robots isn't good enough for you? FIne! Be that way! Go see a totally different show called Universal Robots at the Ontological Hysteric Theater. Info here. This one is created by 31 Down which features the work of Shannon Sindelar, who is a totally awesome woman and is doing good things for the world.
Obivously I'm biased in this, but I find the arguments against it not particularly convincing, especially as they all tend to assume that any problems created by UHC (and there will be problems, I accept that) will (a) not be addresseable and (b) will be worse than either (1) lots of people dying because of indadequate health insurace or (2) the enormous amount of money our current system costs us. So obviously, I'm unpersuaded by Andrew Sullivan and think Kevin Drum is pretty much right on the money. Also... note to Andrew: one of the reasons why England has bad socialized medicine is Thatcher, not the existence of socialized medicine.
According to Newsweek, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon*** is the most influential work of art of the last 100 years. According to a survey of 500 artists, however, Duchamp's Fountain rates number one.
These things are always arbitrary but oh what the hell... what do you think is the most influential play of the last 100 years? Not best, mind you (this is what I think makes it interesting) but rather influential. My gut instinct (not really thinking about it) is to say Godot but maybe that's just because that's what you're supposed to say...
*** This work is also subject of Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile one of a list of really quite good plays that everyone will hate because of high school, college and community theatre productions of them, along wiht Our Town and Into the Woods.
Hey, I'm not the only one who things you should see it Here's Charles Isherwood (I know, I know) on it:
Most fortunately, “Gone Missing,” a theatrical elegy for all those people and pets, attributes and inanimate objects that walked out of our lives, never to be heard from again, has not joined the litany of the disappeared. This delightful comic revue, created and performed by the downtown theater troupe the Civilians in 2001, has returned for an encore engagement at the Barrow Street Theater.
Developed by the company from man-on-the-street interviews, directed and written by Steven Cosson and featuring an eclectic cavalcade of witty pastiche songs by Michael Friedman, this revised and expanded version of “Gone Missing” is fresh, breezy and very funny indeed, pretty much a perfect summer entertainment.
Which does not mean that it has nothing to say. Underneath its wry surface lies a mournful acknowledgment of the transience of life’s pleasures, symbolized here by any number of cherished possessions that somehow fell into a black hole, leaving behind an aching void in the shape of a bit of jewelry, a PalmPilot or a stuffed animal.
If you've never seen a Civilians show, I think this is a good one to start with. It's an excellent distillation of their art, and it's both hilarious and deeply (inexplicably, I would say) moving. Get your tickets here.
It's that time again, folks... What show do you recommend people see this week?
I'm going for The Civilians' Gone Missing at the Barrow Street, whose initial workshop I co-ADed and whose initial production I sound boarded. And for a show I had nothing to do with, I re-recommend Target Margin's shows at the Kitchen (details here). Oh... and I'm finally seeing Spring Awakening this week because (a) two friends of mine are amongst the producers and (b) if I don't, Jaime threatened to stop being friends with me.
Recently I wrote about the admiration I had for people who applied the activist spirit (i.e. working to improve what they're doing and how they're doing it) to their jobs. I was thinking more about this today. I'm temping for Massive Publishing Company today, which exists in an energy-star certified building and recycles but... uses non-recycled paper. The amount of paper I xeroxed on that one day (just me) was easily in the thousands of pages.
Which got me to thinking... what if someone (not a temp) were to campaign from within for Massive Publishing Company to switch to recycled paper? And then I thought, what are some other things that people could try to do in their work places... the best i could come up with was environmental stuff and getting their companies to offer both (a) health insurance and (b) domestic partner benefits. you guys got any good ideas?
Goes, to Slate.com:
Ninjas are everywhere. Ninjas are in movies, ninjas are on TV, there is probably a ninja clinging to the bottom of your desk right now. With their roots in the battlefields of 14th-century Japan, ninjas were assassins who practiced the art of ... oh, who cares? It doesn't matter where ninjas came from. All you need to know is that ninjas can totally kill you without even thinking about it. In fact, ninjas are so lethal that it takes an enormous effort of will for them not to kill you. You are only alive because a ninja is trying very hard not to shoot a blow dart through your neck right this minute. Ninjas are being kind to us and yet we haven't returned the favor. Even so, ninjas have stealthily taken over the planet in the last few years and no one over 30 saw it coming.