Saturday, October 28, 2006

Another Black and White Political Issue

I love the last two weeks before an election because that’s the time when all reason and civility breaks down and humanity with all its flaws exposes itself to unsuspecting voters and frightened children.

The ads get edgier and the accusations get cruder. This ad aimed against senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. is getting a spike of attention today:

The “progressive” response to this is that all those funny vignettes may or may not be accurate depictions of the Democrat’s positions, but they are all just a set up for a blatantly racist appeal to fear. You see, the white woman at the end is suggesting a mixing of the races, as Ford is African-American.

Miscegenation, to the progressive mind, is a hot button issue with the Neanderthals south of the Mason-Dixon Line. That must be why Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, Alan Keyes and Tiger Woods are so reviled among southern conservatives. (Hint: They're lionized, not reviled)

Or perhaps this is another case of what psychologists call “projection” whereby your own deepest shame is projected onto your opponents.

After all, it’s the progressive types who slyly suggest that Thomas, Connerly, and even Tiger are less authentically black than other non-white-spoused African-Americans.

I’m no pop-psyche major but, if Harold Ford does get elected the junior Senator from Tennessee, I would advise him to watch his back. If he legislates as conservatively as he has campaigned, it will be the very same people who are outraged now whispering about his “authenticity” later when he breaks with the progressive orthodoxy.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Where Have All the Artists Gone?

I expect that artists like to consider themselves free thinkers unrestricted by society’s latent hypocrisy and pressure to conform. Yet, in New York City -- the most provincial community in the United States -- artists are trampling each other to add their unique hollering to the echo chamber that passes for political theatre in the Naked City.

In the two weeks preceding Election Day, New York first-nighters can choose from a selection of cutting-edge theatrical commentary that ranges from liberal-progressive to progressive-liberal and everything in between. It’s an immovable feast!

How do freethinking New York artists hate Bush? Let me count the ways:

At the Actor’s Playhouse in Greenwich Village you can catch “Bush Wars,” a scathing indictment of George W. Bush and American foreign policy.

Or how about heading over to the East Village to see “Dumya’s Rapture,” a scathing indictment of George W. Bush and American domestic policy.

Too subtle and nuanced for you? Then boogie on up to West 72nd Street and the Triad Theater to see less telling titles that appear to promise a reassuring evening of BushHate® but I’m not going to waste my time finding out for sure.

What exactly goes through the minds of the fragile individualists who go to these plays, much less the obedient rebels who stage them? Fortunately, I have no idea. But challenging conventional wisdom seems to be the least of these mavericks’ considerations.

I mean, if I was a playwright, just how tired would the “Bush is dumb” storyline appear to be? Would I want to invest more than an afternoon’s effort in committing my take to paper? Would anyone in the audience be able to muster a moment’s worth of suspense about the direction of this play?

Clearly, the purpose of these theatrical productions, and most art that deals with politics nowadays, is not to speak truth to power but to recite comforting affirmations to the true believers.

Not only is that boring, but it’s an enormous lost opportunity.

How difficult would it be for a perceptive artist to take a truly unorthodox and dissenting position on Bush et al? After all, what would any self-respecting artist rather be, the courageous lancer of boils or the boil itself?

You’d almost think that New York’s latter day satirists are afraid to break from the herd.

I’m no artist myself but I would guess that the art world is a pretty small and land-locked society populated by insecure poseurs who crave the affirmation of their peers. In other words, they’re just like everyone else . . . uniquely so.

In retrospect, the “conformist” 1950s look like a rich broth of courage and creativity. Think of the breadth of artistic expression – jazz, abstract expressionism, international style, beat poets – all contributing the esthetic backdrop to the stirrings of the civil rights, feminist, and environmental movements and joining in the political discourse on the role of government, the meaning of freedom, the existential threat of nuclear war.

Here's a taste of what we're missing:

We have little of that excitement and originality today. In fact, originality seems to have been patented in the 1960s and none are allowed to infringe upon it now.

Rock and Roll? What could it possibly mean now that it surrounds us like water in an aquarium? When was the last time some kid experienced the clandestine pleasure of finding a distant AM station playing forbidden music? The only possible equivalent would be a teenager listening to a Christian pop station in his parents’ Tribeca loft.

Jazz? A seedy neighborhood long since gentrified by the Sting corporation.

Graphic art? Years of abuse and overuse has blunted its ability to shock and challenge.

Architecture? After completing the Luftwaffe’s unfinished work, what could modern architecture possibly have to offer except for the same mindless conformity that modernism was meant to confront?

Poetry? Sophomoric boasting set to rhyme.

Here's a typically safe pose:

Today we don’t have artistic courage; we have fear. Not fear of censorship from an imperial government . . . if only. That’s the straw man today’s artists fight in bitter hand to hay combat every day. Real censorship occurs when an artist contemplates a critique of medieval, misogynist Islamofascism and hesitates because of his fear of physical pain.

The censorship the BushHaters fear is in the form of exclusion . . . exclusion from their friends and fellow "artists." That's a very real fear.

Mounting an off-Broadway play insulting George W. Bush is the opposite of courageous. It’s undemanding and crushingly dull.

Yet there are words that long to be written, images that yearn to be shown, and beliefs that struggle to be understood.

Where are all the artists when you need them?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Cindy Sheehan's Lonely Hearts Club

It’s been said that all politics is local. The 60’s generation took it a bit farther and claimed that politics is personal. Now it’s getting intimate.

According to an ad in the in the New York Times this morning, Cindy Sheehan is speaking tonight about war atrocities and there will be a “singles reception” afterwards where you can presumably get progressive if you know what I mean.

Political activism, particularly on the Left, is a popular means for expressing one’s identity as much as it is a way to influence political decisions. But what fascinates me are those who really don’t understand the issues all that well and don’t expect to influence politics at all.

They’re attracted to the affirmation that they are “doing the right thing” by being against war, against environmental catastrophe, against torture, starvation, nuclear disaster, death, disease, mean people.

Anger is kind of a rush and politics is one of the few socially acceptable channels for getting barking mad.

Being in favor of something is . . . well, that’s a little more difficult.

Anyone who has worked on a real political campaign knows that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people and the rest are hangers-on who are there for the camaraderie, the songs, the excitement and the chance to meet other lonely people like themselves. They don’t care about winning an election or changing the world. They just want to be loved.

This is politics as therapy and having been on both sides of the divide, I can tell you, Republicans are in it to change the world, and get laid if there’s time. For Democrats, it’s exactly the opposite.

Case in point? Come to the 92nd Street Y tonight and hear an activist. Or if you prefer, save 25 bucks and just check out the action.