Monday, June 19, 2017

Today's "Piss Christ" is the Assassination of Donald Trump in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"

UPDATE: July 24, 2017--I forgot that I published this article about PBS attacking Steve Bannon earlier, shameful of GOP to reward PBS for doing it, imho:

UPDATE: July 21, 2017--Incredibly, House & Senate Republicans apparently are not significantly cutting NEA  appropriations after NEA-funded venues agitated for assassination of President Trump, among other things, according to today's press reports. Makes no sense as prior Congresses passed big cuts and felt no penalty at the ballot box. In addition, in my opinion every penny given to NEA, NEH, PBS, NPR & Pacifica is used to oppose, defeat, undermine, and discredit the GOP. Why would a political party in its right mind fund its own opposition? Have Republican Senators & Congressmen never heard the saying: "The Pen is Mightier than the Sword?" Finally, it depresses support from those who see politicians breaking an easy to fulfill, no-brainer, low-cost campaign promise--VERY BAD LEGISLATION!

"Yes, I was a card-carrying Communist. I was a member of the party until Peggy and I got married, and she convinced me that it was stupid to belong any longer."
"...and in 1958 he was hauled before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, where he denied being a Communist after 1955. (He refused to discuss his activities before that time.)"

It cannot come as a surprise that the latest controversy over artistic politics has taken place at New York's Delacorte Theater, where a Shakespeare in the Park production recently featured a Donald Trump look-alike being graphically stabbed to death.  For Shakespeare in the Park is produced by New York's Public Theater, which was founded by Joseph Papp,  who never abandoned his political commitment to Leftist politics, a theatrical tradition continued by current artistic director Oskar Eustis.

Thus, a published statement about the controversy rings as hollow as a speech by Polonius, especially since the company had audience member Laura Loomer arrested for expressing her dissent in truly Shakespearean fashion, by heckling a performance, long a tradition in theatre, as The Guardian has noted:
Prior to the 19th century, though, heckling was as much part of the theatregoing experience as it is in standup comedy today. Audiences in Shakespeare's day would have been vocal in their pleasure (and displeasure), while Drury Lane audiences in the 18th century were perfectly capable of hissing actors they didn't like off the stage. Despite the regular complaints of disruptive mobile phones and audiences who text or talk their through shows, no 21st-century British theatre audience would boo for 10 minutes, as people did after the premiere of Noël Coward's Sirocco in 1927.

And heckling was a normal part of theater-going in Elizabethan London, according to experts:
Shakespeare's audience was far more boisterous than are patrons of the theatre today. They were loud and hot-tempered and as interested in the happenings off stage as on. One of Shakespeare's contemporaries noted that "you will see such heaving and shoving, such itching and shouldering to sit by the women, such care for their garments that they be not trod on . . . such toying, such smiling, such winking, such manning them home ... that it is a right comedy to mark their behaviour" (Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse, 1579). The nasty hecklers and gangs of riffraff would come from seedy parts in and around London like Tower-hill and Limehouse and Shakespeare made sure to point them out:
These are the youths that thunder at a playhouse,
and fight for bitten apples; that no audience, but
the Tribulation of Tower-hill, or the Limbs of
Limehouse, their dear brothers, are able to endure.
(Henry VIII, 5.4) 
However, instead of incorporating Loomer's heckling into the performance and making it part of the discourse, perhaps responding with theatrical ad-libs, Eustis brought the "discussion" to an end in a decidedly Stalinist manner, by having Loomer arrested and taken to the Central Park Jail.

Somehow, that doesn't seem in keeping with Hamlet's own instructions to his players:
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing...
(Hamlet, 3.2) 
Yet, like Stalin himself assuring Westerners that all was well in the former Soviet Union, Eustis claimed to welcome discussion rhetorically, while simultaneously suppressing it by his actions:
Our production of JULIUS CAESAR in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare's play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.  
The Public Theater stands completely behind our production of JULIUS CAESAR.  We understand and respect the right of our sponsors and supporters to allocate their funding in line with their own values.  We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions. 
Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy. 
His transparently agitprop production exposed for the incitment it was, director Oskar Eustis brazenly quoted Hamlet about "holding a mirror up to nature" (while signaling his Leftist politics by apologizing for "use of the male pronoun") in a YouTube video also on the website: 

Just as one doesn't need to be a Weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, one doesn't need to be a theatre critic in order to recognize a Politically Correct production, especially since director Eustis also produced Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton at the Public Theater, comparing him to Shakespeare: 

Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton cast heckled the audience, when they hectored and bullied Vice President Mike Pence from the stage when he was sitting quietly in his seat, with an actor delivering a Soviet-style denunciation of a Politically Incorrect member of the public who dared to attend the show: 

Like Eustis said, "those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save." In time, perhaps Eustis may come to regret his bloody dispatch of the theatrical Trump in his Shakespeare in the Park's production of Julius Caesar. As the Bard prophesied:
Bloody thou art; bloody will be thy end. (Richard III, 4.4)
Shakespearean struggles have taken a toll on cultural institutions before, in New York City, in Manhattan, on Astor Place, once upon a time site of the fabled Astor Place Opera House--now gone forever as a result of the Astor Place Riot of May 10, 1849.

That conflict over the politics of Shakespeare left some 25 dead and over 100 wounded, and led to the closing of what became known the "Massacre Opera House" on "DisAstor Place"--the street Oskar Eustis's Public Theater now calls home.

In conclusion, Eustis might note that The Corcoran Gallery of Art is no more, perhaps because of the undemocratic way it handled the1990s controversy over Robert Mapplethorpe's photos and Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ." The Corcoran was dissolved in 2014, although its building was worth some $200 million and its art collection valued at $2 billion.  If Eustis, Shakespeare in the Park, and the cast of Hamilton continue their efforts to undo the election results of 2016, New York's Public Theater might share the same fate as The Corcoran. For, as Shakespeare pointed out,:
What's past is prologue(The Tempest, 2.1)


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

David Garrow's RISING STAR: The Making of Barack Obama is a Great Political Biography

David J. Garrow's Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (William Morrow, 2017) is a fascinating book. Although exceedingly long, over 1000 pages of text plus hundreds of pages of footnotes, filled with numerous details of names, places and events, I never felt that the author had provided TMI (Too Much Information). After reading Rising Star, for the first time, I felt that I finally understood how and why Barack Obama became President of the United States, who he was, and why things subsequently turned out the way that they did.

Although in some respects the biography reads like a phone book, it is a fascinating phone book--full of the kind of details that had been pretty much denied to all but the closest insiders in the Obama Administration.

It seemed strange, living in Washington, that one read so little about President Obama's inner circle, while he was in power. Garrow makes clear that this was by design, that the construction and preservation of "The Narrative" by Obama and his team was of the utmost importance. The messy details of Obama's life would not help in his quest to become the first African-American President of the United States of America, and so would be replaced by a Parson Weems-like story that seemed too good to be true--because it was. This was the "fairy-tale" to which President William Jefferson Clinton referred in 2008...a dream which came true because Americans wanted to believe in the angels of  our better nature.

In the end, Rising Star is a deeply reassuring book. Running as an outsider, indeed striking many of the same themes Trump used in 2016, Barack Obama claimed to want to bring American's together, to heal divisions, to oppose tribalism and racial strife, thereby to patriotically lead the country to "a more perfect Union" because there were no "red states, or blue states" just the United States of America. He claimed to want to bring back jobs, to have been against the war in Iraq, to disarm Iran, even to support a united Jerusalem under Israeli control.

If these seem to be the road not taken in the end, other concerns dating from his first run for Illinois State Senate made their way with him to the White House--support for universal health care became law as Obamacare; drug penalties were reduced; police were reined in (Obama had received a number of speeding tickets and was particularly sensitive to the issue of "Driving While Black"); attempts at gun control were made; troops were withdrawn from Iraq; and money flowed to non-profit organizations such as the ones which launched his political career.

Most importantly, Obama's sense of destiny was clearly fulfilled in his behavior as a husband and father while serving as U.S. President. Unlike Bill Clinton, he did nothing in his marriage to publicly embarrass his wife, children, or the nation. Garrow's book makes it perfectly clear that this was in reaction to his own father's lack of personal responsibility and also to serve as a conscious role model for other African-Americans. If nothing else, one can say that President Obama succeeded as a family  man in ways that Bill Clinton could not.

Perhaps most striking is Garrow's contention that Obama chose to self-identify as Black when he could have chosen another path due to his elite status and multi-racial heritage. On one level, Garrow seems to argue that this was a matter of political calculation--concluding that had Obama married his Asian-American girlfriend, he could not have been elected President, because African-American voters would have disapproved of the marriage. Although hypothetical, thus impossible to prove or disprove, it is clear from Garrow's biography that Michelle Obama was perhaps even more popular than Barack, although he continually states that she hated politics and just wanted him to take a high-paying job. Michelle also had strong personal ties to Chicago's African-American community, and at one point Garrow says she "almost grew up in Jesse Jackson's house."

There are so many intricate details in the book that one really has to read it for oneself, but among the many explanations, the map of African-American Chicago politics is particularly compelling...especially the focus on what many felt was Obama's betrayal of Alice Palmer, a move which began Obama's rise through the ranks. Like a character in Shakespearean drama, that first act of treachery demonstrated that Obama possessed the ruthlessness and determination which would take him to the White House, leaving others in his dust.

Garrow's depiction of the world of Cong. Bobby Rush, Jesse Jackson, Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr. Rev. Louis Farrakhan, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Carol Moseley Braun, and Mayor Harold Washington, among others, is perhaps the definitive portrait of Chicago's African-American Establishment.  I had no idea that Tony Rezko was in business with Rev. Farrakhan until reading this book. All that one can say is: "So, that's how it works!"

Springfield, Illinois is in fact as dreary as Garrow says. I've been there.

Likewise, he illuminates Chicago Hyde Park progressives and a complementary universe centered around the dinner table of Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, where Barack and Michelle oft supped and plotted. The Bard of Avon himself could not dream up the world of intrigue surrounding the  non-profit foundations, charities, universities involved in what come across as self-dealing schemes of personal enrichment and power concentration involving moguls, millionaires, corporations and foundations.  Particularly compelling are Garrow's discussion of Obama's partnership with Ayers in a $49 million Annenberg Foundation grant to improve education which produced no measurable results, as well as an attempted $25 million Waste Management Incorporated scheme to pave the way for a toxic waste dump that grew so complicated that it fell apart from its own intrigue. In addition, Garrow details how Obama's experience with Project VOTE informed the use of voter registration regulations as a technique to eliminate opponents such as Alice Palmer.

He puts the lie to right-wing sneers that Obama had done nothing as a community organizer that would prepare him for the Presidency. Rather, Garrow shows that Obama's experience among the non-profiteers, beginning as a PIRG organizer at the City University of New York, was central to his ability to win the White House--because the money and personnel in the world of NGOs fueled his career as much as Boss Pendergast's Kansas City Machine did Harry S. Truman's.

Which brings us to Mayor Daley. I had forgotten that Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod both worked for Mayor Daley... The Daley Machine, according to Garrow, early on feared that Obama was so formidable that he might run for Mayor. So, Daley encouraged him to run for Senate and eventually President--to get him out of town... So connected is Obama to the machine that no Illinois Republican would run against him for US Senate after Jack Ryan dropped out following release of embarrassing divorce documents. The Illinois GOP brought in Alan Keyes from out-of-state, a carpetbagger candidate who had lost twice running in Maryland. Keyes then lost a bitter and personal campaign to Obama, getting into a shouting match at an Indian-American parade ("No-Drama Obama" completely lost his cool according to Garrow), then bitterly refused to concede on election night.

In addition, Garrow's discussion of Harvard Law School is just fascinating. After reading about the Harvard Law Review, one gets the impression that there is no law at Harvard. He quotes Obama, as editor, telling his subordinates not to worry about the articles, because "nobody reads it." The internal struggles over affirmative action are shocking to read about, and one eventually comes to the conclusion that conservatives have become just another special-interest group looking for a minority set-aside on the Law Review. There is almost no discussion of legal substance, at least reported by Garrow. I almost laughed out loud at Garrow's account of Lawrence Tribe's article on the physics of law (at least I think that was his topic). The great legal minds of Harvard look like mental midgets after Garrow gets through with them. Rather than providing a legal education, Garrow's Harvard teaches mafia tactics of self-advancement. Surely there is more to it than that, but anyone wondering about the identity politics destroying universities, if not the country, today can find plenty of the same at the Harvard Law Review during Obama's tenure as editor in Garrow's account.

What's past was truly prologue...

I used to live on W. 110th Street, one block from Obama's New York City apartment on W. 109th Street, so enjoyed Garrow's description of life in the neighborhood of Columbia University. Most notable was the jet-set lifestyle Obama seemed to enjoy, flying to Hawaii, Europe, and Pakistan among other places. Garrow's point is that Obama could have continued in this vein, becoming an international type working at the UN or similar organization...but he made a choice, a choice to move to Chicago and the African-American experience.

In exchange, he gave up his girlfriends, his lifestyle, and his literary pretentions--Garrow says the young Obama said he wanted to be a "writer." The road not taken would have been a very different one, though Garrow's Obama is so driven that there can be no doubt that he would succeed at anything he tried. But to become Ta-Nahesi Coates was not Barack Obama's destiny.

Strikingly, despite a critical attitude towards Obama's ruthlessness, Garrow makes clear that Obama had a keen sense of destiny from an early age. To illustrate this, he focuses on Obama's breakup with Sheila Miyoshi Jager, his girlfriend before he married Michelle Robinson. In contrast to what he describes as an almost arranged marriage with Michelle, Garrow portrays Obama's relationship with Jager as a passionate and tempestuous romance, in defiance of both his and her families. She even followed him to Harvard Law School. But Obama chose his deeply felt destiny over the pleasures of romantic love, at least in Garrow's version, and so dropped her.

In conclusion, I was struck by some parallels to Trump. Like Trump, Obama took on the party favorite, Hillary Clinton, and won the Presidency. Like Trump, he ran as an outsider. Like Trump, he promised to change the way Washington worked. But unlike Trump, Obama received support from the Establishment at every step of the way. From the Punahou School to Columbia to Harvard to the University of Chicago to the Board of the Woods Foundation to the Illinois Senate to the US Senate to the White House, Obama played an "inside-outside" game dependent on the support of the powers-that-be. In the end, Obama is a surfer who rode the waves of history to achieve his destiny.

Rising Star makes clear that Obama never had a serious opponent in any political race until he ran for President, because he knew how to work the system to his advantage. Hillary and Obama were two Establishmentarians, one fresh-faced and the other old and tired. Youth won the day.

In fact, like his predecessor George W. Bush, Barack Obama was a Legacy admission to an Ivy League School -- he told his friends at the time he applied that he would go to Harvard Law School despite scholarship offers from Northwestern because his father went to Harvard. He was editor of the Harvard Law Review and a professor at the University of Chicago. He was a published author. He served on boards and was a member of Harvard's Suguaro Seminar (apparently some sort of domestic Son of the Trilateral Commission to develop leaders).

After reading Garrow's account, the meaning of President Obama's July 13th, 2012 campaign speech became crystal clear--he was talking about himself, and describing the arc of his career:

...look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business – you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.
David J. Garrow's Rising Star tells us the names of the somebodies who made it happen for Barack Obama, how and why they did it, and what was in it for them.  So, add Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama to the list of great political biographies, alongside works like Robert Caro's The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York-- according to Garrow, one of President Obama's favorite books.