Saturday, August 07, 2004

Laura Bush as a Psychological Study...or a Liberal Mole?

What an interesting person Laura Bush is.

A lot of people are fascinated. She is a central figure in the egregious screed, "Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy," by Tony Kushner. As described in the NYTimes article ("The Dead and Dostoyevsky, in a War With Bush," August 4, 2004, by Randy Kennedy"), we see several things. Consider this passage from the NYTimes story:

It might not have swayed many swing voters: a playlet in which a man portrays Laura Bush, talking passionately about Dostoyevsky and moral relativity to the ghosts of Iraqi children, cursing occasionally and revealing at one point that she sometimes calls her husband "the Chimp." ("You know, those ears," the character of the first lady says, smiling impishly.)

But at a benefit performance Monday night at the American Airlines Theater, this extended scene by the playwright Tony Kushner served as the backdrop for a kind of joyous cultural pep rally for those who want to see Mr. Bush turned out of office.

The scene, from a planned longer work to be called "Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy," was also part of a continuing effort by the liberal activist online group to try to harness the arts more firmly to its political cause and to mend what the group sees as a rift between populist politics and popular culture....

...In the first scene, which has been published and read at other anti-Bush, antiwar events around the country, John Cameron Mitchell portrayed Mrs. Bush, and Patricia Clarkson an angel who is presiding over Mrs. Bush's reading to the children's ghosts.

But in the next scene Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Clarkson switched chairs, with Mr. Mitchell portraying Mr. Kushner himself as he speaks with a character who is supposed to be the "real" Laura Bush. Played by Ms. Clarkson, Mrs. Bush is angry at her portrayal in the preceding "skit" by the playwright. In an obvious reference to the evening itself, Mr. Kushner has the "real" Mrs. Bush criticize the use of art for low purposes like politics.

In the question-and-answer session, a man in the audience asked Mr. Kushner whether he had difficulty writing such a politically engaged work when he knew it would expound "ideas that this room certainly already believes."

Mr. Kushner said he did, but added that he believed the work was not just straightforward polemic and that it asked larger, more difficult philosophical questions about suffering and responsibility. He also explained that he simply found Mrs. Bush a compelling character. He said he was fascinated that she was "a librarian and a very big reader," but that she had decided to marry a man who had obviously inherited his family's "language-processing problem," a remark that drew huge laughs from the crowd.

He said he decided to write the scene especially after the first lady had mentioned in an interview that her favorite piece of fiction was the Grand Inquisitor scene in "The Brothers Karamazov," one of the more ambiguous in literature. (Mrs. Bush has said, however, that she does not consider it ambiguous but finds it to be about Christ and to be reassuring.)

Well. The reason this play address "larger, more difficult philosophical questions" is that the playwright also makes jokes about the President's locution. I guess a polemic would simply say, "I hate the President." But a play that treats large philosophical issues would apparently say, "I hate the President because he talks funny. I know all of you already hate him, too, or you wouldn't be here. Let's laugh."

Seems to me a more interesting point is made by Michael Bronski, in the Boston Pheonix. This is a much more sympathetic and nuanced, though still savage, treatment of the first lady. For example, Bronski elaborates Ms. Bush's view of the Grand Inquisitor in a much fairer, and more interesting, and to my mind more damaging way.

Laura Bush is an interesting character. The reality show she is acting in in the White House is the one thoughtful people might focus on.


Anonymous said...


glad that you wrote about the article. there is another aspect that stood out in my mind though, that of being "educated" and still being on the wrong side of history. although w and his pals can be dismissed by the left as troglodytes, there is a problem with someone who reads (a librarian no less) and is therefore educated, but doesn't agree that the right - or at least w - is "EVIL". The left has done the world a favour over the past decade by clearly defining who is unquestionably "good" - aids sufferers, artists, mockumentary directors, any minority group, noam chomsky, saddam hussein, aids sufferers, and hillary. and likewise who is evil - bush 1 and 2, reagan (yes, they still hate him), nixon wolfowitz, rumsfeld, and milton friedman. the quandary though is what to do with the most dangerous person on the right - an educated republican who is not properly "educated". the solution is to deconstruct them, to show that they are really confused, and if they can just be "properly informed" then they will join the "right side of history". clearly that is the benefit of being an artist these days - not to show moral and ethical ambiguity- but to tell the world what the "right side of history” has been, is, and will be. Laura Bush and the rest of the world has been duly warned...

Anonymous said...

That previous comment was just asinine. I don't recall Noam Chomsky ever saying "You're either with us or against us". The left, or at least its milquetoast version in the U.S. congress, tried to play nice with the newly "elected" President, especially after 9/11, when they couldn't roll over quick enough to grant his administration everything they wanted and more. Yet this has proved to be the most polarizing administration since...before I was born, at least. And of course, now that the battle lines have been drawn, people's passions are rising such that each side hosts "joyous cultural pep rallies". Public discourse in this country is morphing into one long screaming match. Who knows if it will ever quiet down...

Anonymous said... light of your response to my comment I re-read my post but failed to find that quote, or an attribution of it, to the dear professor. All that comment addressed was the surprise that the left finds a former librarian to be sooooo dangerous to their definition of what is "correct" thinking and what is "incorrect" thinking that they must deconstruct her to discredit her (allah forbid that she actually love her husband AND agree with him).

It's this type of thinking that leads one to believe they're justified in blowing up a bus, train, building full of human beings because the victims are "incorrect" in their thinking, but the protagonist is irrefutably "correct".

As to your comment- you lambaste the left for agreeing with Bush after 9/11, but then assail political disagreement. Back to Introduction to American Gob'mint for you!