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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 419

insure the triumph of spring and the vital principle over winter and death;
by the
psychologists, following Freud's WIT AND THE UNCONSCIOUS, it is interpreted
fantasy wish-fufillment acting out the triumph of the id over restraints.
It is also the
basic plot of any revolution. This makes it relatively easy to represent
a revolutionary
action. You have the oppressed class in the servant characters, the oppressors
the power figures (whom you can identify as specifically as you like: the
specific, the more the audience will love to see them beaten), the vanguard
in the
hero; enlarge the goals of the victorious struggle, from marriage or money
to freedom
or peace, and it becomes a revolution; the new order is represented in the
justice of the happy ending. The moral is always clear: do like the hero.
Now you have only to decide what revolutionary action you can suggest to
audience; you have caught up with the rest of the vanguard.
In our version of L'AMANT MILITAIRE (1967), the soubrette heroine dressed
up as the
Pope, appeared over the curtain, and stopped the war in Vietnam; then came
and told the audience, "If you want something done, my friends -do it
This meant, take power, but we admit it begged the question of how. It did
the audience wanting power (and won us the epithet "cheerleaders of
anarchy," which
we would accept with pride if it were amended to "cheerleaders of the
socialist violent
revolution"); compare with the effect of Peter Brook's film, TELL ME
LIES, which in
one sequence shows the hero very plausibly entering the Pentagon during working
hours, hiding till night, and starting a conflagration in a vast bank of
IBM cards; just
when the audience is thinking "Wow - it really could happen" the
character wakes up
and we learned that it is only a nightmare. Mr. Brook could not stick with
stronger than the question which ends the film: (supposing a napalm-burned
appeared at your door): "What would you do?" Why make the film?
(1968) we were concrete: the hero blew up the co-opted professor (destroy
university in its present form). This happy ending was appreciated on campuses
people reproached us for making revolution look easy -the hero didn't make
bomb himself, it appeared by magic.                                     
The problem is that if it doesn't look easy it isn't magic, and if it isn't
magic you
might as well write a pamphlet. If the artist has to choose between creating
desire and outlining the means he must choose the first, as the thing that
art is best at.
Art conveys implicit messages deeper than it does explicit ones. The special
of comedy as revolutionary art lies not in the facility of representation
-that problem
can be solved in other ways - but in the psychological correspondence between
comedy and revolution: the pattern wherein anger and love combine in a movement
toward freedom. If you don't think love is a revolutionary motive, Che thinks
The double motivation, what he calls "celebration and abuse," is
repeatedly emphasized
by Cornford. It was not enough simply to carry on the Maypole: first winter
had to
be driven out with sticks. The endurance of this pattern in art suggests
that it
endures in our psychology, awaiting release to be expressed in life. What
has special power to do is create a compelling vision of this release.
Dull critics basing everything on their misunderstanding of the comedy of
have written a lot about the "inherent conservatism" of comedy
and the "restoration
of right order" in the comic resolution; a revolution may equally be
said to be
conservative, in that it "restores" justice. In either case the
order or the justice
was never there before: the "restoration" consists in making reality
at last conform
to an ideal which has long been held. Few comic writers have envisioned the
of the proletariat, and it is true that many (including Aristophanes, the
most Utopian)
have appealed for return to older ways. But it is only since Marx that the
Golden Age
has been placed in the future: before him the way it ought to be was always
the way it
must have been some time before. The "right order" of the happy
ending is always a
wished-for ideal: that is what the limited happiness of the comedy of manners
the triumphal new world of Aristophanes' endings have in common. The magic
ending of TARTUFFE, where the king sets everything right, has earned Moliere

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