August 26, 2007

Of Rants and Plays

Alistair Cooke, the late famous BBC reporter from America, once opined that writers and intellectuals should be more cautious about lampooning the political actions of those in government. Cooke understood what so few others have: that government is an art which very few of us have mastered- often there are good reasons for doing what a government does but they involve long research and deep thought that most of us have not the time or inclination for, involved as we are in long research and deep thought within our own specialisms. Cooke's thoughts came to me this weekend.

As some of you may know this weekend I went up to a wedding in Edinburgh- whilst there I managed to see three shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. Two of which (Love's Labours Won and Not in my Name The Trial of Niccolo Machiavelli) were attempting amongst all their other points to make some rather complicated political points. Love's Labours Won was a farce set along Shakespearian lines about relationships and the way that men in particular relate to women, played by an all female cast it was comic and well played, but right in the middle there was an unjustified (in terms of the plot) little riff on the evils of George Bush. The Machiavelli work was really a pretty good historical lecture on the life of Machiavelli- a pretty basic one but even so a good introduction on the way that Machiavelli had lived to my mind- which turned in its last twenty minutes into a prolonged rant about George Bush, how evil he and America was and were and how we should all unite against the 'Great Satan'.

In both plays I consider that the politics either in the case of Machiavelli ruined or in the case of Love's Labours Won spoiled what apart from that was a good performance. In both performances the politics spoiled the integrity of the work of art which had as its focus something else (significantly the third act of the evening was also political but the expansion from a female comic talking about herself to talking about the difficulties of coming out in Tasmania was much more natural than an expansion from a comedy about love to a disquisition in iambic pentameter about Afghanistan.) Ruining a work of art is of course irritating- especially when one can see how without that there would be a whole which would be worth contemplating- but both pieces of art indulged in something else that worryingly some artists tend to mistake for political activism.

Both were a smug rant. There are many things wrong with George Bush, and any reader of this blog will know that I throw up my hands in despair at the Texan every day- but he deserves as does any politician to be treated as a serious individual. Bush did not invade Iraq because he is a demon, neither did Dick Cheney. They beleived possibly wrongly that that course of action was right. That idea has persuaded many intelligent men and women as well- doesn't mean that they can't all be wrong but just to rant in the smug knowledge that everyone righteous is on your side is both wrong and arrogant. It is profoundly arrogant because it assumes a perfection that is not yours to assume. To argue and to express through a work of art say the suffering of Iraqis at the moment is fine, but to tag on a paranoid twenty minute rant against Americans to a lecture on Machiavelli is both wrong and immature. It reveals the idiocy of its writer whilst for this viewer for a moment it concealed the misdeeds of George Bush.

The truth is that art of course can and should be political. But it should recognise that politics is not easy but difficult and complicated, that politicians are human beings who make wrong decisions often for the best of motives, that rants are unattractive and that works of art should retain an integrity, a single or divided vision that doesn't whirl off into a stupid and simplistic attack on a political stance.