Okay. I have to confess that Michael Jackson wasn’t an especially important figure to me, and in that respect it’s theoretically possible that I belong to some cranky minority that isn’t mourning his death around the clock. But even if he were as important to the history of music and art as Charlie Parker or Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra or Igor Stravinsky, I’d still find the sudden cable news blackout of everything currently happening in the world apart from his death a bit excessive and disturbing, and more than just a little infantile. It’s the same thing that happened in TV-Land when Sinatra and Reagan (two other revered entertainers) croaked, and one can sense a rather sickening feeling of happiness and excitement in the airways, uniting CNN, MSNBC, and, yes, even Fox News on the same euphoric wavelength that declares, in effect, and at long last, Iran doesn’t matter, the whole Middle East doesn’t matter, national health care doesn’t matter, Governor Mark Sanford (who had everyone totally obsessed yesterday) doesn’t matter, Sonia Sotomayor doesn’t matter, global warming doesn’t matter, even Farah Fawcett doesn’t matter, because Michael is dead. What a blessed sense of release is to be found in this seeming collective grief, suddenly recognizing that we no longer have to worry or even think about the rest — or so, at least, assume CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News…. [6/25/09]
The most gratifying aspect of Peggy Noonan’s eloquent article last Friday in the Wall Street Journal isn’t merely the belated sign that sane and grown-up conservative thought is finally being heard on the subject of the Middle East, in contrast to the obtuse bellicosity and stupid posturing of John McCain and others. Even more, it’s a sign that some Americans are finally beginning to learn something from American mistakes — above all, from the peculiar conviction that American self-aborption is the only thing urgently needed in the world outside the U.S., and that any sign of tact, calm, and/or reticence automatically translates into weakness. (I hasten to add that Noonan’s voice hasn’t been the only sensible one recently coming from the right; I’m emphasizing it only because it seems the loudest and clearest of these voices.)
I would love to see this dawning wisdom take one crucial further step — the recognition that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 weren’t simply, exclusively, and unproblematically “attacks on America”, whatever that means. They were attacks on people, many of whom weren’t American. Assuming otherwise, as so many chest-beaters did and still do, means playing into the hands of the fanatics who committed these murders and perversely honoring their supposed wisdom and one-dimensional view of the world for the sake of throwing out every other possible reading of what happened. Because the minute you reduce the whole discussion to the level of saying that “they” hate “us,” you damned well better have a clear and comprehensive sense of who “we” are before you even presume to start defining “them”. (Which “us” or “them”, incidentally, was it that armed Saddam Hussein with the capacity to use poisoned gas on Kurds and Iranians? Or that overturned a democratically elected Iranian government in the early 1950s?)
An inability to properly define “them” was of course what filled Abu Ghraib and countless other prisons with so many allies that we insisted on converting into enemies. And an equivalent inability to define this “us” with any precision continues to invalidate a good many of our reflexes. (Trying making a list of all the unthinking exclusions automatically made in that pronoun and you might be getting somewhere.) Obama’s capacity to broaden that definition is perhaps the surest sign of what defines him as a thinking grown-up. [6/23/09]
As a fan of the directorless Theater Oobleck dating all the way back to its second show in Chicago (David Isaacson’s riotous Three Who Dared: A Play on the Movies, in June 1988), with particularly fond memories of Jeff Dorchen’s The Slow and Painful Death of Sam Shepard (December 1988) and Ugly’s First World (October 1989) as well as Mickle Maher’s When Will the Rats Come to Chew Through Your Anus? (January 1990), I regret having somehow lost touch with their singular repertory of literary and political shotgun marriages in recent years. A recent visit to Dorchen’s brilliantly excessive Strauss at Midnight at the the Chicago DCA Theater (66 E. Randolph), which runs through July 19, reminded me of how much heat and liberating anger and laughter they can generate.
This play has something to do with Saul Bellow (Isaacson), posthumously still tainted by his former association with Allan Bloom (Troy Martin), and, through Bloom, with Leo Strauss (David Shapiro), condemned to a hell in which he has inhabit the same quarters as Neil Simon’s Odd Couple (Brian Nemtusak and H.B. Ward doing fine, surreal spinoffs of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau), not to mention Niccolo Machiavelli (Scott Hermes) and In the Heat of the Night’s Virgil Tibbs (D’wayne Taylor). But the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the premise behind Ray Bradbury’s story “A Sound of Thunder” also get substantial play as well. And the cast is terrific, even without a director. (6/19/09)