It appears that Andrew Breitbart’s final attacks from beyond the grave against President Obama have begun. We are promised videos of the Commander in Chief carousing with self hating white terrorists at Harvard some decades ago, but that, if it exists, will no doubt be the grand finale, yesterday we got the overture. It turns out, that after searching high and low for evidence of the President hanging out with radicals, the place where Breitbart found it was, wait for it... the theater. In 1998, Terrapin Theater in Chicago premiered Tony nominated playwright Herb Shapiro’s “The Love Song of Saul Alinsky”, the President participated in a talk back after one of the performances. If this specious guilt by association is all Breitbart had it is clearly a swing and a miss at a ball badly outside the strike zone. I am quite certain that nothing revelatory or enlightening occurred when then State Senator Obama participated in the talk back, because nothing revelatory or enlightening has ever been said at a talk back. What struck me as interesting was the image that Breitbart was trying to paint, ultimately the guilt here is not from associating with Alinsky, or other radical types on the talk back panel, the guilt is in associating with theater, or more specifically, theater as practiced in modern America.
Breitbart after citing a familiar sounding quotation from a person in attendance as to how eloquent and impressive the President was, questions if its “a good thing to impress the sort of people who show up to laud “The Love Song of Saul Alinsky”. I think by “sort of people”, Breitbart meant the fellow panelists, but certainly he is also talking about the people who pay money to hear them speak. Otherwise known as theater audiences.
Much of Breitbart’s overall message dealt with the culture wars, after all, his first website was not on politics, it was Big Hollywood. Breitbart saw a conspiracy at work, consisting of the academy, the entertainment industry and nefarious secretive radical leftists pulling the strings. It is difficult to know wether Breitbart believed his conspiracies, or just believed they generated hits, but either way, they are effective because they reflect some element of truth.
I don’t think we are letting any cats out of the bag when we say that theater in our country has a distinct left wing bias. In reviewing the Assembly’s fantastic production of Home/Sick (a play about the Weather Underground) last year I noted that “The company's treatment of the Weather Underground is fair, we see their weakness and futility as well as their passion and pride. I do wonder if Nazis or Klansman, who also had passion and pride, could be treated as equitably on an American stage as these more privileged cop killers are”. The answer is no, or at least not yet (though there has been some movement on the Nazi front, popular culture has to some degree embraced the “good Nazi” who is just caught up in a bad scene. We have yet to see many stories about the “good Klansman”). Breitbart was correct to see this, and its pretty silly to deny it. One of the great ironies of Citizens United, is that their 90 minute movie “Hillary” was done on a shoestring and hardly anybody saw it, but nobody bats and eye when HBO produces Game Change, or when Michael Moore and Oliver Stone put out their biannual indictments of all things conservative. But if Hollywood has a bad case of left wing bias, in theater the disease is full blown.
In the realm of TV and film examples of conservative programming abound, in fact The Hollywood Reporter tells us that they actually make more money than their liberal counterparts. Just turn on the Hallmark Channel to see there is a vibrant conservative sub genre alive and well in on screen entertainment. This sub genre is largely absent from theater and no doubt contributes to our increasing irrelevance. The reason for this hegemony is clear, the top down foundational programming methods of most major theaters demand left wing shows. In part this is because, in order to justify theater as a tax exempt non profit affair, there has to be deeper social value than mere entertainment (such as riveting talkbacks with old hippies and elected officials). After all, I can’t make a tax free donation to most comedy clubs, and interestingly there are a lot more conservative comedians than theater artists. Theater should look to this issue, for a broad swath of our society our shows offer little more than an indictment, and that’s not fun for anyone. We should find ways to encourage conservative sub genres in theater, not only for reasons of fairness, but also for reasons of audience. Theater as a debate will attract many more people than theater as a lecture.
The point here is that though Breitbart offers no evidence that the President harbors far left radical beliefs, there is reason to believe that many in control of our nations stages do. In fact, so long as theater remains in large part the domain of the Not For Profit, there is little hope of a more politically balanced American theater. This is because theater as charity relies on a left wing idea of government responsibility to the arts for its basic survival.