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Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Worst Man in The Best Man

In a recent article on Huffington Post, Rob Taub lauds the new production of Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man” as an example of bipartisanship on Broadway.  After describing this year’s Republican debates as “redundant and seemingly endless”, Taub goes on to explain how “politicians” (conservative politicians one imagines) “are the only people capable of of turning “progressive” into a dirty word”.  How lucky we are then, to have this bipartisan, fair and objective play about American politics return to the Great white Way.  To prove his point, Taub quotes director Michael Wilson who informs us that there is something in the play for everyone, no matter their political stripes.  The play, set during a 1960s Presidential primary has characters who, Taub informs us are either based on specific historical figures, or amalgamations of historical figures.  Wilson describes how Vidal created flesh and blood characters, with virtues and flaws, and compares the prodigious and prolific writer to no one less than William Shakespeare himself.  This all struck me as a little curious, so I undertook a bit of research to find out how Vidal himself viewed this bipartisan play and the characters therein.
In 1974, Vidal was interviewed by the Paris Review, without even being asked about “The Best Man”, the playwright said that it was “Nixon, who made me a popular playwright, the worst man in the Best Man was based on him”  The worst man in the Best Man.  Perhaps Mr. Taub did not subscribe to the Paris Review in 1974, that's understandable, but I found this quote after an internet search lasting approximately 2 minutes.  When the playwright himself describes the main conservative character as the worst man in the play, we are not talking about a bipartisan piece of theater.  This fact should be rather obvious, as anyone who has ever read an interview with Gore Vidal knows that his politics fall somewhere to the left of Chairman Mao.  So given that fact that the playwright himself admits a political bias in the play, what on earth could have given MSSRS. Taub and Wilson the sense that “The Best Man” is bipartisan?
Here we see the cultural echo chamber of the American Stage in its starkest and most naked relief.  Mr Taub does believe he is being objective, he just thinks he, and those of his progressive, liberal ilk,  are objectively right.  There is no need in his mind for plays that are actually conceived of or written by conservatives, because well intentioned liberal artists are perfectly capable of producing a fair and balanced view of American politics.  If Nixon is the worst man in the Best Man, it is not because Vidal has an agenda, it is because Nixon really is the worst man, and the author is simply exposing objective truth.  This is of course nonsense, but it is typical nonsense.  
The Best Man may well be a wonderful play, its cast certainly has more celebrities in it than the average issue of US magazine, but bipartisan?  I would say that this claim was just silly, were it not also dangerous.  When theater artists and critics come to believe that they know better how to explain the views of those they disagree with, than those they disagree with, we truly do begin to slip into propaganda.  I do not accuse Vidal of propaganda here, after all, he is pretty straightforward about his political leanings.  But for Mr. Taub to suggest that this play is bipartisan is propaganda.  It is a demonstrably false assertion meant to coddle his leftist readers into the continuing belief that have the monopoly on political and cultural truth.

UPDATE:  Came across this pic today, not exactly bipartisan.


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