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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts of activism

Holden, Joan
Part VI: Guerilla theatre: comedy and revolution,   pp. [415]-[420] PDF (5.6 MB)

Page 418

To imagine that one has to choose between creating a lasting monument and
work which is immediately useful is to pose an unnecessary dilemma: whoever
writes the
Divine Comedy of the revolution can be confident of its survival. We can
divide the
work: Burroughs has written our Inferno, let us go on to the next two books,
because knowing it's bad is not enough to move people to change it. That
alone, oppresses the poor and sanctions the inaction of the educated. The
art of
despair panders to the fundamental complacency of an "enlightened"
which naturally prefers to exercise its guilt in artificial suffering rather
than be carried
to the point of considering real sacrifice; so much the better when it is
assured that
real sacrifice would be unavailing. People move when they know what they
what art must now do is make real what, for the good of all of us, people
should want.
The art of exposure has to be replaced by an art of example.
The Living Theater, to cite a rare instance, has made this transition: from
(hell on earth) to PARADISE NOW. This just (February 1969) played in Berkeley,
where the audience who had battled the Highway Patrol a few hours earlier
plainly that the "anarchist non-violent revolution" was not the
paradise it had in mind.
But to move straight people to take off their clothes, or jump from balconies
in the
justified faith that their brothers underneath will catch them, as the Living
has done all over the country at places less advanced than Berkeley, is living
power. Most theaters move people to clap. A friend of mine watched a crowd
had just finished applauding RHINOCEROS file past an ashcan which had caught
fire and
was burning in the lobby.
The undeniable achievement of hippy culture is that it presented a real vision
of a
preferable life; undeniable because thousands flocked to it and more thousands
living parts of it now. If we object that the vision was incomplete our job
is to
make a completer one as strong. I think socialism is what people should want:
what they do want, as the hippy movement, the group therapy fad, the nationalist
movements (in which the opportunity of calling others "brother"
is relished
as much as vengeance) makes sometimes pathetically clear, is a sense of community.
The ideal work of art would envision a believable version of communal life,
that individualism in all its aspects including capitalism stands in the
way, point
out the first step to take to destroy the obstacle and get people to take
This brings us to comedy, which is inherently subversive and visionary, always
has a
moral, and has always been popular. The traditional class connections of
dramatic genres are conventionally explained in terms of relative sophistication:
the aristocracy has leisure and refinement to consider the great issues propounded
tragedy; realism appeals to the no-nonsense outlook of the bustling middle
comedy delights the childlike hedonism of the masses. Another way of putting
it is to
say that each genre carries a different subliminal message, and each class
which message it wants to hear. Tragedy says there is an immutable order
which it is
idle to resist (our tragedy is the theater of the absurd, which says it is
an immutable
disorder); realism says the game is to the strong; comedy says you can have
what you are being denied.
All comedies (if they don't, they aren't really) share one basic plot, fairly
in its psychological motivation. The hero, whom we like - if this seems obvious,
point is to remember that we identify with the comic hero - and who is always
somehow disadvantaged: too old, too young, poor, a servant, or female, wants
something out of a person, or persons, more powerful than he. What he wants
usually a girl or money, but it can be, as in Aristophanes, a better world,
or peace.
The enemies are always power figures: parents, husbands, masters, governmenis.
After a struggle which usually brings him close to disaster, the hero beats
enemies, gets the prize, and the play ends with a celebration.
This pattern is traced by the anthropological critics, following Cornford's
COMEDY, to ancient fertility ritual and interpreted as sympathetic magic
designed to

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