I love reading David Mamet's essays on film and theatre, even if I disagree with him most of the time (e.g., actors shouldn't act, directors shouldn't direct- I get the gist of what he's saying, that actors shouldn't over-act, and directors shouldn't over-direct, but there needs to be some level of action). One of his repeating themes is the problem of the 'problem play'. That is, the overtly political statement: a play, or movie, that's there to teach us a lesson, such as, 'blind people are people, too'. He warns, particularly, of political plays, of the risk of propaganda, which is not the purpose of drama. He says, that if you want to force people to a certain political action, there is something much more powerful and dangerous than a play. It's called a gun. To some degree, I agree with him- that preaching and propaganda are the risks of political work. But a politically engaged work is a different animal than a political work. One of the most important characteristics of great art and drama is a certain level of energy that drives both its creation and carries it along with an unmistakable thrust. Lacking this, it's only palaver. And political engagement has created some of the best and most enduring work, from Camus' The Plague to Miller's Death of a Salesman to Picasso's Guernica. Yes, there has been horrible and forgettable propaganda from both the left and right. But what distinguishes the best work is a metaphorical nature, which draws the story and characters into a more mythic realm, and the portrayal of real human suffering, which knows no political bounds.
I write this in response to the election results of this week, as I imagine many artists will be attempting to deal with our new political reality. So, write on, politically or not.
[I promised myself I would avoid directly commenting on the election in this blog, but I can't help myself. Just two comments. The first: one of the most basic rules of storytelling (as well as politics and, for that matter, life) is that emotion always wins over reason. The other rule (from the Greeks) is that character is fate. Which means we're totally fucked.]