Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Goffman and Tiger Woods

I've been reading an old text with my Performance and Dramatic Theory class, Erving Goffman's Presentation of the Self in Everyday life.

One of Goffman's concepts is the arrangement of the space, or regions of performance. The audience for our performance sits in the house, we perform on the stage, and we retire to the backstage area to do those things we need to do in order to sustain our performance. We also do those things that would break the definition that we and the audience have developed to make sense of our performance. In other words, we go backstage to change costumes: we go backstage to take care of private business: we go backstage to let off steam - to curse the audience or laugh at the audience or cry about the audience. This isn't hypocrisy, it is simply what any of us must do to survive in society, for we are always otherwise "on stage."

At least that used to be the case. But reality tv, feeding the desire to be one of the cognoscenti, one of those with intimate knowledge of what goes on "backstage" has demanded admission to the most private parts of our lives. Cribs, for example, shows the viewers the closets, the bedrooms and the toilets of the stars. B, C, and D list celebrities invite us into their homes to watch them fight with spouses, recover from drunken bouts and weep over their infidelities. Ah Tool Academy what wonders you've done for the American psyche.

We are not privy to the backstages of life. But we know that people need a backstage, need someplace to retreat to in order to keep up the front that must be maintained if public life is to have meaning.

Which brings us to Tiger Woods.

When Tiger made his public statement last week I was astounded at the response. Sportscasters and newscasters alike dismissed the fourteen minutes of shame and humiliation. There was something missing from the statement and the news conference - usually the apologies didn't sound sincere enough or Elin was not present or he didn't apologize to the sponsors (look, he has a contract with the sponsors to present their products, not a moral obligation).

I suspect that, no matter what Tiger had said he would still have been faulted. No matter how much revelation we have, no matter how far back stage we're allowed, we always seem to suspect that there is something else, some other backstage area to which we are forbidden access.

Maybe we ought to bring back the idea of performing only on the public stage, and keeping the backstage away from the public. Both celebrities and the public might just be better off.

Come to the Show

A heartfelt invitation to you. Beware, my show has lots of adult language. I hope it will make you think. It certainly continues to make me think - like - What in the world was I thinking when I wrote this?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


In my copious free time I'm working on a poem - maybe a poem of epic length though not of epic importance - built out of all the annoying advertising slogans of our life. My top is "five, five, five dollar footlong, any any."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hooray, I Been Sick

I don't look sick in this photo, I look scared.

Of course this photo was taken the day we signed the loan papers for our house. The Bank of America owns us!

Anyway. I've been sick. I'm on the mend, but I've been sick. It all started with a visit to the urologist, a nasty but needed procedure, healing and then some stupid behavior on my part that sent me into a spin.

By 10 am on Wednesday morning I was home on the couch, shivering and groaning, wrapped in a quilt and alternating a wish to die and a wish to pee. Thursday, almost no improvement, and I had classes to teach and trips to make. Friday, some improvement, but a need to cancel the trips.

I'd scheduled a trip to Lincoln for Friday's John Brown re-enactor. I also had a trip to Omaha for the annual Scandinavian two day dance party. I cancelled our travel and participation.

By Saturday morning I knew I could have made it through the dance weekend, though I wouldn't have danced every dance the way I usually do. I was glad to be home for Margaret Webster's funeral. After the funeral I skipped the lunch (Kris went), came home and got in my pajamas and laid back down.

Saturday night - miserable - slept in one hour shifts. Sunday I woke feeling OK, but a little bladder shy, so stayed home until the 7:30 rehearsal. I worked on class preparations. I watched parts of The Godfather (and found inspiration for discussion of "front" in GfII). A good rehearsal, not great, but good - I knew what I had to do to get what I thought I wanted.

Monday AM, I woke feeling almost pain free. It was the best I'd felt in weeks. I felt refreshed and ready - well of course I did. I had four days "off."

No political news (I couldn't read for two of the four days). No deep dramas (except Vanya on 42nd St on Saturday, and the weeping felt good). No worries over deadlines I couldn't possibly meet - in fact I totally forgot things I had to get done for Monday.

It was the closest I've had to a vacation in years. It truly did refresh. I was sick. I got better. Hooray!

Before I got sick I finished a piece of Kyle Johnson's concert.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Earth Worry

I've not been well for the past five days, so I've spent a lot of time indoors. I haven't done much for Valentine's Day - or for President's Day. I was going to do a bunch, but I just haven't been able to. By Wednesday everything should be righted.

One of the consequences of the strange things going on in my body at the moment and the extra time to prepare for next week is that I'm watching a lot of television. I wish I had been well enough to read, but that wasn't happening, so I've watched a lot of TV. One of the things I watched was Louis Malle's film Vanya on 42nd Street, a film adaptation of Chekov's Uncle Vanya, using David Mamet's adaption of the text.

In act one Doctor Astrov says to Yelena,
When I walk past the forests belonging to the villages, the forests I saved from being cut down, or when I hear the sound of young forest I planted with my own hands, then I realize that the climate is partly in my power too. And if in the course of a thousand years humankind finds happiness, I realize that I too will be partly responsible for it. When I plant a young birch and then see its leaves turn green and the way it sways in the wind, my soul is feeled with pride . . .

What astounds me is that Astrov's sentiments - not the meaning of the play by any means - were not uncommon in 1895 when Chekov wrote the play. How long do we have to talk about taking care of the earth before we stop "destroying what we haven't created," to paraphrase Astrov.

At the end of the play Sonya issues her melancholy apologia for working hard with little reward.

And when our hour has come, we shall die without complaining; and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered, we have wept, our life has been hard and bitter, and God will take pity on us. And you and I, my dear Uncle Vanya, we shall see a life which is bright, beautiful and fine. We shall rejoice and look back on your present misfortunes with a feeling of tenderness, with a smile - and we shall rest. I believe, Uncle, I believe in it fervently, passionately.

I love this play. I worked on a production of it at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, in the late 1980's, and that production is one of my most treasured theatre memories.

But will God take pity on us when he looks at what we have, together, done to his creation? I want it to be so, but I don't know that I believe it, I believe in it fervently, passionately.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

This is What I mean

In my STFU Already post I lamented the lack of support for the President, or actually, the continual bashing of everything the President is trying to lead the country to do.

What I didn't say was that I think part of the problem is that we have an overly sophisticated chattering class that is asking the question that appeals to them - but isn't the question that is most important to the electorate.

As prime example, let me present an article from the most recent issue of Time Magazine: Can Bank-bashing Help Obama. It's certainly an interesting question for political junkies, but it isn't the question that the electorate needs answered.

The question we need answered is "Is this a good thing for the country," not "will this advance or hinder political fortunes." The later is the question that Chris Matthews is most interested in, and one of the reasons I won't watch Chris Matthews. The later question leads to cynicism and distrust of government generally and contributes to the Republican meme of "government can't work for the people."

The question raised by our sophisticates leads to the belief that anything any government official does is done to keep power - and therefore anything you have to do to keep power is a legitimate exercise in power. I find that worse than discouraging. I find it a dis-service on the part of very powerful media figures.

I don't care if any policy is going to be popular. I care whether or not it is going to help. Am I alone in this?