Thursday, July 14, 2011

News As Theater

Whether it’s the shenanigans in Washington or the drama unfolding with my beloved Dodgers, the stories read more and more like theatre of the absurd. Much of the sports section as well as the national news could easily be moved to the Entertainment pages.

The participants are players in every sense. Insiders in the Capital know the game and play it for keeps. Athletes play their sport as if it really matters but, consciously or not, they are players re-enacting again and again an ancient ritual sublimating their aggression for us. Without them we might have even more wars. At least they leave it on the field.

In both cases there seems to be a tacit acceptance of an agreed-upon lie. In the political realm we are meant to assume that the two parties answer to polar opposite constituencies. In fact both are funded largely by corporate America and as such are committed to no systemic changes. From FDR to Obama, with all stops in between, the script calls for the preservation of our system and expansion of power. The dance between the actors seems at times comic and other times tragic and it keeps cable stations humming. But greed and muscle prevail over the general welfare with just enough spillover to keep the lid on the working poor and unemployed.

The spectrum has moved so far to the right that the paleo-conservatives have ceded their place to a screaming horde of evangelical / racist / anarchists while the Democrats are indistinguishable from Richard Nixon in his foreign adventures and domestic social programs.

The current debate over raising the debt ceiling feels like a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta or Shakespearean comedy. Nothing receives much ado. What loomed large and unsolvable in the first act disappears in the next act. Deceit, bluster and buffoonery carry the day.

The Supreme Court, bending interpretation as they do, bears a strong resemblance to the judge in Trial By Jury. When our president correctly called for a removal of troops from Afghanistan I couldn’t help think of the song in The Gondoliers:

In enterprise of martial kind
when there was any fighting
he led his regiment from behind
he found it less exciting
but when, away, his regiment ran
his place was in the fore, O
that celebrated, cultivated, underrated nobleman
the Duke of Plaza-Toro

The cast and scenario of the day’s headlines make our own imagination seem impoverished. Who could have imagined the demise of the Dodgers, over a marital squabble? Bankruptcy with seven homes? An empty stadium?

The actual far exceeds the fiction of our most fertile minds. Rush Limbaugh is a comic book character in appearance and deed along with Joe the Plumber. Spitzer and Weiner (who fumbled their balls on the one-yard line), Barry Bonds (he of the enlarged head), Clarence Thomas (who carries Scalia’s briefcase), Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman (dangerous fools), and Rupert (with his feral foxes) are all larger than life and more laughable than anything Dickens might have penned. Is there a novelist who could have conjured the scenario of a Court appointed George W. Bush followed by 9-11? The emergence of Barack Obama seems like a reject from Frank Capra. Is there a better paradigm for the avarice of Capitalism and the pyramidal structure of Wall St. than Bernie Madoff?

This is a line-up beyond any casting director’s wildest dream; a satire that writes itself. A tragedy of an empire’s decline and fall. Add a score and we’ve got a musical with an unlimited run. We are both in the chorus and watching from sixth row center.

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