Monday, November 7, 2011

Waiting For Godot @Zuccotti Park

They were right outside my office for so long, and now they’re gone. And while they were here, I couldn’t think of anything original to say. It seemed like everybody had an opinion, from well-considered to knee-jerk, but few had anything original to offer. And then they left, and then it hit me.

The reason I was so slow on the uptake was the dazzle. What we were witnessing was something that hasn’t been seen in America since the late ‘60s/early ‘70s: true political guerilla theater. This is not to disparage the work of activist/actors with the various and multifarious workshop scenarios in Seattle, dramas in Davos and the like, nor to ignore the significance of the ACT-UP acta during the AIDS wars. (And, no, I will not dignify the Tea Party Sale-a-thons and their astro-turf roots as anything more than a paper house—albeit one that managed to fool a lot of people in the cheap seats.) It is just that none of them had an extended run on this scale.

I want to quote Hamlet’s fave line: “The play’s the thing/In which to catch the conscience of a king”—but I can’t. Besides the fact that I quote Will far too much here, ANNND the only ‘king’ would be the Republican members of the House, this is NOT a classical statement of the Bard or “the boards”. It is most assuredly Samuel Beckett—someone for whom (very similar to Thelonius Monk, now that I think about it) silence spoke volumes—whose voice is heard here; muttering and grumbling under his breath, with the loudest sound of meaninglessness I know: Waiting for Godot.

This is not to say that what went on and went down had no meaning; far from it. But the salient criticism you heard of the movement (and I eliminate all the jokes and talking points manufactured by the NeoCon media and their think tanks) was that it was leaderless, had no goals, offered no plans, was little more than an inarticulate cry of anguish. Ok. So, strike the “inarticulate” remark and that’s exactly what Godot is: absurdist exasperation to the nth degree.

Now, some may take exception and say something like, ‘No! Godot’s basic message was always about the futility of trying to do anything’, or such. Times, however, change.

"Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!" Word is, from the high critique, that this bit is about Vladimir “wasting his time in idle discourse” by simply choosing to make a choice. Which is fine, under any proscenium (As opposed to choosing to NOT make a choice? A contradiction in terms on the face of it…and also stuff the makes theater hachet-men cream their jeans.), though when you drag it out into the street and say it to passersby—people who paid for no ticket, got no program, have no expectation of entertainment or insights to be offered—it is not only articulate but righteous! And even if it falls on deaf ears, it is no way “futile” when the TV cameras come around.

So why would this be different from the Tea-bags? Simple: when you put your ass on the line for an event, that’s one thing—when you do it everyday, 24/7, that’s another.

But, for certain, it was the opening night and the opening lines that hit me as pure serendipity:
“Where did you sleep last night?”
“In a ditch.”
And while the accommodations—between lower Broadway and Trinity, just off the Canyon of Heroes, under a canopy of tiny golden leaves—were somewhat more hospitable, when matched up with the mission, the resonance with Godot was always there if only from this. And, as well, this is why the guerilla theater that was in that plot of earth and stone was so utterly significant, and why it so reminded me of this radical departure from live drama, one even more wrenching than Brecht’s dissolution of the 4th Wall. In the same year in which Maddow could dub the campaign of The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Herman-Cain “an act of performance art”, anyone who passed by this redoubt of democracy and freedom on a regular basis could tell you OWS really could put the “camp” in encampment.

I mean—just look at this mask! We’re back in Greece, where amphitheater and senate weren’t so far apart in distance or purpose. In those days, the tragedies were to inform of the will of the Gods, the satyr plays and comedies of the pretensions of humans, and this was the sort of thing that influenced the polis and the deliberations of their representatives. That was also when things were smaller and easier to portray in a couple of acts. Then, they didn’t need an “Occupy the Agora” movement; that was a given—you couldn’t get away from it. Today, we can barely encompass the conflict when “The Social Network” gets better coverage than a departure from Rousseau’s Social Contract.

"We wait. We are bored. (He throws up his hand.) No, don't protest, we are bored to death, there's no denying it. Good. A diversion comes along and what do we do? We let it go to waste... In an instant all will vanish and we'll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness!"

Nowadays, the world requires you get an audience first. Then come up with demands. Only after you have made a spectacle of yourself will you ever be noticed. And then, maybe, some one will ask you: What’s it all for?

"But that is not the question. Why are we here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come."

Yes. And maybe this time, he’ll bring the noise.