Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A SUBVERSIVE ACT OF THEATER IS COMMITTED



 

From my heart, I applaud the honesty and courage of the NYU professors who were exploring gender in politics and sought to prove their premise that Trump had won because he was a man by staging a replay of one of the presidential debates with a woman imitating Trump and a man playing Hillary. In this brilliant act of pure theater, they revealed to themselves their own biases by seeing much more clearly how persuasive and charming Trump’s debating performance had been and how unfocused and annoying Hillary’s was by contrast.

They saw the proof with their eyes open for the first time. They had preferred Hillary and reviled Trump because of their psychological bias against the male sex. Everything they perceived in Trump was the result of a mental complex which made them unable to judge either him or Hillary without prejudice. Theater revealed their own minds to them.

I do not discount the possibility that many Trump voters may have voted for him from the opposite complex, where men are always perceived as right and women as wrong.

Someday, I am sure a woman will become president because she is the better man for the job. Excuse my little joke. I have known so many women who are ten times the man that a lot of men are. But that’s just my personal opinion, and I don’t include myself as one of those women.

Nothing is more subversive than theater. Nothing has more raw power to influence a person’s perceptions. It is one of the great intellectual experiments of Western civilization for opening up the minds of people and enabling them to recognize and understand themselves and their psychology. It’s no accident that Freud named the Oedipus complex after a Greek play.

I have read somewhere that ancient Greek doctors actually prescribed attending the theater as part of their medical cures. And Eastern medicine also knew the value of story to mental and physical health. From Bruno Bettelheim: “This is the reason why in traditional Hindu medicine a fairy tale giving form to his particular problem was offered to a psychically disoriented person, for his meditation. It was expected that through contemplating the story the disturbed person would be led to visualize both the nature of the impasse in living from which he suffered, and the possibility of its resolution. From what a particular tale implied about man’s despair, hopes, and methods of overcoming tribulations, the patient could discover not only a way out of his distress but also a way to find himself, as the hero of the story did.”

It seems to me that today, in modern Western civilization, we ignore and underrate the value of having a harmoniously balanced personality. Imagine what other wrong and harmful choices the people who loved a Hillary Clinton merely because she was a woman are making in their lives. And likewise, the people who only voted for Trump because he was a man. Mental biases are signs of unbalanced minds and lead to unintentionally self-destructive behaviors.

Culture and mental health are very closely linked and a country will not create a functioning and civil society of productive, happy people without a vibrant culture, which I strongly believe must include live theater for everyone. We must free theater from the shackles of disdain, dust and disuse, as well as punishing regulations and excessive costs so that it can again become a vibrant part of our cultural landscape, healing minds while entertaining, the best possible combination.

I confess to being probably as bad an offender as anyone in undervaluing theater. It was sheer luck that I grew up near New York City in the days when there was an active and affordable theater culture. Birthdays and Christmas always meant tickets to the theater. I regarded it as a frivolous luxury, which fortunately didn’t detract from its value to my mental health. But I now realize theater is so much more than that. It is the intellect of a society having a conversation with itself. What a joyous way to cure the dislocations our minds may suffer from.

And, as the people who watched the staged debate proved, Trump was the better candidate, regardless of his sex, which I believe also validates the wisdom of the democratic process. But they have provided us all with a valuable piece of real theater. It’s time to reclaim theater from the grasp of corporate propaganda.

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