Sunday, 14 February 2016
I remember my first experience of the controversial ‘Naked’ season at Factory Theatre. I was excited at being able to see Linda Griffiths’ Age of Arousal (which I missed at Shaw and Passe Muraille). Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer joy of the first act. Here was brave originality, here were women discovering themselves sexually; here was a quintessential audience experience. I had the opportunity to understand another point of view, presented with no didacticism, and with a maximum of self-critical humour. Griffiths created her own vision of life without foisting it on us as the truth; instead she just took us for a magic carpet ride into a flawed, hilarious, rocky, frail, very specific, very personal universe. God bless her for it.
But Linda Griffiths is dead; she died tragically young, and I’m afraid her death also signals a change in the Canadian theatre she loved so much. Canadian theatre is over. Canadian art is over. It’s all over. And it’s time to face it. It’s one thing when Canadian actors and directors are so much less interested in Canadian plays, but you know that we’re in a pretty pickle when those in power — the journalists and arts councils — no longer prioritize Canadian work.
Look at the writing on the wall. Torontonians love Kinky Boots and LOT’s old musicals draw big crowds — while Factory and Passe Muraille battle to fill their seats. Canadian Stage and Tarragon no longer focus on Canadian work; new European takes on classic plays crowd them out. Soulpepper never had more than a token interest in Canadian plays. Though there is some Canadian work at the new storefront theatres, the real excitement comes when Stratford actors mount The Winter’s Tale or when a controversial new Irish play comes along to shock and confound us all.
People never really understood the importance of Canadian theatre; you probably don’t understand this rant now. You think I’m being old-fashioned and ‘patriotic.’ I’m no nationalist; never was. But art that comes from community, from a personal vision, from an indigenous (i.e. real) place, is more vital for the human soul than anything concocted by a committee of dolts to make a buck.
In other words I’m not so terribly fond of mounties or beavers or The Trudeaus — nor am I standing on guard for thee, O Canada. But now, more than ever, it’s time to stand up for what originates in a tiny community of hearts and minds; for plays motivated by love — not money.
Capitalism has taken over the internet. It will destroy everything that stands in its way. This means anything radical or outside the mainstream. In fifty years there will be no new, real, heartfelt non-commercial writing, visual art, dance, theatre, film, TV — anywhere. There will only be ‘content’ provided for internet capitalists by talented people who have sold out.
Have you seen the ubiquitous photos of people wrapped in their VR headsets? Soon you will not only be able to watch the latest Hollywood Marvel comic flic, video game, or pornography. You will get inside it.
Who needs ‘Canadian art’?
Linda Griffiths is dead.
And so much has died along with her.
It makes me very sad.
It’s been happening in small ways.I started jabbering about ‘gayness’. A young woman hurled a rather nasty remark at me— without fury but with unveiled irritation. “Some people are straight you know!” she said.
Well pardon me, I thought.
Then I was chatting with a theatre type about Jennifer Tarver’s take on Ibsen at Canadian Stage. I mentioned that it was undeniably a gay interpretation. The woman turned on me. “That’s not a gay interpretation, you’re reading that into the play Sky’” — she said, with mounting anger. The obvious implication was: ‘Gay gay gay! — can’t you just shut up about gay for one minute Sky?’
Is it time I shut about about gay?
These mundane personal incidents are part of a much larger trend. These women were both part of the ‘liberal’ ‘artsy’ community, and something has happened inside that particular constituency that really pisses me off.
Open minded people no longer consider gay men a persecuted minority.
Gay men are now considered more ‘male’ than ‘gay.’ This means they have privilege. Gay couples, as we all know, are all rich, because members of a gay couple are by definition men, and men are the top earners in business world. So all gay men do is spend their time buying condos and expensive furniture and going on exotic vacations with the money they earn from their high end jobs. In fact gay men have too much undeserved privilege; it’s time they stopped yelling about gay rights and gave back to other — less privileged — communities.
Respectfully, I disagree.
First of all, not all gay men are not rich.
Second, I’m looking at gay men from inside the culture and I see a community whose collective and individual self-esteem has been pounded into the dirt by a devastating disease called AIDS. I see men turning to drugs like crystal meth — and other forms of self-destructive behaviour (including unsafe sex) — because for years they have been told that their very natural desires are not simply evil but dangerous to their health. I see young idealistic young gay men getting married at twenty to other young gay men. Unfortunately they are in for a lifetime of deception and disillusion because marriage doesn’t work for anyone, not even straight people. I see a secretive internet gay promiscuous culture in which no fats or fems are allowed.
Gays do not have the privilege straight men do. Anderson Cooper is not every gay man. And though he dares to ‘come out,’ and to giggle like a girl on the ‘Ridiculist’ — you’ll never hear him talk publicly about his boyfriend who owns several gay bars in New York City.
I don’t know how to tell you this, but the term ‘cocksucker’ is still a form of abuse, and includes both men and women, because misogyny is not dead, and misogyny and homophobia are connected, and gay men are still considered effete because they take it up the ass. I live for the day when a father will, routinely celebrate his son’s ‘coming out’; take him out to dinner and a movie, and congratulation him on not being straight.
When all those things change, then I will admit that gay men have the same privilege as straight men.
But not before.
Until then — as far as I’m concerned — the love that dare not speak it’s name must continue to be the love that won’t shut up.