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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.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

For the record

Yesterday I wrote a basically silly post about George Hunka's comment about 99seats "Joy" blog. The theatrosphere got a little angry about the whole thing. Frankly, I think the two of them (George Hunka and 99seats) are talking about entirely different things.

99seats was basically saying "Hey, let's remember that this is awesome and we do it because we love it."

George is talking about something else: that joy can be used to deadening effect, to avoid hard truths and devolve critical faculties. (I know I'm being reductive here.)

Now... I think if you remove George's point from 99seats blog posting entirely (they really have NO relationship to one another) then there's some truth in that. Broadway productions like Mamma Mia, for example, offer little to no artistic merit, say nothing of value, cost a pretty penny. The trick of productions like these is to almost force people to surrender to the idea that the whole thing is fun, and as long as it's fun, it has merit. They feel a sort of joy as they clap their hands and stand up and sway, but in doing so, lose the battle for critical thought.

George and I don't agree on much, but I do think that there are ways in which popular entertainment and popular theater use the idea of joy, a simulacrum of joy, to condition audiences. You are enjoying this, so it's good and you should have more of it. (When you do heroin, after all, you're having a very good time. So I'm told.) Even if Ryan Seacrest, American Idol and Mamma Mia! are soul deadening exercises in mediocracy, they use this sort of chipper, cackling "joy" to bludgeon us into a stupor. Then, when we're faced with something that requires more of us, or doesn't offer these simple pleasures, we don't know how to respond. Our ability to dig deeper can be eroded.

That doesn't mean that real joy doesn't exist and that it can't be found all over the place. And that, as 99seats notes, we shouldn't look for those moments of joy in our own lives that come organically from truly wonderful things.

Maybe I'm being too generous or misinterpreting... but that's how I see it.


jengordonthomas said...

I think what stirred up the controversy on all the blogs is the inherent judgment. Perhaps that's just history rearing it's head... But at least that's what pushed my buttons. What does it matter to anyone from where another derives his joy? And why is there a value placed on how one gets there? If I wanted to get all Buddhist I could say that all joy, and yes, all sorrow too, is passing and that to attach to any one way of thinking, or any one way of deriving said joy, is clinging; is not of the middle path. I have no opinion as to how anyone, George included, derives his joy. His joys & his sorrows are personal, and therefore holy. If we got REALLY reductive here, one could read George's argument as to the value of thinking vs. feeling...and I'm sure that would get us no where. I guess what I'm saying is: judgy wudgy was a bear. Why can we not let people experience what they will experience and try to not to make those experiences some greater commentary on their intellectual capacity, or their ABILITY to "dig deeper".

Scott Walters said...

I think George is an artistic Puritan, and he lives Mencken's description of Puritanism as "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy." I'd like to call for a bit more exactitude regarding what is meant by "joy." You use it, for instance, as if it is a synonym for "tickled." Joy, however, is a much deeper experience. "Mama Mia" is not about joy, it is about tickling. I'm trying to think of a joyful play and drawing a blank at the moment, which may be the paucity of my memory, or may be the sheer lack of joy in theatre of the last hundred years.

Freeman said...

These things can come down to semantics so easily.

Scott Walters said...

Well, one of the things I've learned over the years is that a lot of arguments can be avoided if you make sure you are both talking about the same thing.

Freeman said...

Too true. Very much the point of this post, actually.

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious to have your readers list works of art that they feel are both joyful AND sophisticated. I'll go first with a few off the top of my head:

Mike Leigh's film "Happy-Go-Lucky."
Jeunet's film "Amelie."
Tom Robbins' book "Still Life with Woodpecker."
Many a Bjork song.
The work of fine artists such as Angelo Filomeno, Kandinsky, Tim Walker, Susan Jamison, and Miriam Wosk, to name a few.
We recently saw Mandy Patinkin in the "Tempest," and their version of wedding scene was one of the most joyful, moving things I've seen on stage.

Anything else?

Scott Walters said...

I think "Life Is Beautiful" and "The Whale Rider" are joyful. Charles Busch's "Psycho Beach Party" is also joyful. The novel "Secret Life of Bees" too.

Zack Calhoon said...

Yes, they are talking about two different kinds of joy. And granted, everyone has a right to their opinion, but George actually linked to the site when he wrote that post. So the implication was that his post was in response to 99seats's post. That is why the theatrosphere is a flutter. Either he was picking a fight or sneering at someone's personal experience.

Jamespeak said...

Wait...people were upset with your post? Who? Where?

Freeman said...

Hey Jimmy -

I didn't mean people were upset with my post. I meant the whole thing had people up in arms.

Zack Calhoon said...

I thought your post was hilarious.

Joshua James said...

I loved your post.

But, uh, I do think George's post was a direct comment on the other, which means there's a linked relationship between the two ... George linked to it and used the point raised in that post therein to draw his own conclusions in his own ... erred though they may be for some folks (for me, oftentimes I wonder if George is trying to write in Latin or Aramic, so stilled the prose gets, it's just my opinion but my eyes glaze over) but it's a fair call to say George didn't write that post in a vacuum, it was an obvious response to 99 ... and when he wrote it, he got a response in kind from a few others.

The fact that they may be talking about two different things may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that a comment was made off of a post that someone wrote, which in turn led to more comments by others who felt the first was either 1) misguided or 2) wrong or 3) hilarious.

this is just my opinion, of course.

Freeman said...

I agree that George created the connection by linking to 99seat's post. They just aren't connected in content, even if one inspired the other.

99 said...

Thanks for this post, Matthew. It's really clear and cogent and makes sense of the whole thing nicely. I do think that, in essence, George and I are talking about very different things in very different ways and part of it does boil down to semantics. I like Scott's point about "tickling" vs. "joy." A definite difference with a distinction. But, at the same time, it does, I think, speak to a difference in approaches. Different approaches, each valid, in my opinion. I just get my back all up when I feel like someone is invalidating my approach as frivolous or somehow less important because I'm coming from a "lighter" place.

Joshua James said...

They may not be connected in content, but they are connected via intent which, to my mind, is even more important.

Just as your post connected to George's, they were entirely different in content ... but your intent was what mattered, right?

The fact that George's post was about something different entirely was really less of a deal than what seemed to be his intent, and his intent was directly linked to 99's post ... I'd argue that his intent was what got folk's dander up (it seemed he was intent on invalidating 99's experience, at least that's how I read it, once I got down my thesaurus) ...

That sematically they're coming from two different places is important, but not any more or less important as the goal of the piece, it only measures how successfully the goal was reached, I think.

The same holds true of your post, the intent which I quite enjoyed and actually feel put the whole thing into perspective quite nicely.