Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ten Things Wrong with Audiences at the Royal Alexandra Theatre

1. They are fat.
What difference does that make? Well it makes a lot of difference when you’re seated beside a whale of a person who insists on pressing their gigantic arm into your side.
2. They are ugly.
I know, you don’t think it’s nice for me to criticize a person's appearance. Well I’m not talking about  how they look on the outside but the way they are on the inside. People who are selfish, ignorant and unkind are ugly. On the inside.
3. They are older than God.
Well they are. (So am I, but that doesn’t make it a good thing!)
4. They are rude.
Some guy bumped right into my friend in the lobby, and continued walking along as if nothing happened. He didn’t even say  ‘Excuse me.’
5.  They have no sense of humour.
Some woman sitting in front of me kept turning around, annoyed, when I laughed  during the play. (The play was Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good.) Why the hell can’t I laugh? I have every right to laugh! Or is this Canada, and we don’t laugh? Or is this ‘high art’  that cost a lot of money to see, so we’re supposed to be quiet like it’s church? Or maybe, lady, you just don’t have a sense of humour. Let me explain what a sense of humour is.  A sense of humour is not what happens when you watch The Three Stooges or Big Bang Theory or a Youtube video of a guy diving into a wading pool at a Norwegian bachelor party. That’s a visceral, conditioned response like farting or burping. A sense of humour is a response to human weakness that reminds you of your own frailty. When you see an actor creating a real flawed individual onstage, it is sometimes funny. So you might try laughing instead of making me feel uncomfortable for my thoughtful, natural, reaction.
6.   They don’t know how to raise their children.
This is what happened. Right after Our Country’s Good began, people started leaving. At the intermission, half the audience had left. During the second act, more people walked out. I know why. It’s because there’s lots of talk in the play about women opening their legs, and women being whores.  And early on — the ‘c-word’ was uttered. I’m sure some of the audience members who walked out found the show ‘offensive to women.’ Give me a break. These are the same audiences who brought their children to see Rock of Ages. Rock of Ages featured table dancing strippers. At Rock of Ages they sold t-shirts that said I LOVE BOOBS. Which show would you say was the most offensive to women? And why in heaven’s name would you bring your impressionable kids to see a sexist piece of garbage like Rock of Ages?  You should have brought them to see Our Country’s Good! Our Country’s Good is actually ABOUT sexism. The kids might have learned something.
7. They are insensitive.
When you have a company of wonderful actors acting their hearts out in a beautiful play like  Our Country’s Good, it behooves you to react, in some way. No, don’t lean back in your chair and fall asleep. Listen! Watch! Think! This is art you numskull!
8. They are ungrateful.
And when it’s all over, you might consider giving Our Country’s Good a standing ovation. After all, you gave a standing ovation to a warmed over piece of crap called The Wizard of Oz, and to Lord of The Rings (which was more of the same, with better lighting) so you might consider the standing 0 for a play that actually deserves it, for a change.
9. They have no idea what David Mirvish has done for them.
I never thought I would say this, but thank you David Mirvish, for trying to improve the quality of mass entertainment in this town by bringing a beautiful produced political poem — dark, thought-provoking, human and humane, for all of us to see and enjoy.  You brought us a 20th century classic. And what do you get? Bad ticket sales, walkouts, and complaints. Is there no justice?
10. Oh, did I say they were stupid? 

I am ashamed for this city. I am ashamed to ever have lived in Toronto. A brilliant theatre company came all the way from England to perform a fine, profound, challenging play for us. I watched the actors in the curtain call, when the audience could barely get it together to clap. Some of the actors were trying desperately not to judge us. They just looked sad and worn out. They had work their butts off for two and a half hours for nothing. But some of the actors looked at us, and I knew what they were thinking. They were thinking: “What a bunch of provincial hosebags these Torontonians are. What a a pile of dumb philistines. Yes Canada is certainly rightly nicknamed ‘The Colonies.’ Oh yeah, you know about Torontonians don’t you? They elected Rob Ford. And it looks as if they might just do it all over again. It all just kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?”

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Tyranny of a Genderless World

This is the way I am
Yes I'm just made this way
And when I want to laugh
Why then I laugh all day
I love the guy who loves me
So how am I to blame
If the guy who loves me
Is not every night the same?
- Jacques Prevert (translated by Eric Bentley)

This has always been my song. I believe that everyone is different and -- as long as nobody's killing anybody or molesting anybody -- we should let people be whoever they are.
Surprisingly, not the whole world agrees with me (or with Jacques Prevert!).
The big surprise is that some recent opposition to Prevert's ideas comes from an unexpected place: the trans community. But this is not surprising, since the queers who started this whole sexual liberation thing got it wrong in exactly the same way.
Let me explain.
Lately some trans activists (Kate Bornstein, significantly) have been raising the banner of 'no gender.’ I've got nothing against Kate Bornstein, I've met her, and she's probably as charming and sweet a person as you'll ever meet. (And two more different people you will never meet: Kate's about as laid back as I am stressed out!) But as much as I adore Kate, I disagree fundamentally with her idea that there should be no such thing as gender. 
The argument goes something like this. Gender causes a lot of pain. When we label children boys or girls, we force them to fit into the straightjacket of gender assimilation. Who are we to tell anyone what a man or a woman is? And yet, inevitably, says Kate, as long as there are gender labels, those labels will continue  to oppress people. Gender is a kind of fascism. A genderless world would be a world without homophobia or sexism.
A lot of people have picked up on Kate's ideas, including the trendy gender activist Beatriz Preciado. 
But Kate’s ideas are not new.
Contrary to what you might think, early queer activists were not just fighting to make the world safe for gays and lesbians. No. They were fighting to create a world without sexualities. The fantasy of early gay and lesbian activists was the same as present day trans activists --  that labels would some day be unnecessary.  
So what's wrong with this dream?
I believe that such a world would be even more oppressive than the world we live in now.
For example, right now some feminists no longer feel comfortable about beginning a sentence saying — "As a woman, I --"
Why? Why, after years of fighting for women's liberation, would women feel that it’s wrong to speak 'as a woman?' Because for some, speaking 'as a woman' enforces a fascistic gender binary.
I’m sorry, but all this has to stop.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Kate Bornstein has only the very best of intentions.
But a world in which people are afraid to embrace the labels that they have chosen for themselves is not a better world. 
It is, unfortunately, easy to imagine an impossible, utopian vision. What's much harder to do -- but what we must do, at all costs -- is respect the labels that people make for themselves and somehow (and this is very difficult) teach them not to oppress others with their own self-identification.
So if somebody tells you that you can’t speak 'as a woman' or 'as a  gay man' because gender and sexuality are oppressive labels, just say. ‘You’re oppressing me!’
Let's be gay, lesbian, straight, gay, genderless, male, female, gender variant, bisexual, trans -- let’s be different!
But please please -- I beg you --  let’s not tell anyone they can't self-identify.
Because in that imagined freedom you will find a kind of slavery.