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Attention Must Be Paid

Someone on a mailing list I belong to posted a message saying in a nutshell, in response to the attacks on the country this week, the last thing we need is negatism (also known as the upcoming scheduled Broadway production of Assassins) and that "we don't need to examine the dark side" as it "never does us any good." Note that I haven't forwarded the original comments, as the mailing list doesn't allow messages to be forwarded outside the list. I feel I've referred to the message in question with pretty broad strokes and that I fully believe that I haven't violated this rule.

My response to this was as follows...

Oh yeah. Definitely. To hell with examining and contemplating all sides to a story. If we just ignore it, close our eyes and plug our ears, it'll all go away. Bring on the dancing elephants. Turn off the news. Shut the blinds. We really shouldn't be talking about any of this. We should put blinders on and sing the national anthem until all of our problems disappear. It won't do us a lick of good to do anything but look for the silver linings.

How frightening.

Come on along and listen to
The lullaby of Broadway
The hip hooray and bally hoo
The lullaby of Broadway
The rumble of the subway train
The rattle of the taxis
The daffy-dills who entertain
Until the dawn
Good night, baby
Good night, milkman's on his way

The only rumbles I've heard of around Broadway in the past several days certainly haven't come from a subway. And as much as I love those daffy-dills and dream of the magic of the theatre and the Broadway we all know and love, there's more to society than that.

I'm not saying 42nd Street has no place on Broadway. It certainly does. And I'll see it a thousand times. But to suggest that we pay no attention to anything without glitter, flashing lights, and pretty girls singing about how wonderful the world is... well that'd be a sad state of affairs for the theatre world and society in general. Do we turn off the news and pretend it doesn't exist? Do we agree to only talk, discuss, and debate issues that leave us all with warm and fuzzy feelings?

One of the fascinating aspects of Assassins is that in an hour and a half it forces the audience to see just how wrong these people were. Now, of course they were wrong. We know that. Perhaps you assumed Assassins was a musical comedy with historical characters doing the can-can and laughing up a storm.

"All you have to do is move your little finger - you can shut down the New York Stock Exchange. Shut down schools in Indonesia. In Florence, Italy, a woman will leap from the Duomo clutching a picture of your victim and cursing your name. Your wife will weep. His wife will weep. The world will weep. Grief. Grief beyond imagining. Despair. The death of innocence and hope...."

Have you seen Assassins? Assassins isn't negative. Assassins expresses what society feels. Everyone. It shines a light on the futility of striking back blindly. The act of our assassins have surely been negative, to say the least. But the examination of assassins in the musical Assassins helps to understand just what it takes to go to that extreme. And even if it didn't, even if it was the most negative piece of theatre imaginable, I'd much rather see Assassins than Mamma Mia or 42nd Street.

These people who have been behind the evil that has taken place in our country this week, whoever they turn out to be, they practiced their evil for reasons. Whatever these reasons are, be they political, religious, or merely a stomach ache, they hijacked these planes, killed tens of thousands of people including themselves... they did these for their reasons. They thought they would help to fix their problems. And did they? Where's their prize now?

And it didn't mean a nickel.
You just shed a little blood.
And a lot of people shed a lot of tears.
Yes, you made a little moment.
And you stirred a little mud.

But it didn't fix the stomach
And you've drunk your final Bud.
And it didn't help the workers
And it didn't heal the country.
And it didn't make them listen.
And they never said "We're sorry"

In "The Assassination of America," Anthony DiSanto describes Assassins as having a moment in which "all of the musical's fragments have coalesced into a chilling vision of trampled dreams and corrupted innocence, of evil reaching out to evil, of that underside of American existence we would all rather ignore standing up and shouting, 'No! I am here, I exist, and I am not going to go away!'" No matter how much you close your eyes, they'll still be there.Porter, Hart, Hammerstein, and yes, Sondheim demand that you pay attention, listen, are aware of what's going on. Even so, I vote that you enjoy your Berlin. I have nothing against Berlin. But to say that we don't need to examine anything less than positive, to suggest that it won't do a lick of good, to suggest that we ignore anything that might make us think about just why we have problems in this world... that seems to me the most frighteningly apathetic statement I've heard in a long time.

Bright and happy art is not going to solve anything. Is Assassins? Who knows. Obviously not for you. For me? It certainly makes me think. I find it sad that you don't want to. If you shut the world out and force the monsters back under the bed, they've won. They have the power and you have none.

I'm just as frightened of people who suggest things like you have as I am of those who are so quick to demand retaliation for what has happened. "An eye for an eye and the whole world would be blind." You claim that examining our fractured society and looking at issues through shows like Assassins "never does us any good." What frightens me is that you'd rather be deaf to such shows. You can count me as one who hopes more than anything that our nation keeps both its eyes and ears open, especially in this time of great crisis.

This entry has 4 comments:

I'm with you, too, Mark. Well written, and nicely done.

JessaJune (09/27/2001 09:42 AM)

thank you, mark.

noah (09/14/2001 02:56 PM)


Stephen Farrow (09/13/2001 05:55 PM)

Mark. I hope they don't postpone or cancel the production due to the recent news. It would be a shame. You are right. Or in the words of another well known writer, "Attention must be paid..."

Gordon (09/13/2001 11:23 AM)

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