March 15, 2004

Political art, that old oxymoron, rears its ugly head again. This time the victim is Tim Robbins, whose new play about the Iraq War, called "Embedded," is trashed by NYT reviewer Ben Brantley. And Brantley loved "Bob Roberts":
There is little compelling sense of the sustained, dizzyingly absurd reality that Mr. Robbins achieved in his spoof movie about a presidential candidate, "Bob Roberts."

Well, I went to see "Bob Roberts" when it came out because I read the raving reviews, and I walked out on that film, something I rarely do, because it wasn't trenchant or funny or anything it was cracked up to be. But then I wouldn't be one of the people in the audience for "Embedded," and the kind of people who would be were, per Brantley, struggling to stay awake.

According to Brantley, the play depicts:
[A]n elitist Washington cabal ... [whose] members have resonant names like Dick, Rum Rum, Gondola, Woof and Pearly White. They wear sinister half-masks and offer Black Sabbath-style hymns of praise to Leo Strauss, the neo-conservative philosopher. And though they plot their military strategy with icy detachment, they become sexually aroused at the mere prospect of more power.

Is Pearly White supposed to be Colin Powell? Well, okay, maybe if that was written broadly and brilliantly enough it could work a la Dr. Strangelove (which Brantley cites), but apparently it fails miserably. But what I'd like to comment on here is the whole "sexually aroused at the mere prospect of more power" idea. It seems to me that years ago, linking political power with sexuality was far more common. With the decline of Freudianism, there's been a decline in observations about sex and power. Too bad! It was interesting. What remains of that sort of commentary seems to lie only on the left. I was thinking about that just the other day, reading this passage in a great article about fundamentalist terrorists, which I linked to here. (Hmm... the Times won't let you get back to the article anymore--some of the old Times links work and some don't. How irritating.) The part I'm interested in is already quoted at my old post and put in some context:
''You can't have a girlfriend in this society. ... It's too expensive to marry, and as a young man, all you're thinking about is sex. So the 'teachers' would tell us, Don't worry, no need now, when you kill yourself you'll have plenty of girls in heaven.'' ... ''If there were girls in our high school,'' he said. ''I never would have joined those groups.''

We tend to be so respectful of religion that we don't even want to begin to explore the whole sex-religion-politics-violence tangle of human psychology that statement reveals. Of course there can still be a play about sex and violence when we are critiquing ourselves. But we don't dare to apply the same sort of satirical attack to our enemies. Go at both sides with your satirical weapons, Mr. Robbins, and I'll go see your play!

UPDATE: On reflection, I think "Pearly White" refers to Richard Perle. It really would be pretty crude to refer to Colin Powell that way, but calling attention to Perle being white is just dumb and dull, though the attempt to connect him to teeth and hence viciousness is noted. Don't know why Perle's name didn't occur to me when I wrote this post several hours ago. If you've read this blog back to day 1--January 14th--you'll see I was cleaning my office and listening to streaming audio of a Fresh Air interview with him (about his book "An End to Evil") when I decided to start a blog.

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