Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pentagon Hired to Plant Postive Reviews of Avante Garde Theatre

Read the details here.

Seriously though.

It is believed that the Pentagon has hired firms to plant "good news" stories in Iraqi newspapers. This past weekend on Meet the Press, John McCain seemed to express that if the stories were real and that is the way that we need to get the information into the press there, than so be it. The idea goes, I guess, that American policy think-tanks can produce a million white papers on why this war is good for Iraq, but unless the daily Iraqi rags are reporting it, then it doesn't mean a hill of beans.

I was reminded of this reading this quote by George Hunka at Superfluities, who has some thoughts on the debate about criticism and avante garde:

"Academic dissertations didn't put Galileo, Waiting for Godot and The Homecoming on Broadway, of all places. Reviewers like Bernard Shaw (in Ibsen's case), Herbert Ihering (in Brecht's case), Jerry Tallmer, Martin Esslin and Kenneth Tynan (in Beckett's case) and Harold Hobson and Mel Gussow (in Pinter's), writing in daily and weekly newspapers and magazines, carefully prepared the ground for these innovations in both their daily reviews and in the think-pieces that ran in the Sunday arts section."

I think that George is exactly right.

An interesting point in this whole blogosphere debate about improving audience relations is the fact that the inciting essay in American Theatre, "Thinking About Writing About Thinking About New Plays" jumps off from the phenomenal success, and subsequent audience ambivalence, of "Thom Pain."

Jefferey Jones, in the American Theatre article states that Isherwood, (a critic who routinely gets pounded in the blogosphere,) "got it." And while admitting that Will Eno's play is "inter-alia wierd," Jones' tone seems to suggest that Isherwood understood it, but most of the audience, (at least on the night Jones attended,) does not. This would appear to back up George's observation.

However, the interesting survey would be to see if any converts were won over. In other words, were people who would not be prone to venture to a production like that suddenly embracing of it after reading Isherwood's review and attending.

I was speaking with somebody who saw Thom Pain down in New York, and I thought he had a very good comment.

He said that he had read quite a bit about it, including the run-down on Hotreview. After seeing it, he admitted, "I think I was more enamored of the IDEA of the show, than the actual show."

Peter Marks' review of Thom Pain in the Washington post has a little of this flavor also. He claims that it really doesn't live up to the hype.

I thought the quote about being in love with the idea more than the execution summed up some of my personal experience with much avante-garde, including my one experience seeing a Foreman show.

Christopher Hitchens in Slate talks of just why placing stories is bad idea. He starts to wrap up his conclusion this way:

"I mean, just picture the scene for a moment. An Iraqi family living in, say, Anbar Province, picks its way down the stoop to collect the newly delivered newspaper. This everyday operation is hazardous, but less so than going down to the corner to pick it up, because there are mad people around who do not believe that anything should be in print, save the Quran, not to mention nasty local potentates who do not like to read criticism of themselves. Further, the streets are often dark and littered with risky debris. The lead story, however, reports that all is well in the Anbar region; indeed, things are going so well that there is even a slight chance that they will one day get better. Who is supposed to be fooled by this?"

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