Monday, August 22, 2005

I Believe In Symmetry

I know the statute of limitations for gushing about Bright Eyes may have passed long ago, but bear with me. Sometime last March, I think, I was helping the venerable Grady Weatherford move into his apartment when the saucy creative team of Fritzsky&Stiles, LLC plugged in I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. Now, my daily intake of new music is pretty pathetic -- especially in the digital age where there are no excuses to miss the latest flood of wicked 1's and 0's. But damn, I was struck by this group.

Funny thing is: I thought I was in on some insider, indie-rock phenomenon. So I scampered off to Juneau, bought everything they made, played it all the time (cut with heavy doses of whatever East European symphonic Renee Gier offers me), and became something of a missionary for this group. Then I get back to DC and find out that not only are they VERY well-known, but verging on over-exposure, according to the Washington Post!

So anyway. I'm behind the curve, but I'm getting better. Time was, I was a good eighteen months behind the pop. Now, I think I'm down to fourteen months, six days, nine hours, and twelve minutes. It's hard to keep up. But for those of you who may not have yet sampled Connor Oberst's music, I would hope the sheer brilliance of his lyrics can compel you ...

Some plans were made and rice was thrown
A house was built, a baby born
How time can move both fast and slow
Amazes me

And so I raise my glass to symmetry
To the second hand and its accuracy
To the actual size of everything
The desert is the sand
You can't hold it in your hand
It won't bow to your demands
There's no difference you can make
There's no difference you can make
And if it seems like an accident
A collage of senselessness
You aren't looking hard enough
I wasn't looking hard enough

An argument for consciousness
The instinct of the blind insect
Who makes love to the flower bed
And dies in the first freeze
Oh I want to learn such simple things
No politics, no history
Till what I want and what I need
Can finally be the same

I just got myself to blame
Leave everything up to fate
When there's choices I could make
When there's choices I could make
Yeah, my heart needs a polygraph
Always so eager to pack my bags
When I really wanna stay
When I really wanna stay

When I wanna stay (x4)

The arc of time, the stench of sex
The innocence you can't protect
Each quarter note, each marble step
Walk up and down that lonely treble clef
Each wanting the next one
Each wanting the next one to arrive
Each wanting the next one
Each wanting the next one to arrive

An argument for consciousness
The instinct of the blind insect
Who never thinks not to accept its fate
That's faith, there's happiness in death
You give to the next one
You give to the next on down the line
You give to the next one
You get to the next on down the line

The levity of longing that
Distills each dream inside my head
By morning watered down again
On silver stars I wish and wish and wish

Move on to the next one
Move on to the next one down the line
Move on to the next one
Move on to the next one down the line

You get to the next one
You get to the next on down the line
You get to the next one
You get to the next on down the line


Now check this out. In a song about succumbing to fate, instinct, chance, etc -- the writer has actually used the passive voice to sum up his life in the first stanza. Is that cool or what? The final strains do indeed "walk up and down that lonely treble clef," and the whole melody jaunts about from jingle to anthem so quickly that you can't tell if Connor's condemning or celebrating the "blind insect" for its faith. Amazing.

Anyway, I thought my posts of late were a little heavy on condemnation, so I went looking for something that makes me smile.

Frog Prince & Footnotes

Frog Prince

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Get your position here

Interactive democracy! Love it. Last spring, during rehearsals for one of the bi-annual Me in a Dress plays I seem to be getting, a group of protesters marched by Theatre J. The only thing shocking about their polite curbside mandate was how few of them there were. Mitch Hebert and Dan DeRaey looked up and rolled their eyes, not out of contempt, but out of some kindred woe, heightened all the more by the fact that they grew up in an era of genuinely dangerous frontline activism. The scrappy assemblage of street shouters -- who were out to bring down Bush, the WTO, the Religious Right, and probably, like, the State of Georgia while they were at it -- was so emaciated that they almost did their buffet-table of causes more harm than good simply by showing up to show how small the Movement was.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the tactical divide, I have a great friend who has moved to a commune just a couple hours south of us. She periodically visits DC to tell tales of polyamorous tofu-munching, hammock-weaving bliss (this not cruel exaggeration, this is actually what they do, I promise), and we usually get into a discussion about activism, collectivism, Bush ... the usual anti-establishment syllabus. You can read wondefully candid descriptions of all this at her blog.

So I gotta wonder: between the flesh-and-blood fuzz-busting activism of the 60s and 70s, and the Aphrodite Shrugged mentality of the communards -- what's the next channel gonna be? Howard Dean's grass roots internet fundraising was an exciting innovation until it wasn't. Is there a better method out there?

FOOTNOTES for Cafe Anthropic

*
I am well aware that every generation regards itself as the keystone scene in history. I am also aware that it was never true until now. Believe me. I grew up as Francis Fuckyamama was positing The End of History to mainstream acclaim -- so I know the hubris of the target market group. But I can't resist a handy correlation between the social/economic/scientific jubilation of the late 90s and the similarly insular joy of being a know-it-all college senior. Likewise, there is an easy association between the surreal, chaotic string of events that defined the early 21st century and the equally bizarre, disorienting soul shock that is adult life outside academia. Circumspect? Self-indulgent? I don't know. But after watching my parents and my parents parents willingly align themsevles to these schematic generational labels ("The Greatest Generation!" "The ME Generation!" "The Gen-X Generation!" "The 22/7 Generation!"), I'm all too eager to find my historical niche. If it can be argued that such labels aren't altogether destructive or minimizing.

**Having said all that (* above), I might be over-reaching here: I often fear that plays set in well-packaged decades like the 60s are only shielding us from moral judgement instead of encouraging us to seriously evaluate our own generation. I think of the movie Forrest Gump, where the basic messages are: tis a gift to be stupid, all the wars we fought were great and just, all the counter-culture freaks were the abusive hostile ones, and if you're born in a trailer and vote Democratic like Jenny, you'll probably end up with a black eye, a shattered soul, visible track lines, and a case of AIDS. Liberal movies make the same mistake by imposing given progressive mores on characters that was merely guilty of being born before us. It's the unearned valor that comes from watching all those paranoid, evil Nazis in Spielberg movies and then declaring that we, of course, would never succomb to the obviously evil political climate of the day! We'd be the lone resisters! The vanguard of the righteous! So with Doubt, I wonder how much of our righteous rage for authority structures is neutered by the knowledge that: "Oh, that was back when people were stupid." Of course this isn't always the case. And Shanley may have intended to suggest the opposite ("Look how little has changed ... in our country, in our confessionals, in our justice system, in our discourse."). And maybe my understanding of the 60s is too colored by groovy journalistic filters (all told, it wasn't that long ago). Either way, I'd appreciate a daring dive into the here and now if we're going to talk about religiosity and scandal. It's harder to do.

***Now I'm really going out on a limb. So if you're with me so far, maybe you'll take a wacky leap into esoterica with me, too. I'm sure you've heard of the church/theatre metaphor before. There's a reason that one persists: theatre sits deep in the history of human discourse. But it sits even deeper in the history of human spirituality. The willingness to pretend, to consciously enter a reality based on faith, is at the heart of all spiritual activity, too. A bad play/movie, like a greedy televangelist, can abuse that faith and send us off with a counterfeit soul. I'm not out to censor anyone who does that, but it's upsetting how clever aesthetics, like clever Showman-shaman, can take your tithe without giving you real enlightenment.

All right. Enough of this frou-frou crap. Tomorrow's essay: Moby -- Has the Oracle Returned?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Cafe Anthropic

I don’t know what zeitgeist seminar the Yale kids take when they’re gearing up for their final MFA composition, but it always amazes me when catchphrases sprout simultaneously in a delicious super-meme. It also makes slacker editorializing that much easier because I can hit a bunch of stuff at once. So as I watch Bush put his official armchair philosophy seal of approval on Intelligent Design and then watch The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow in its final weekend at Studio Theatre, I have to wonder which came first: the artifice or the idea? They seem inseparable, sure, but recognizing the difference helps cut through all the bullshit the radcons are using to justify their plug for I.D. in the public school system. And tracking which hip metaphysics the playwrights are using this week can help explain why their stories so often seem incomplete (or with Shanley’s Doubt, why they seem downright corrupt).

Intelligent Design

I’m getting into an area where I’m almost too exasperated to write. All these little jibes about the nature of theatre usually don‘t go farther than this trusty e-cabal on tundratastic. And the fate of theatre affects, first, those of us who make it. But the fate of an entire culture -- if a culture’s respect for reason and democracy is directly related to how that civilization survives and thrives -- is altogether too daunting to consider sometimes. Sorry. Oft have I shrugged! Oft, I say! As a guy thrown into the real world just as it was falling apart,* I find it hard to juggle the normal Act One of My Life bullshit with Act Two of the New American Century. But here’s another shout in the ether, for whatever it’s worth.

When certain members of the federal government shun public education with one hand, strip it of its funding with the other, and then marvel at why it doesn’t seem to work anymore … when they’ve spent five years wearing their scripture on their sleeve (from Operation Infinite Justice to the 10 Commandments displays in Texas) … when these same people now masquerade as scientists and offer an official-sounding theory that negates the very idea of science … I want to scream. Not write a blog entry. That the showdown over Intelligent Design has been cast as a policy issue -- with those same poor public schools as the battleground -- only makes me foiqjweofiaQHWEI9HFIASDFA even more. And then I read some pitch-perfect satire on the subject and feel better for about twelve minutes -- until I realize that basically every word in that spoof could have come out of the president's mouth.

The advocates of Intelligent Design have as the base of their argument the meager fact that evolution doesn’t seem to cover all the leaps and gaps in the grand history of biochemical life on earth. That evolution (with all its imperfections and missing links) still soundly refutes the idea that the earth is 6000 years old doesn’t seem to enter into it. They want to kick Darwin down to size by taking the reasonable doubt built into any scientific theory and prying it open wide enough to fit their god into the cosmos. At every turn, they present not proof for Intelligent Design, merely doubt for Evolution.

Veteran readers of this blog may have noticed that the words "proof" and "doubt" have figured significantly in our previous discussions about theatre, too! How about that?! We'll get back to that shortly, I promise.

At this point, most reasonable people offer a simple reiteration of the difference between a theory and a law. But the radcons don’t understand that they can’t take advantage of Evolution’s data gaps without affirming the existence of Evolution in the first place. Clearly natural selection takes place in the world. The question is whether it’s responsible for every last genetic innovation in existence. Either way, the absence of total continuity in one system does not equal the presence of evidence for any replacement system you care to dream up.

Astrophysicists go through this all the time with the Anthropic Principle -- which, if I'm getting it correctly, says that the universe was built the way it was so we could understand how it was built the way it was. Sounds circular to us mortals, and I think it is. But Stephen Hawking hopped on the Anthropic bandwagon a few years ago, for whatever that's worth to you. The A.P. makes a handy companion piece for I.D. since the one discusses cosmological design and the other discusses biochemical design. But there's no method for proving either of them.

It reminds me of Arlen Specter’s Magic Bullet Theory. In the end, the MBT isn’t laughable because it might have happened, but because its elaborate (and strictly probabilistic) grounding does not disprove more compelling conspiracy theories. In an effort to tidy up a national tragedy (i.e. to bring it back to the simple live-TV melodrama everyone saw in 1963) the Warren Commission hammered any contradictory evidence back to the three bullets. So weak was their case that one of the bullets had to be Magical. Sure, it counts as a theory. But as proof of a single shooter, it’s on weaker statistical ground than Evolution ever was. And you don’t see the right-wing bitching for higher standards on that one.

Imagine if the Administration applied its new-found scientific rigor to, say, a certain war in which the phrase “massive intelligence failure” was bandied about not once, but twice in the course of two years. 9/11 was a M.I.F. As was the build-up to Iraq. How is it that a President who can’t remember which of his children is diabetic is permitted even to speak of M.I.F.’s or, more audaciously, the concept of Intelligent Design?

Proof of Doubt

Meanwhile, in Theatreland …

We have assholes like John Patrick Shanley celebrating the idea of collective doubt as though it were actually a) revolutionary or b) useful. What infuriated me most about his play was learning that he and the director and the actor playing Father Flynn had a get-together to decide what the real verdict/backstory was! After eleven excruciating scenes that culminate with no conclusion, the writer, the director, and the actor actually know the answer! Isn't that great? They just don’t want to tell us because, hey, that’s life. Now think about this for a moment. Is this play demonstrating the reasonable doubt we all feel for authority structures, holy and otherwise? Or is it just the umpteenth subjectivist mindfuck tossed off by a lazy writer who believes that Descartes for Dummies is really thought-provoking stuff? And what kind of thoughts are being provoked? Any? Or are we merely … provoked?

Doubt falls short on all the juicy Monsterist screeds I’ve been yakking about for the last month, so I won’t go into that again. But there’s something worse going on here. For all practical reasons, Shanely and his premiere team supplant the corrupt patriarchy of the story with a more sinister and self-defeating aesthetic corruption. Obviously the creator, the director, and the poor actor need to know what the real Flynn storyline is if they’re going to flesh it out and ground the character on stage. But after we leave the theatre, we get nowhere because the playwright wants to withhold our capacity for judgment while reserving for himself the right to marvel at how the world is filled with such ethically gray situations.

Were Shanley to explore an area of genuine, universal ambiguity (by, say, ripping open some of those above-mentioned cracks in Evolution) he might be onto something. Perhaps something that directly relates to faith and collective insecurity. Instead, we have a rectory-bound whodunnit where the real answer is anyone’s guess because no one (including the playwright) is courageous enough to engage in a truly heroic fight for the truth. So we just shrug at the existing power structure -- shielded from consequence all the more by Shanley’s groundless decision to set his play in the 1960s** -- and go home arguing in the car about whether or not the priest molested the kid. As for the stern emperor penguin who fights the good fight … well … would it be a PLOT SPOILER for me to reveal here that after her defrocking crusade SHE HAS DOUBTS?!?!?!?! Shit! I never saw that coming! So where does that leave us? And why should we care when the artists involved have already made up their minds?

Shanley seems to believe he’s doing us a larger civic service. And one could easily conclude from his play's booming popularity that JPS has tapped into something provacative here. His preface to the reader’s edition waxes philosophical at every turn. The injustice of the 1960s Catholic clergy pecking order is offered as an analog to the present -- not just socially, but somehow epistemologically, too. For all the weaknesses and frustrations in his story … for all the unanswered questions … we’re told “Hey, man. Isn’t that just like life?” Not when someone knows the answers but purposely withholds them.

In countless interviews, Shanley bemoans the state of our national discourse. He talks about how cable news has degenerated into a contest of wills, where facts and rational argument rarely enter into our quest for truth. I agree. But then he writes a play purposely designed to send people home shrieking from the same sense of subjectivist entitlement! When asked why he’s written it that way, he switches from weak, uninformed sociological speculation to weak, uninformed philosophical speculation: he equates certainty with corruption and doubt with enlightenment.

Personally, I don't need to spend more time with intractable personailties or implacable situations. I need a way to get through them. Shouldn't art be a place where we actually have a shot at figuring things out? Where the fight we should have fought can be demonstrated for our study? Where the audience can put aside its collective doubt with that splendid "suspension of disbelief?" Doesn't the textbook term "suspension of disbelief" negate the whole circus of doubt that Shanley's so eager to conjure***? I'm not saying we should abandon critical thinking -- I'm saying that perpetual criticism (i.e. cynicism) is just as useless as blind certainty. But "blind" is the operative word. Not certainty. Doubt is where we start the search for knowledge. It's shouldn't be where we end up.

The final message? As near as I can tell? It doesn’t matter what side you’re on because you can never know anything for sure. So instead of investigating further, checking your premises, refining your method, or putting your name/life on the line, why don’t you just perpetually doubt everything because, damn it, if I had to find a crystalline infinitive to sum up human consciousness it’d be … “to doubt.” Never mind the fact that such glib reductionism is WAY more smarmy and closed-minded that any manifest religion out there. Apparently, the only way to avoid sending an innocent man to jail or to protect an at-risk child from pedophilia is to never get out of bed in the morning. Why bother? The weatherman said it’d be sunny today. But I have my doubts.

All sorts of people capitalize on collective uncertainty. And ya know what kids? Uncertainty exists. It’s there for you right around the corner whenever you care to look. The debate shouldn’t be about the primacy of doubt -- in art, science, OR religion. It should be about what we’re going to do about it. So we can all grow up, re-read our low-cal Kant book from freshman year, and move on … or we can choose to sink in frustration with those five weak senses that God or whomever gave us.

But we do NOT have to sit and listen to the perennial polemic about doubt versus certainty, especially when our moderators -- be they Bush or Shanley -- are the ones manufacturing the doubt in the first place.

Jenny Chow

It’s been a few days since I saw this in a packed-to-the-stone-rafters audience at Studio Theatre. I can’t think of anything new to say about it. Except that Jimmy Flannagan has perfected scene-stealing hilarity. This guy bounced from Gus in Arcadia to Man with Bags to Kimberly Akimbo to columbinus and now to one of the most sublime stoners I’ve ever seen in The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow. James, I don’t know if you’re reading, but damn: you rock. And thanks for the shout-out with "EXTREME!!" -- splendid ad-lib.

The rest of the play was cool. And I remember all the criticism about the unearned ending and an underwritten, needlessly evil mother character. I agree for the most part -- OCD Jenny’s final meltdown is catalyzed by a particularly nasty suck-it-up-and-deal stunt from her adopted mother. It’s a move that no real mother would ever pull, especially after living with an OCD kid for that long. That it sends Jenny round the bend also doesn’t make much sense. But the final image of God sobbing helplessly and fluttering her hands in the dark after she fearfully expels her greatest creation is an arresting moment in its own right. Maybe my viewing was too clouded by the catchphrase “Intelligent Design,” but I saw a digital deity rendered pathetic and lonely because she needs her creations to experience Creation.

Footnotes

Coming shortly ...

Mass Transit

A brief overview:
  • 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier that was declared a total loss when a young, sporty urbanite in a Toyata slammed into my passenger side door, causing irreversible frame damage last Christmas. Because this happened in the Dulles Airport parking lot, we were both declared at fault (the absence of stop signs meant nothing to my insurance company).
  • 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt that was fun to drive, but was recalled by the manufacturer for a handful of electronic problems, chief among them being the automatic anti-theft fuel-pump shutoff device that would demonstrate its efficacy by shutting off fuel when I would drive it.
  • 198? Ford Festiva lent to me in Juneau, whose hatch-back flew open on windy days, became airborn, and whose brakes grinded away to a Flinstone's foot pedal. The mechanics said I was lucky to be alive.
  • And now: a 30 year old VW convertable Bug lent to me for a few days last week by some friends I was housesitting for. This car had the wackiest transmission I've ever seen. But last Friday night, it also CAUGHT FIRE as I was riding back from rehearsal. Imagine me in a white flaming convertible Bug in SW DC after dark as roving gangs of local kids shout: "Mmm! You on fire, motherfucker! Get out the car!"
I haven't had the best of luck with moving vehicles lately. But that's also why I haven't been able to post as often as I like. Becuase every time I turn around ...

I have a lovely post about Doubt, Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, Intelligent Design, and other stuff coming soon. But right now I gotta catch a bus.

Instead of VW Bug, it really should be the VW Moth.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Folly of the Moment

I really liked that title -- as a runner-up for the grand re-naming contest. Thing is, I can't think of any folly to share at the moment. Passion Play is about as exciting as it gets. I almost wish I was working on something less inspirational; wish I could scatter the fun projects and distribute them more evenly over the next couple years. Because I know it won't always be like this and it'd be handy to have some creative-capital account for the dry seasons.

Starting to chip away at the back-log of unread classics. Confederacy of Dunces to start, followed by a handful of Shakespeare titles courtesy of Maestro Deeker.

In the absence of any new thoughts, could y'all tell me if this blog appears weird in your browser window? I'm on Firefox and it looks OK, but on a friend's AOL browser, the side-bar was shifted below the text, instead of right next to it. I've been dropping code into the template with no real respect for the order, so ... maybe it's just a fluke.

I'm apartment hunting right now, so once I get myself settled there will be a lovely housewarming buffet of bloggage.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Reason to Believe

Been a while, kids. Sorry. I just scrambled to finish a promo for my company in which I take samples of our earlier military brain-washing films and synch them up to pseudofunky techno music to advertise for future clients. Consequently, my obsession with archival footage and subliminal fast-cuts has made this demo subversively good. To the point where it truly belies the quality of the product it pitches. Most of our films are a bunch of guys in matching uniforms sitting around a table saying things like, "XO, get the fit-reps and our Class III AT/FP training done stat, our we're gonna have serious trouble if the CNC puddle-jumps the QRF after the "fast Charlie" pulls his rojors."

Always followed by ...

"Yes, sir."

In my demo version, this same movie comes across as, let's say, borderline Bruckheimer. We got night vision! We got flying ... things! We got lasers! We got dead people! We got badass sound effects! Amp it all up with a shamefully potent dose of jingoistic symbol-mongering, and ... there ya go!

Now understand: the whole enterprise is less fraudulent than you think. All our stuff trains military people to avoid the clusterfucks for which they are so often berated on the front pages. The officer class in the Pentagon is actually a fairly progressive group of people who loved working under Bill Clinton because they got to tell him what to do. They hate Bush becuase his aim is political while theirs is strictly strategic. Plus, most officers have seen a good number of Presidents and will out-live the current one -- so their perspective is less encumbered by political reality. True, they spawn freaky shit like DARPA -- which, if memory serves, is currently working on a project to kill the enemy through telepathy or nanotechnological killer robots that fit comfortably inside a hydrogen molecule. So we stay away from that shit. We're not into recruiting either. Or administration propaganda. But my are we patriotic.

The Clean House

Saw this with the cast last Wednesday evening. I remember a friend at Woolly slipping me a manuscript version last year and loving it then. For some blessed reason, Rhul's playful insertion of supertitles aligned nobly with the "foreign movie" motif being discussed by the characters -- instead of being the kind of pomo overlay that objectifies the characters because it can't handle real human emotion without mocking it. So when we see a title saying "They fall in love" and then "They fall in love some more," it amplifies and celebrates the characters feelings instead of commodifying them or making them ironic. Rock on.

But what I love about the play is that it offers a course for its characters that acknowledges their obsessive nature without chaining them to it -- they aren't reduced to a few cruel tics or left to drool on themselves like lobotomized animals. No. They're high strung and out of control, but they're matched by characters who are equally vivid because of their passion. The story is about how the high-strung group comes to understand and join the passionate group. And in this progression, the author thankfully resists pathologizing passion or elevating neurosis. In short, Ruhl offers an ideal for human relationships that cruises through Albee territory while offering the suggestion that we don't have to be stuck there. Thank. Christ.

So yes. Me likey.

Spectacle v. the Circus

H offers and interesting query: "When does impossibilty [of the Rivera variety] become spectacle? Where does theatre end, and the circus begin?"

When effects are offered for their momentary, transient thrill (or to wake up an audience before intermission) -- when, in short, they are their own reward, we've got the circus. When effects amplify (or grow out of) the plot, characters, and theme, we've got theatre. Same could be said for movies, of course. But theatre needs to err towards the spectacular for reasons that have nothing to do with the competing all-you-can-eat buffet of flashy escapism offered by television and movies. And circuses.

Theatre is polysensual, to offer a pretentious term. You use eyes and ears, but also your skin, your nose, and your mouth. It's also three-dimensional and context-bound (most literally: in terms of time and place). Now, HD3D will be in your living room before you retire, so even when that proprietary distinction goes digital, you'll still have this medium that requires a community of strangers to occupy the same room for three hours. Burnt to its essentials, theatre doesn't seem to stand a chance -- unless the stories are likewise bound to these essentials. Novels fail upon adaptation to the screen because the singular joy of psychological insight can't be translated to the other medium. Film is image and audio-based. Prose is language-based. And theatre is time/space based. Some productions get a little obnoxious in their forthright declarations "THIS IS A LIVE HUMAN BEING YOU'RE WATCHING MASTURBATE! A LIVE HUMAN I TELL YOU!" -- and making theatricality itself the subject is a fun easy-out that every new playwright tries ONCE, thinking it's the greatest innovation in the world.* But the rest of us should just thank Pirandello and move on. I guess the difference is this: don't smash down the fourth wall, just remind the audience that the fourth wall is right behind them. And the other three are being shared, too.

Now, we forget these distinctions when we try to wedge theatre into some historical schema. Elitists think humanity is degenerating, ergo: people evacuate the theatre because there's no fire. Were a fire to actually break out, these drool-encrusted plebeians would stay and gawk because that's all they want from the media. So the snobs think. Conservatives and postmodernists think humanity is progressing (kind of), ergo: culture abandons theatre for the same reason it abandoned the barter system. Capitalism delivered a superior, digital discourse which must be better because it's making more money. So the rest of the country thinks.

But historical speculation aside, we run into a fuckload of cross-media friction along the way. Rosencrantz & Gildenstern Are Dead was an absolute failure as a film because the whole frickin' play was about the locus of backstage v. centerstage action. And there will always be some jackass Jane Austen purist who can't abide Emma Thompson's negligent exclusion of some crucial passage from the book.

Even in non-fiction: the cross-media friction has doubled-back on itself. Time was, print journalism was yellow and not to be trusted. Then TV took the mantle of national discourse and kicked it even lower. Until TV proved likewise corruptible and print jockeyed back to a respectible position on the information highway. I think the return was prompted by the proliferation of the internet (which is still a mostly print-based medium) and the honest desire to hold information sources static and accountable. No one could possibly enumerate the sundry lies churned out by a day's worth of FOX News. And that's the point. Murdoch knows that TV is a transient, giddy medium with a weak tether to permanent record. TV celebrates the removal of context for total subjectivist control -- it's its greatest gift to the viewer.

With print, you can't write a lie without willfully sending out a permanent copy in black and white for millions of people to save as irrefutable evidence. The recent scandals surrounding plagiarism and source-faking shouldn't diminish our faith in print, it should make us thankful that there's still a medium capable of self-scrutiny and justice. Could you imagine if every damn falsehood tossed out by the Bush Administration and its constituent televisual media drones were to be investigated? Nevermind the volume of falsehoods, it's the pace at which they come out that makes such watchdogging impossible.

More to the point: televisual accountability, in any real sense, is impossible because it amounts to a rational retro-fit for an irrational medium. You can't hold an image accountable for anything -- buried in the act of visual perception is a willful surrender to subjectivism. Language, syntax, logic ... these require a democracy of symbol-makers, with each member active in the defense of rational discourse. Pictures may speak a thousand words, but it's all at once. And rarely do those thousand words line up into a whole argument.

Anyway, that's the slacker MacLuhan/Postman/Chomsky way of explaining it w/r/t other cross-media comparisons. My only point is that I don't think you can evaluate theatre on some ascending axis for the evolution of media. Rarely has the migration to a new domiant medium resulted in the complete transcendence of its predocessor.** Each medium has its own essentials, its own benefits and liabilities. We'll make more progress, artistically, when we view media through a nominal (not hierarchical) schema. Because the space between the sympathetic magic of ancient Greece and the pomo hyper-realism of 21st century America is not just history taking its course. Or blind positivism. Or neo-Hegelian determinism. Innovation radiates through history in a geometric pattern, not a strict linear one.

Given this, we can evaluate the gradual exodus away from theatre in a more honest (and, I think, more encouraging) context. People didn't just leave theatre for cheap thrills down the street. They left because they learned how to read and write. Because music and politics and religion could be enjoyed and examined exclusively -- and were better for it. Because some stories are just cooler on the movie screen. Because the internet brings people closer to a democratic, interactive community of thought. Because the printing press gave us a tangible document of those thoughts -- all innovations that supplant a previously exclusive function of live theatre, without completely transcending it.

Take heart, kids. All this really means is that live theatre rests at the core of the history of human discourse. Something of the seminal magic remains. We just need to find it instead of bitching about our imaginary competition.


*Consequently, fledgling screenwriters tend to hate Charlie Kauffman more than they admire him. That he was able to hoodwink a studio into buying his noxiously self-referential Adaptation was an insult to anyone who dabbled in solipsistic bullshit to finish an overdue essay in undergrad, but wisely abandonned it out of courtesy for the audience. Everyone has a play about playwriting, a movie about movie-making, a painting about painting, etc, etc. Some people have more than one! But like the senseless infinity of two mirrors facing each other ... these works bear the illusion of depth only.

**And rarely has the true predocessor been correctly identified. Boleslavsky's Acting: The First Six Lessons comes to mind. In it, he tries to comfort his fictional everystudent (the "Creature") by explaining the benefits of film without really easing her specific axieties about an image-based medium. He's essentially less perceptive than the make-believe protege he's constructed.