The Clare Spark Blog

May 27, 2013

SMASH: the perfect liberal backstage musical

Caravaggio: Amor Vincit Omnia

Caravaggio: Amor Vincit Omnia

SMASH had its “season finale” on March 26, 2013, but it has been cancelled. This blog tries to do two things: 1. To compare its optimism with some musical predecessors written from the Left (CABARET and CHICAGO) both of which stressed decadence and civic corruption; and 2. To note how SMASH catered to its liberal audience (feminists, gays) replicating the usual double binds that social democrats cannot escape. In this case, competition and compassion co-exist without strain; moreover it left unresolved the more controversial feminist and gay activist claims—on abortion, and whether or not all men are really gay, notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary. (For a prior blog on SMASH see ttp://clarespark.com/2012/05/18/smash-season-finales-and-the-demonic/.)

CABARET and CHICAGO, though laid in different periods, both remind us of the Weimar culture’s sardonic, mocking tone of Brecht and Weill’s THREEPENNY OPERA, a great hit in NYC when I was a teenager. I remember enjoying CABARET, but being instructed by one critic that its intertwined themes of decadence and growing support for Nazism were ahistoric and misleading, I thought about it with more skepticism. Indeed, upon reflection, one of Nazism’s appeal was to replace the corrupt, crime-ridden “jewified,” hyper-sexualized and materialist City with the wholesome simplicity of rural family values and family cohesion. Sex roles in Hitler’s Germany were clearly defined, with sharp physical and role differences posited between men and women. This was made clear enough in CABARET.

I have just described a culturalist explanation for the rise of Hitler, one that ignores his chief aims: expansion into Eastern Europe for purposes of Lebensraum, and his second but primary aim: to destroy the growing Communist Party in Germany, and by extension to destroy the Soviet Union (believed to be a “socialist” front for finance capital, which is why Nazis referred to “Jewish Bolshevism”).

[I have written before about the false belief, current among the American Right, that Hitler was a man of the Left, “proven” by the word “Socialist” in the title of the Nazi Party. But “socialism” to the Nazis meant the willingness to sacrifice one’s individuality and life for the sake of the purified racial state: “the people’s community” or Volk.]

Moving on to SMASH: this expensively funded television show was originally to be a backstage look at the business of theater in NYC. Though funding a Broadway show was one dominant theme of the series (money causes havoc with writers and casting), the writers never brought up craft unions as a factor in driving up the cost of Broadway shows and discouraging innovation and originality because of union rules. (This point applies to Broadway, films, and television. Producers are seen as the bad guys, with formulaic story lines a function of marketing to the great unwashed and unlettered. In SMASH, there is rivalry between two divorced producers: the competitive, evil and vindictive Michael Cristofer, with the good producer who elicits our sympathy, the compassionate Angelica Huston, who is so unblemished by class snobbery that she falls in love with a scruffy fellow from the lower orders.)

The theme of competition versus teamwork ran throughout the series: Katherine MacPhee competes with Megan Hilty for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a musical called BOMBSHELL. At the very end of the second season, the two rivals mimic the end of CHICAGO, where the once competitive Katherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger join in a raunchy “sister act” that celebrates sex and gangster gun violence, with wild audience applause. Similarly, in SMASH, the two actresses wear burlesque-type costumes, swing their booties, and go off as friends: the audience can love both of them, especially as “Ivy” (though impregnated by the womanizing director played by Jack Davenport), rehabilitates their relationship and we don’t know if she will have his baby and jeopardize her promising career as a Broadway Tony-winning star or not. Amor Vincit Omnia. Indeed, all relationships that were threatened with dissolution are reinstated in the two-hour finale, but without resolving the most sensitive subjects: abortion and gayness (or bisexuality) as normative.

On the gay front: Christian Borle’s character, overtly gay and a sensitive collaborator with his writer and lyricist Debra Messing, meets a “straight” Hollywood star who is kissed by Borle, and the two collaborators go off to Hollywood where their once-threatened partnership will flower again, presumably with romantic love interest for Borle with a straight man who is really gay.

Another evasion: in season one, Debra Messing had an affair with Will Chase, an affair that broke up her marriage. Yet in the finale, she is pictured at her lover’s door, ready to resume their affair, yet Chase had a wife and a family in season one. But not to worry, for Amor Vincit Omnia.

Progressive optimism rules in this television tribute to the magical world of “live theater” (!!!!) and we learn once more that the world of the theater, on Broadway or Off, is enclosed within its tight little relationships, in which all wars end, magically.

Caravaggio: Resurrection

Caravaggio: Resurrection

March 11, 2013

Do House hard-liners want a theocracy?

CabaretAre the culture wars heating up?

Some right-wing websites are calling for a re-energized cultural offensive, one that would dislodge the monopoly that “the Left” has attained in education, particularly in public schools, in the elite universities, and in popular culture. For these warriors (including “moderate” Bill O’Reilly), social democrats (once known as liberal anticommunists) and various Leninists are all under the same statist umbrella, and they must be stopped cold.

The rightist culture warriors will be blocked and court discouragement, for they face opposition from “RINO’s” (a.k.a. the big businessmen who joined the progressive Keynesians in 1942), as well as from the new “Jacobins” out to get them in the Democratic Party. In short, movement conservatives partake of a discourse of degeneration, and I understand their panic, for small businessmen and many medical professionals will take the brunt of Democratic initiatives such as Obama-care.

Underneath the angst is a now explicit belief that Hollywood Jews have created the hyper-sexualized culture, money-worshipping mass culture that flouts religious warnings about the dire effects of pornography, adolescent sexuality, gay marriage, and abortion on demand. Thus conservative novelist Andrew Klavan defended Seth MacFarlane’s performance at the Oscars 2013, for moral laxity should be boldly and freshly confronted. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/03/04/romney-v-the-cultural-politics-of-mean/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/02/25/potus-michelle-and-the-end-of-the-democratic-republic.)

Many of my readers are aware that a prime ingredient in contemporary antisemitism is the association of Jewry with a money-mad, materialist culture. But fewer perhaps know about the Nazi trope (shared by both Julius Streicher and Hitler) that Jews were intent on corrupting the pure flesh of Christian women, indeed were the chief white slavers/whoremasters. How should a moral Christian respond to this apparently unstoppable “Jewish” offensive that is engendering hyper-sexualization, single-mother families, illegitimacy, and devil worship? Have we not seen very effective plays, movies, and television series transmitting the notion that “decadence” (i.e. degeneration) is inimical to the (unitary) values of the Christian West? I am thinking of productions such as CABARET, CHICAGO, and perhaps THE GOOD WIFE (also set in Chicago, and suggesting that the legal profession is similarly intent on materialism and sex, in or out of marriage).

goodwife

What the rightist culture warriors neglect is the plain fact that modern medicine and public health measures have drastically lengthened life expectancy, postponing marriage more than a decade after the onset of puberty. In this technologically advanced world, the old rules are outmoded. Who exactly is resisting sex education in middle school and high school? Laura Ingraham, sitting in for Bill O’Reilly last Friday, was visibly discomfited when one of her guests suggested that sex education was necessary to teach nubile young girls the difference between sex and a relationship.

The social conservatives seem so intent on taking over the Republican Party, dislodging what they view as an “establishment”, that they may be consigning themselves to permanent irrelevance. Cultural pluralism and the secular state are broadly institutionalized.  Pace Klavan et al, the culture warriors may be too internally uptight to make popular culture artifacts that reach out to a broad public.Chicagoposter

The advice from this scholar and political independent is to focus on fiscal conservatism, to divest oneself and one’s party of embedded and explicit antisemitism, and to cherish the pluralistic society that welcomes all belief systems and all social criticism, under the rule of law. Now remind me who censored the movie version of Streetcar Named Desire and Suddenly Last Summer? (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/02/roman-polanski-and-his-critics/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/09/27/cannibals-negro-jazz-and-servile-revolt/.)

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.