Thursday, March 04, 2004

Time to test the waters

I’ve been avoiding talking about the arts for my first couple of posts because, honestly, the arts are important and I thought how I broached the subject would somehow set some sort of precedent and what not. But screw it, time to get the old feet wet.

I thought I’d talk a little bit about theater. The common questions asked all of the time are “is theater dead?” and “does theater matter?” I think it’s safe to say that both of these questions are totally useless. Just like how nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so, so is nothing important or unimportant except to the extent that we make it so.

Theater isn’t really important to most people right now because theater artists haven’t figured out how to make it important. It’s a tough uphill battle. Theater represents all sorts of things that fundamentally go against mainstream culture: it is intensely local and cannot be globalized, it is entirely subjective and can’t be commodified, etc. More on this later, I promise.

Anyway, I’m going to try to take on various issues affecting theater and some ideas about how to save it over the course of this blog. In the meantime, those of you who live in New York, I urge you to go check out an off or off-off Broadway play. I know people often don’t like off-off-Broadway, and I understand it. Off-off tends to be weirder, or at least more experimental, a lot of artists are still very much in the learning stage, much of it isn’t what one could call “good”, but it’s all usually $19 or less and you’ll see something that you can’t see anywhere else. Less than $20 for a unique experience ain’t so bad. And hey, check out a newspaper or TimeOut and you could maybe get a good recommendation.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Why I'l reluctantly vote for Kerry

Well, good to know the primary season this time around turned out to be surprisingly like the oscars. The guy who everyone thought would win, won in basically every category he was nominated for. Now the backlash can officially start. The Bush team is playing this well so far—wait until buyer’s remorse is just starting to build up and then buy a lot of TV time to tar the Democratic candidate.

So before all of that happens, let me just say right now that I think John Kerry is a terrible choice for Democratic nominee. Some people clearly disagree with me. Josh Marshall, for example, pins his admiration for Kerry on how hard he fights to win elections. Okay, that’s admirable. But really the only person that skill benefits is John Kerry. I’m much more interested in a candidate who stands for something, has principles, or is at least border-line trustworthy and consistent. Kerry fails on most of these base-level requirements.

I never thought I’d side with Mickey Kaus over talkingpointsmemo, but he’s right on this one. John Kerry has never really taken a risky political stand and followed through on it, and he’s shown a distinct lack of principles throughout the primary fight. And this is all going to have a major effect on Kerry’s so-called “electibility”.

Why? Because the Bush administration is already starting to paint Kerry as unprincipled and fickle, and unlike most Republican attacks, this one’s pretty much true. Bush’s litany of flip-flops re: Kerry has demonstrable veracity: he voted for the war in Iraq, and claims to be against it now that it’s unpopular amongst Democrats. He did the same thing on the Patriot Act, on Bush’s tax cuts, and now we get to watch Kerry change his opinion daily on a Federal Marriage Amendment. (Right now, I think it’s that he supports writing discrimination into the Massachusetts constitution, but against writing it into the Federal one, which is a pretty ridiculous bit of hair-splitting).

Furthermore, it’s pretty easy to show that Kerry doesn’t really believe most of what he’s saying. If he really wants to “take on special interests” and fight for us and all that Shrumian populist sturm-und-drang that gets people like me inspired, he would’ve been doing that during his tenure in the Senate. If he really was a brave political warrior, he would not have skipped votes on the Medicare bill and the partial birth abortion ban. If he really had some sort of discernable core belief sytem he wouldn't be trying to have it both ways on every issue.

Kerry, in other words, isn’t going to get elected on his own merits. He’ll be elected on America's (growing) dislike of Bush. The problem is his ability to paint Bush as a failure will be significantly diminished by his votes in the Senate to support Bush’s policies.

This is the problem with the “electability” brand of tunnel vision. Thanks to the media’s desire for simplistic narratives, the condensed primary schedule and our own laziness, Kerry became electable by persuading the State of Iowa that he was the best person to take on Bush. Iowa, of all places! A place which is representative of neither the Democratic party or the American political spectrum. Then, thanks to a perfect storm of favorable media coverage, lack of screw ups, timid opponents and the Howard Dean melt down, he’s managed to sail to victory without facing any kind of meaningful scrutiny. And Democratic primary voters have bought into it, because everyone told us he was electable. But electability is meaningless and self-referential. Furthermore, “electability” and the “anyone but Bush” mentality have kept us from bringing any real change into the Democratic party, and they’re both effective tools to keep the progressive wing of the party in line.

Of course, as many have pointed out, he's better than the alternative. Much, much better. Now that I've gotten this out of my system, this is one of the few (maybe only?) times you'll hear me whining about Kerry. We've selected our guy, it's time to fall into line, but let's not assume everything is okay if he gets elected, alright? Let's keep fighting the good fight.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Gay Marriage, oh me, oh my!

Okay so what better way to jump into this than on the whole gay marriage fracas.

Honestly, I have trouble trying to figure out what the big bru-ha-ha over two gays (or gals) getting married is, but then again, I’m areligious so that probably has something to do with it.

I wanted to address the difference between marriage as a legal entity and marriage as a cultural entity and how they’re very often mistaken for one another. A good example of this is in the common conservative argument bandied about (from, for example, David Brooks, a conservative advocate of gay marriage) that liberal gay marriage advocates are “cheapening” marriage. Apparently we do this by describing it simply as a list of legal benefits, instead of talking about its less tangible qualities, like flatulence in bed or gaining weight because you’re not “in the market” anymore.

Here the category error is pretty obvious. The fight for homosexual equality is both a legal and a cultural one, but the fight for gay marriage rights is almost purely legal. If it were cultural, gays would be complaining about churches that refuse to marry them, but gay marriages in (some) churches have been going on for a long time. So if all we’re talking about is legal rights, the cultural angle of things is actually irrelevant to the conversation. Or at least it should be, considering that whole establishment clause thing. If the legal definition of marriage included its cultural value we would be creating another link between church and state.

We make this mistake a lot in the States, because I don’t think we really want to look at the law in all of its nitty-gritty. We’d much rather be lead by our gut feelings, emotions, prejudices etc. Another example of this confusion is the abortion debate. I met a woman who defined herself as pro-life but didn’t think Congress had the right to decide what people do with their bodies. When I told her she was pro-choice, she was horrified. This is because of the same confusion: she was pro-life (didn’t think people should get abortions) culturally, but pro-choice (thought people should have the right to make the decision) legally.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s a very important cultural conversation that needs to happen around this issue. By confusing the legal and cultural parts of the issue, we keep the two important (and very different) conversations from happening. I don’t think, by the by, conversation is really what the pro-amendment people want. For a good example of what I mean, check out this ludicrous Op-Ed piece from the weekend Times, and then contrast it with this article from Frank Rich on the same issue.

(I guess what I'm also saying is that if Jerry Fallwell doesn't want gays to get married, he shouldn't perform marriage ceremonies for them, but I don't get why they shouldn't have the legal rights to take their business elsewhere.)

Welcome to Parabasis!

Welcome to Parabasis, my attempt at looking at arts, politics and culture from my crow's nest here in Brooklyn, NY. My name is Isaac, I'm a theater director and I'm going to try to get beyond partisan posturing and write something interesting for ya'all.

One thing I will not be doing here is reviewing plays. It's just inappropriate for a theater director to be doing, and idiotic for someone just starting out in the theater business to torpedo their career to get some readers at their decidedly not-for-profit blog. So... I'll probably be reviewing other content, but plays I'm leaving alone. Except for ones I really love. But that's not reviewing, that's more like... championing.