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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Knife to a Gun Fight

Ok, I thought perhaps I'd avoid the sort of oddball argument that was going on over at Theatre Ideas re: "In Yer Face Theatre." Both Scott and George chimed in, as they are wont to do, by taking pretty harsh swipes at each other, and couching it in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

Then Scott posted this:

Joshua writes, "It's not the crudeness or the confrontational that matters, but what you accomplish with it that counts." In other words, the ends justifies the means. I disgree. In the 1960s, the Free Speech Movement promoted free speech by shouting down anyone who disagreed with them. This is a contradiction. You have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If you dislike brutality, then using brutal means to make your point is a contradiction. Fighting fire with fire leads to more fire.

And I would like to say that this sort of hyperbolic diatribe is actually rather ironic. Is there no "fire" in what's being said here? Is the implication not that there are a tribe of barbarian youths who dare to say fuck and talk about rape and suicide and murder and drugs? I know that what's being said isn't that all anger, all vitriol, all cursing and rage are "garbage in" and that all we should be carefully expressing as artists is some sort of hug around the world.

A little ways back I wrote a post that compared Artists to Friends or Doctors. And I tell the dirtiest jokes to my friends, not my professional colleagues and I certainly couldn't if I were talking to a group of students. But the audience is not my student. It is not always contempt for the audience that drives people to cry out in pain and show their scars. Sometimes it's the desire to not be the only person screaming at the top of your lungs. (Here's a fine example of this used as fabulous populist art.)

Sometimes writing, expression isn't expressly beautiful. That is when the profane can become the sacred. I'm sure there were many who thought "The Theif's Journal" was a pornographic novel. And it is. But Genet found beauty in blood and grit and vaseline.

So Joshua isn't saying, if you follow me, that the ends justify the means. He is saying that the means and the ends are not necessarily divorced from one another. That simply writing, in a closed place, something that is emotional and profane and childish and challenging IS the end. You can say "I love the world" with a filthy mouth, and you can say "You can all go die in your boots" with an air of pristine authority.

Isn't it enough to use how you speak to affect how your message is heard? With all due respect to all involved, we can all enjoy this chatter, but the minute someone decides to play Arbiter of Good Taste, they should simply go show, not tell, the sort of art they'd like to see in this world.
And, of course, it's all nice to make speeches from Ghandi country. But if you're involved in a deahtmatch with something that is a lot bigger than you (Sarah Kane versus the Bitter Angst of Mental Illness) you better not bring a knife to that gunfight. You'd better go down shooting.


And for the record: Can we not lighten up a bit? Was Shakespeare being a sentimentalist when he made pudenda and prick jokes? No. He was engaging in low humor. Because, you know, it's fun.


david d. said...

Lighten up? Hey-- YOU'RE the one who hates cute puppies!

Freeman said...

The Dark Side of the Force has clouded your vision, my friend.

I don't know, exactly, what I mean by that.

Joshua said...

thanks for getting my back, man - I didn't even know I was being taken to task by Scott - and yeah, you nailed it, I wasn't saying the ends justify the means at all -