Care-A-Lot, We Care-A-Lot!

My mother saw “Fahrenheit 9/11” – a documentary that was as satisfying in its muscularity and unequivocal assurance that your worst fears are starkly true as the Starr Report must have been for Limbaugh, Bill Bennett, Ann Coulter, Robert Bork, and the other fatties (sorry, Ann, go cry into your laxative soup) hanging around the Fox News cafeteria – and promptly announced to my father she wanted to sell the house and donate the money to the Kerry campaign.

My grandmother, who loves nothing more than pounding her fist on the table during Seders andshrying about how the Republicans screw all the “poor, little, colored children” has added a charm to her grandchildren necklace for Michael Moore.

The single movie theater showing the film in Omaha, Nebraska was sold out twice before we could squeeze in – filled almost to bursting by plump mid-western voters in American flag T-shirts and Huskers gym shorts. Perhaps, somewhere, somehow, there is a small sliver of hope. Perhaps.
The idea that something that ostensibly falls into the category of “Art” could actually have any effect on anything is one that has been packed away in mothballs for so long as to be truly shocking. Shocking, subversive, and like a shot of adrenaline to a dwindling heartbeat.

It’s about fucking time.

Political Theater, Brecht aside, is something that strikes the fear of God into most people and not without reason. I am reminded of people made up like mimes; of preternaturally calm people with dubious fashion sense. Reminded of college-era forced marches into the streets, there to be obnoxious and annoy passersby. An exercise not without its moments, particularly that moment when a stoned classmate shat under a bush and pronounced it Art, a moment so fraught with significance that …well…words fail me.

All of these things came close to destroying my fantasy world of a life in the Theat-ah, a life filled with openings and champagne and glamorous bisexuals who say naughty, witty things and call the maid ‘dah-ling’. Politics are too unambiguous, too black and white, too humorless, too…damn EARNEST to make good art—at least the way political theater is generally tackled. Funny how this work manages to turn something so complicated into something so simple. Have you ever tried to read a bill or a Senate briefing, or even the fucking Kenneth Starr report, where promises of mild pornography might keep you plugging along? It’s like reading Susan Sontag in Finnish. Lucky for us, the Living Theater and Co. had all the answers: War is bad, peace is good; Rich people are bad, poor people are good; Crime is bad, but criminals are probably, somehow good. Sex is very, very, VERY good.

And then there’s the dark flip side of the Political Performance Piece—the “Autobiographical” Performance Piece. Sad girls and boys being sad. The concepts for these often read like the captions of 1950’s pulp fiction covers. “I Was Abused!” “I Was Molested!” “I Had an Eating Disorder!” “I Was a Victim of Racism/Homophobia/Mean People/My Parents!” “I Had Parents!” “I Didn’t Have Parents!” “I’m a Gay Republican!” “I Have a Vagina!” Certainly, these things have their place, and an audience, as many people have parents or vaginas, and sometimes both, and can identify. What the architects of such pieces have that is good, however, is a true passion for the subject matter—themselves. Other subjects pale in comparison. As a friend of mine is fond of saying “Of course I’m being self-absorbed. I’m awake.”

What I’m getting at with this seemingly mean-spirited diatribe on perfectly harmless performance that I just happen to dislike, is that they have something increasingly rare in today’s smarty-pants, irony-laden, performance scene. They are about something the artist cares about. Politics aside, that is the single thing that makes “Fahrenheit 9/11” and Michael Moore’s entire flawed oeuvre so effective. He cares. He cares, and he has a sense of humor, and he sometimes uses the very PoMo devices of pastiche and irony and performance-arty pranks to make a point. But there is a point.

I’m almost tempted to say—and what the hell, I’ll just go ahead and say it—that for the purpose of making art, it doesn’t really matter what you care about as long as you really, genuinely care about it. A play about roller-skating or Smurfs or the State of Oklahoma is fine—but you better really care about roller-skating or Smurfs or the State of Oklahoma. It’s the caring that registers, not the subject. We are very attuned to caring, as human beings. As babies its how we knew we were safe. As adults, it’s how we know people we date are not psychopaths. Sincerity is electric—you can feel it in the air. It inspires other people, or it devastates them, but it does something. Rarely does sincerity have NO effect. And if you can’t be sincere, fake it. Or be sincere about not being sincere. Or give it a shot. It’s not that bad. Everybody cares about something. Think how much you care about what you eat, for example. Or what you wear. That’s real. That’s something. And it’s personal. That’s what makes personal theater, for those of us not lucky enough to have been kidnapped by satanic cults in our childhood or to have just really never understood our fathers.

And if apathy is apolitical, as is its very nature, then feeling becomes a politicized state. We don’t live in times when we can afford not to care about anything anymore, and our work should reflect that. There’s confusion, there’s anger, there’s the deep wish that things could just go back to the way they were in college. But they can’t, and neither can we. Let’s bring ourselves back to our art, and see if anything happens.

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