The Drama Review (August 18, 2017)

Dear sickened drama watchers,

I write The Drama Review because I like doing it. It keeps my brain fresh and my mental muscles limber. I enjoy the process of turning my vaguely-grasped thoughts into specific expressions on paper. (For those who may be wondering, I’m using the pre-digital era term “paper” figuratively).  And I have fun doing it. I always try to interject some jocularity into the serious subject of drama.

But I’m not feeling so jocular right now. The events of this past week have left me feeling somewhat melancholy and not so jokey. Gallows humor has its place and all but in light of the present darkness, not so much. Levity is in short supply this week.

I’ve been thinking about a way to view our national situation through the lens of drama. I’d like to take a shot at that but I’m going to need another week to get my mental ducks in a row. There are layers of complexity to this whole thing and my premature ramblings this week would most certainly fall short of piecing things together in any coherent manner. And, to be honest, they’ll probably lack coherence next week as well.

So, I’ll say more in my next letter but, for now, let me make three brief observations.

First, increased polarization results, in part, from people yelling instead of talking. 

There’s an old joke about an insecure preacher who doubted his pulpit persuasion abilities.  One Sunday morning, he was delivering a message he had given once before when he spotted a note scribbled to himself in the margin of his sermon outline.  It said, “Weak point, yell louder.”

From today’s noisy political pulpits, politicians and pundits seem to be yelling louder.  The problem is that people tend to listen less when speakers scream more.  Furiously attempting to score points, politicians fail to make their points because their listeners stop listening long before the points are made.

During Johnny Carson’s reign as king of late night television, he reprised a number of recurring characters.  There was crotchety old Aunt Blabby who contentiously sparred with Ed McMahon.  There was Art Fern, the sleazy host of “Tea Time Movie.”  And of course his most memorable character was Carnac the Magnificent, the turban-wearing shyster who divined answers to questions before they were asked.  And then . . . there was Floyd R. Turbo, American.

Floyd R. Turbo was a dim-witted bumpkin, a local yokel wearing one of those Elmer Fudd hunter’s caps who was given equal time to share his opinions on the town’s TV station.  He was inarticulate, unsophisticated and, well, stupid.  In an interview with Rolling Stone, Carson said, “He’s (Turbo) the epitome of the redneck ignoramus.” Floyd once declared, “I’m against birth control.  Think of it this way, if we have birth control, where will all the people come from to fight the population explosion?”

There are a lot of Floyd R. Turbo’s out there today. They yell their points but is anyone listening?

Second, yes, some people are listening.  But the only ones listening are those who already agree. 

Many people retreat into their groupthink enclaves where everyone thinks alike. They aggregate their Twitter feeds in such a way that everything read confirms their previously-held conclusions.

You’ve probably heard that old story about the man who went to see his doctor. “What brings you in today?” the physician inquired.

“I’m dead,” the patient answered self-assuredly.

“I’m sorry, what? You’re clearly not dead. You’re sitting there upright, talking to me and breathing. Dead people can’t do such things.”

“You’re wrong, doc, I’m dead. And nothing you say or do will convince me otherwise.”

Having now concluded his patient needed psychiatric services, the doctor thought, “I want to find out just how firmly entrenched this psychosis is.”

He had his patient do jumping jacks which dead people can’t do. He took his temperature—98.6 degrees—which dead people don’t have. He had him blow up a balloon which dead people can’t do because they have no breath.  But nothing dislodged the delusion, the patient shooting down every attempt the doctor made to prove his aliveness.

The physician had one more idea.  “Would you agree that dead men don’t bleed?”  “Well,” thought the man, “I suppose not. They don’t bleed because the heart’s not pumping to push out the blood. Nope, dead men don’t bleed. They definitely don’t bleed.”

Seizing the moment, the doctor swabbed the man’s finger with alcohol, pricked it, and it bled.  “Now, what do you say?” the doctor asked, confident he’d finally cracked his patient’s delusional shell.

“Well, I’ll be a son of a gun,” the man exclaimed. “What do you know about that? Dead men DO bleed.”

With disturbing regularity, the meaning of facts is being altered to fit people’s predetermined conclusions.

Third, tribe trumps truth.

Seriously, no pun intended. For many people, allegiance to tribe takes precedence over allegiance to truth. If the facts at hand reflect negatively on their chosen tribe, they’ll conveniently overlook those facts. And then accuse the other side of factual indifference.

It’s a sad situation. No wonder I’m feeling like my dog died this week.

And it can all be very confusing which makes sense because . . . dramas confuse. Next week, I’ll try to counter the confusion with some clarity.

Stay safe.