More Politics as Theatre

28 01 2007

UPDATE – politics may be theatre but poetry isn’t democratic! From Sunday’s NYT book review of a sixties-era indulgence titled, “The Bourgeois Poet”:
“Very early on a poet is struck by the cruelty and lack of democracy in the arts — so few get it all, and the hordes receive nothing but the pleasure and pain of an overdeveloped consciousness. . .” OTOH, it’s not much less cruel or more “democratic” for the hordes of overdeveloped but languishing senators who would be king . . .

Regular readers will recognize this staple from my idea pantry. There’s really no such thing as “political science.” Politics like the rest of life and culture, is Power of Story. Without Power of Story, there can be no education, only schooling. It takes power of story to change children from wooden or leaden demographics into Real Boys and Girls.


Some random ingredients I’ve been stirring into electoral and educational side dishes:

New today – presidential politics as story and theatre, not science

This time last year – “Amplifying Our Differences: Schlocky Political Theatre”

Should we care if over-amplifying our differences hurts the very audience for which we compete, reduces it to a deaf and sightless, soulless lump of standardized, test-programmed RAM? Does it matter if we the people learn to prefer politics to problem-solving, screaming to singing, mass media to personal passion?

So I’m thinking less must be more, when it comes to decibel levels so distorting that political noise machines (school and church noise machines, too!) crank way past the purported goal of enhanced sound quality for the masses, and approach the point of inflicting mass physical damage and provoke mass psychological aversion responses?

Maybe we need to redesign our political theatre for a whole new kind of sound as art, less Rock and a Hard Place (“If I Had a Bigger Hammer” on an endless loop) and more complex human-scale harmony from Sweet Honey in the Rock (heck, they don’t even need tuneful accompaniment, much less the distorting buzz of amplification.)

Childhood stories are deeper and poetry truer than electoral politics, imo. And demonstrating that musical theatre explains more than mere politics – “Musical Theatre as Shocking School Culture” and right here at Snook, see education politics using theatre as a football in a post I slugged as “Expelling Urinetown (Pun Intended)” . . .

Food Fight at the College Children’s Table

27 01 2007

Who this sounds like – institutional Big Daddies whose only function is to do the carving, all jockeying to stand at the head of the biggest BIG table posing as the biggest turkey. To them it’s clearly not about the quality or preparation of food being served, or all the hungry women and children who do the real work but are eating scraps in the kitchen and wondering why these guys have taken their rightful places!

And no one anywhere in this discussion has one seat of honor at the table for the patrons, the public without whose money, all these glam “public” feasts couldn’t exist. Nope, it’s all about the institutional daddies armed with skewers and carving knives, claiming we need to learn some table manners and just be grateful for whatever they bless and pass around on our plates . . .

The idea of turning four to six state universities into colleges granting only bachelor’s degrees provoked an intellectual food fight at the Florida Board of Governors meeting Wednesday . . .”It’s going to take one hell of carrot for an institution sitting at the adult table to sit at the children’s table,” said University of West Florida President John Cavanaugh.

It became the most hotly debated issue in a consultant’s report released last week that is the board’s first step toward a long-term vision of where to take 11 state universities.

Stephen Portch of Pappas Consulting Group advised handing out financial incentive “carrots” to persuade some universities to take this option. He also said Florida needs only two or three world-class research universities, and funding even that many is “going to be a real challenge.”

“The carrot to get UCF interested in this will fail the steroid test,” reacted University of Central Florida President John Hitt, whose school made a list of “natural choices” to become a bachelor’s-degree state college because it is 87-percent undergraduates . .

From Tim to Marla – Home Media Invasions

26 01 2007

Homeschooled national champion quarterback Tim Tebow and his parents became media stars and the glow hasn’t turned to glare (yet). But the Olmsteads and their ethereal little home artist Marla are a cautionary media tale now making the jump to the big screen at the Sundance Film Festival. Talk about learning life lessons the hard way . . .

“The film makes us confront the realities of the media process, the predatory aspects of journalism, filmmaking and storytelling. There is a constant need to feed a 24-hour news cycle, but what about the people we write about? What happens to them?”

More often than not, the apparatus unpacks, gets what it needs and then leaves town, leaving the subjects to try and reassemble their lives. Speaking on the phone, Ms. Olmstead was friendly, but understandably reluctant to re-engage with the press. It was not the first time she had heard something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m from the media and I’m here to help you.”

. . .“When we met Amir Bar-Lev three years ago and he expressed interest in our daughter’s work, we welcomed him into our home and lives. But we are heartbroken by some of the choices he made in his portrayal of our family . . .”

The film raises questions about the custody of a given story. Very often regular people are enrolled in the effort, but in the end, the author, not the subject, is the owner of the narrative. The choices are his — in the editing, in the framing, in the end.

“Marla’s paintings are like a Rorschach,” he said. “Some people see a kind of divinity when they look into them and others see a hoax. I wanted to do a David and Goliath story, one that exonerated the family. That story didn’t turn out.”

Exonerated them of WHAT??

I distinctly remember seeing this shy but self-possessed little girl phenom older than four but not by much, with a fat blond braid and her huge colorful canvases, on a daytime tv feature, maybe with Katie Couric on TODAY? Does anyone else remember?

I remember wondering then what her parents were thinking,
Read the rest of this entry »

Just Bought This Book

25 01 2007

…after hearing its author, Chris Hedges on NPR today.

Here’s what wrote about the book:

Hedges was part of the New York Times team of reporters that won a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting about global terrorism.

“>such intimacy with horror, one might expect him to be aloof from the seemingly less urgent cultural disputes that dominate domestic American politics. Yet in the rise of America’s religious right, Hedges senses something akin to the brutal movements he’s spent his life chronicling. The title of his new book speaks for itself: “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.”

Scores of volumes about the religious right have recently been published (one of them, “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism,” by me), but Hedges’ book is perhaps the most furious and foreboding, all the more so because he knows what fascism looks like.

UPDATE – Daryl at HE&OS echoes Hedges’ point today, that while many are “useful idiots” too blind to see, relatively few evangelicals are true Dominionists (fascist theocratic paternalists out to destroy our culture, capitalism and individual liberty) and what we need to do is unite to expose and expel actual Dominionists as the apocalyptic Taliban terrorists they mean to be. . .

Are Our Politics Creative Classy?

24 01 2007

Walter Jones, GA state bureau chief for Morris News Service, advises the creative class on how creativity-killing the “leadership” of power politics has been :

“Author Richard Florida has some observations. At the top is the need for leaders to foster an environment where members feel secure and confident to be creative. Florida’s argument is that it takes creativity to solve complex problems facing society or a business. The more people supplying creative suggestions, the better the solutions are likely to be.

Perhaps that’s intuitive, but just as intuitive is the traditional “chain of command” model in which the person at the top sets the direction and the people below do what they’re told. The way to foster creativity … is to encourage everyone to have a voice, to feel comfortable offering their own quirky opinions, even the weirdoes, the nerds and those in the minority.

They’ll be encouraged as long as what he calls the “squelchers” are kept in check. These are the naysayers, the guardians of the status quo. No one likes to be put down or have his or her ideas minimized.

The natural reaction is to stop offering suggestions when they’re repeatedly belittled or ignored.

“When you put that set of horrendous work conditions and external factors together, it creates an evil barrel. You could put virtually anybody in it and you’re going to get this kind of evil behavior. . .It’s not the bad apples, it’s the bad barrels that corrupt good people.”

— eminent situationist psychologist Philip Zimbardo

. . .We took women students at New York University and made them anonymous. We put them in hoods, put them in the dark, took away their names, gave them numbers, and put them in small groups. And sure enough,

Read the rest of this entry »

Nudes and Prudes

22 01 2007

Written today in response to an eponymous post at K-Dad:

To connect your meditations on husband-wife relations to dad relationships for teaching children, I’d like to add a parent’s perspective on nude-prude, and what children learn about it from us. I came back last night from a long weekend of media-heavy dance performance classes and competition. We took a chartered busload (of kids, chaperones and adult dancers who all treat each other as extended family) three hours to an urban hotel with all the costumes, props and gear to perform more than a dozen big musical theatre production numbers for world-class entertainment industry master teachers. (All male in this case.) Several studios and performing arts schools did the same, almost exclusively girls.

My extremely innocent, unselfconscious, always unschooled young son is the only male dancer in our company this year. He actually had two stuffed animals in his dance bag, to sit with quietly during the longer waits. But a VERY nasty scene over his “sex” ensued in the ballroom designated as the common dressing room for all the studios, during Saturday evening’s adjudicated performance, when a mom spitting venom from across the ballroom shrieks at our group, “will someone GET that boy OUT of here! My daughter’s in puberty, and he can’t see her business!”

Her own daughter began to cry in humiliation. Indeed her “business” was visible if you’d been looking, because those dancers apparently hadn’t been taught about a nude-colored leotard-like garment called a camisole, that female dancers wear under all their costumes so that no one CAN see their “business” during changes. Our dancers have changed quickly and unselfconsciously in hallways when no dressing room was available, their only concern being to keep themselves unseen by the AUDIENCE until their next performance, but not unseen backstage by other players male or female — an appropriate detachment from backstage theatrical nudity as sexual is something young performers need to learn.

Apart from that, this prudish mom might have had a legitimate concern if some male did gain access to the dressing room and begin leering or perhaps flashing his OWN business at the girls. The facts were though, that my son isn’t in puberty, doesn’t know or care about sex differences yet, and didn’t even know she was yelling about him. He was obediently running through a bit for the next big number with several of our adult female dancers, one of whom is a high-ranking law enforcement official IRL. He certainly was not checking out anybody’s “business!” And he wore the nude-colored male equivalent of a camisole, called a “dance belt” so no little girls would see any of his business. . .and then changed in the men’s bathroom anyway.

I don’t comment to elicit practical suggestions about separate male dressing rooms or whatever — that’s the policy level of the issue, and there are various solutions already under discussion. My point here is what’s in people’s heads, harmful ideas and beliefs that policy cannot fix. Stuff that hurts children when parents and teachers and role models get it all twisted. You have to THINK, not just take the written rules and beat each other over the heads with them until the stronger, louder, ruder, more heavily armored warriors are left standing.

I can’t give you a full power of story interpretation yet, but I just had to comment for K-Dad while it’s fresh — to me the obscenity was hers and it was spiritual, not really flesh-based at all. Her prudish and self-righteous hysteria, about skin and eyeballs and biological differences, completely missed the deeper magic (like Aslan versus the White Witch) — modesty, self-control, courage, family, compassion, civility, conflict resolution.

Humanity, not nudity. We could have been flagged by the event’s authority for a technical violation, sure, but she violated the IMPORTANT rules as parent, teacher and adult role model.


Choice Anniversary

22 01 2007

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

On January 22nd – the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade – we asked pro-choice bloggers to join us in a day of activism for choice. Blog for Choice Day is a chance to raise the profile of reproductive rights issues in the blogosphere and the media, and to let everyone know that a woman’s right to choose is nonnegotiable.


That’s from the Bush v. Choice blog.

I didn’t really know that today was the anniversary of the Roe ruling. 34 years. Now, I’m 49. So for my entire adult life, Roe has been the law.

And a good thing too!

When dear boyfriend and I were worried one month back in 1970something, we trotted on down to the Planned Parenthood office and were reassured that I was not actually pregnant, just late. Whew!

A few years later, a dear relative of mine did not have such happy news and had an abortion. Thank goodness that option was available to her. She was way too young to even be thinking of having a child. . . which she hadn’t been thinking of. . . she’d just misunderstood the way the birth control pill works, how soon it kicks in. And went on to have a wonderful family, years later when she was ready.

The question, though, that the Blog for Choice Day people have posed is why I am pro-choice.

I find it a confusing question. I cannot imagine not having the choice to do what I want to do with my own body.

I’ve been lucky that way.

May my daughter grow up experiencing the same luxury — freedom to control her own fate!


Spelling Isn’t Witchcraft!

18 01 2007

Last night NPR interviewed a Muslim woman raised in Canada, who writes tv comedy from her own life. Her new sit-com is “Little Mosque on the Prairie.” (good name)

They played a sound clip from an episode poking fun at an old imam cautioning children against “licorice” and “hamburgers” because they had wicked words embedded in them to appear innocent and suitable for kids, that would weaken their resolve and likely lead them astray later in life to accept “liquor” and “ham”. The writer said her real life childhood imam in Canada had forbidden root beer to Muslims, because its name would confuse children’s minds into accepting beer as perfectly fine. She explained how she just exaggerated for comic effect, something that was dead serious (and seriously deluded!) at the time. Something her parents bought into and forbade quite seriously to her as a result, believing they were doing what their faith required.

Wonder if this Georgia mom fighting an epic battle against a fictional children’s book character hears those same delusional voices in her head about modern culture. Does her logically (and linguistically) twisted literalism lose so much in translation that she could be dead serious about sounding like a ridiculous old imam exaggerated for comic effect?

Pro-choice Learning

17 01 2007

Is this phrase in use, does anyone know?

What Does This Mean?

17 01 2007

It’s been hectic and somehow the every-other-week recycling didn’t make it to the curb for pickup this morning. First time in YEARS. The container is of course full to bursting and we’ve no space to store more. When I realized how distressed I was to contemplate two weeks of tossing recyclables in the regular garbage, it felt antisocial or even criminal, and I started comparing it in my mind to other inevitable bad choices — worse than speeding to avoid losing a job? Worse than fudging mortgage qualification factors, worse than juggling dubious income tax deductions? I’m really surprised it feels so uncomfortable, that there’s no practical way to save myself from feeling like a violator and less-than-upright citizen now, and I’ll have to live with it for a while, can’t just fix it and redeem myself.

Wonder if this is how kids can get to feeling in class once they fall behind or get retained, and the reality of having to just wait out a stretch of poor performance as a helpless idiot sets in? Some would say let this be a lesson to me, I suppose, but what will it teach me? Right now I wish I’d never started recycling in the first place, so I wouldn’t care so much . . .

Best Teacher Needs No School

17 01 2007

The culture and the feel of it create the real story, not the funding source or the legal label. And from Jay Mathews’ story today, this guy could be a homeschooling parent just as easily as a schoolteacher, and be doing all the same stuff to inspire kids, and hate testing for the same reasons, and get the same lack of understanding from the “system.” 🙂

As far as I know, he is the best teacher working full time in a classroom today. But he is also, as he freely admits, insane. He acknowledges that anyone working such hours must have something wrong with him. He has difficult relationships even with his closest disciples. . .

Oh, and I admit loving this bit too, which could describe almost all the not-schoolers I know: his strongest link to reality is his wife.

Quiet This Week Is Just Here

17 01 2007

Find plenty of vigorous political debate for Thinking Parents this week here and also here. One great line that came out of that discussion (not mine) was “culture trumps political party!”

Favorite Daughter’s present performance schedule makes it easier for me to comment in snatches rather than putting together whole blog essays, but there’s good raw material if I could just get time at home to do much with it for Snook. She got into the secret honors lounge on campus yesterday for the first time, and she’s getting ready for her first college musical theatre audition even as I type (Chorus Line).

I have some new unbelievable –but completely true!– “car from hell” stories to work with too . . .miss you all!