Monday, April 23, 2007

Groupthink at its Most Passive-Aggressive

This incident is giving me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. In Cambridge, of all places, monologist Mike Daisey had to stop his performance while a group of 80+ self-righteous, smug people got up and walked out. One of them had the audacity to step onstage and pour water on Daisey’s handwritten outline, effectively halting the show while Daisey’s crew cleaned up. It is one of the weirdest acts of deliberate cruelty I have seen in awhile. The obvious question—did these God-appointed asswipes premeditate this whole thing?

Or, did they simply not research the production before bringing their school group, then panic, fearing parental complaints? If that's the case, way to set a good example for the students. I mean, there's a preview link on American Repertory Theater's website. Daisey's colorful language (which is mild, by HBO standards) is right up front. If these kids are so tender and virginal, wouldn't it be worth a few minutes with YouTube before purchasing tickets?

I read a summary of the incident on Return of the Reluctant and, not being familiar with Daisey’s work, I thought, so, must have been something wild, eh? Like yams on a naked butt? Or Jesus in piss? Or Jesus in chocolate? Or self-mutilation? Or cross-dressing? Or machines made of dead animals?

Nope. He used the word “fucking.” That’s IT. And even that’s a guess. You can watch the incident here, and guess for yourself. It’s actually hard to tell why these people were being so passive-aggressive and rude, and none of them had the courage to dialogue with Daisey and explain exactly why they were walking out. Anyone else feeling a little faint? I mean, back in the 80’s everyone actually was doing weird shit. A few folks still are (and still move me to tears) . But Daisey seems like a regular guy. AND, his performance appears to be a genuine, candid, almost innocent inquiry into our culture, the kind that anybody can relate to. At least I thought they could.

Daisey handled it with aplomb. He initially reacted in anger, charging through the already-elastic fourth wall, then appeared to relax, and managed to use humor to put his paying viewers at ease. He put me at ease too, by the end of the clip. The stage crew kept their heads and cleaned up quickly. But on his website, he admits to being rattled, and even afraid of his audiences now. I would be too.

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Blogger Ms. Theologian said...

Huh. This is fascinating. I'm writing a Ms. Theologian response to a question about "appropriate language" in the workplace that sort of gets at some of the issues here...but this is great food for though.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

Fascinating indeed. He followed up with the guy who drowned his outline, and others from that visiting school. They found the profanity a "security issue." Huh.

8:41 PM  
Blogger christopherlee said...

I know how he feels. I have experienced "the silent treatment" or avoidance behaviour program. The question is how do you take responsibility for another's refusal to respond honestly to you? I have been described as a confrontational person. I believe that HONEST heated dialogue is preferable to festering resentment or distrust. He has an opening to expand the efficacy of his piece if HE is willing to be the responsible both for his message AND their reaction to it.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

Chris: you have a point. I think this is what he wanted, to engage with them. He did make progress, it seemed, with the outline-soaker guy, who admitted he had anger issues and felt very threatened by the profanity and sexual content of today's media. He made a point of forgiving the guy, just to get on the record that a swearing, liberal guy reached out to him.

But I don't think he's fully responsible for what happened. It's just so left field. He's not exactly a button-pusher, IMO (like you say you are...). The group left the performance mostly because of what they were afraid he MIGHT do, not because of what he did.

The silent treatment is a very effective way to make someone feel bad and confused, so they accomplished this quite well by not talking. But why did they want to make him (and his other audience members) feel bad? It's almost like they forgot the guy onstage is a human being, just like them, pants one leg at a time and all that. It's easy to forget that the performers in front of us are humans too, and we are interacting with them by attending the performance. It's like they thought he was a movie or something.

I agree that heated debate is preferable to festering resentment. Debate can be very fertile ground, if you do it right.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

Hey, Chris, check out this letter to Mike Daisey Kind of touches on what you're talking about. Interesting take on it!

9:38 PM  
Blogger christopherlee said...

I think you have to decide. I mean what do you want to "go to the cross for?" He said something and got a reaction. Good! I say. Don't be a p*ssy. I don't think Lenny Bruce or Lily Tomlin, or Allen Ginsburg or Andre Serrano would COMPLAIN that people didn't just sit there and nod in agreement.Not that you want to insult people for it's own sake but...being alive is fun. Read the parable of The Prodigal Son, or Saul's conversion to Saint Paul. People can change. Hearts and Minds can be changed. But it takes risk and you gotta see it thru.

10:09 PM  
Blogger christopherlee said...

Yeah, I read Mike's post. I am with him.

10:15 PM  
Blogger christopherlee said...

I mean jm's post.

10:16 PM  

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