Monday's HOT MIC
Speaking of Shakespeare in New York City, did you know that the Bard was the cause of one of the biggest riots in Manhattan's history? You could look it up, but I've already done it for you:
Follow the global story of Shakespeare over the last four centuries and you find numerous occasions where his work has been a source of hostility—bitter national rivalries, aggressive repossessions. Nineteenth-century German scholars attempted to argue that Shakespeare was culturally German rather than English; after Hitler came to power, the Nazis issued a pamphlet entitled Shakespeare: A Germanic Writer (the British got their own back, with Laurence Olivier’s stirringly patriotic 1944 film of Henry V, dedicated to the Allied forces about to land in Normandy). On the other side of the world two decades later, Shakespeare’s works were banned during the Chinese Cultural Revolution for being a subversive influence. Premier Xi, then a teenager, has claimed he read the texts in secret.
But perhaps the most arresting example of Shakespeare’s role in stoking international conflict dates back to May 1849, and occurred in—of all places—New York City. The affair began as a grudge match between two actors, but escalated into a street riot outside the Astor Place Opera House in which at least 22 people died. The Astor Place Riot still counts as one of the bloodiest episodes in New York’s history. The cause of the incident seems, by contemporary standards, hard to credit: who played the better Macbeth—an Englishman or an American?
As with the performance of Julius Caesar in the park last week, there were underlying political tensions boiling beneath the surface of an actors' rivalry. It was also a time when, despite the low level of literacy in the U.S. at the time, most everyone could quote from memory passages from the King James Bible, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Shakespeare.
The performance had barely started before it was disrupted by protestors, who were arrested—news of which only incensed the substantial mob that had gathered outside. Swelled by ranks of criminal gangs of “b’hoys” from the Bronx, they tried to storm the theatre, but, finding the doors locked, pulled up paving stones from the streets with their bare hands and began to throw them through the windows. On stage, Macready soldiered on through the final act, “in the very spirit of resistance [flinging] my whole soul into every word I uttered.”
He was unaware that by then a detachment of cavalry had arrived in Astor Place and were attempting to disperse the mob, which had only increased. Panicking that they were losing control, the soldiers fired—at first into the air, then into the crowd. In the theatre, the audience thought the noise was firecrackers going off. In the confusion and smoke outside, some 50 soldiers were wounded, and more than twenty people left dead or dying. Among the deceased were an Irish laborer, a butcher, and a Wall Street broker. Macready was rushed away from the building in disguise, and would never act in America again.
If the theater is used for political statements -- and it is -- the proper response is a different political statement. Politicized art rarely outlasts the circumstances that gave it back. And if you doubt me, I can point you to a raft of Soviet plays and operas that no one will ever stage, see or hear again, except as a curiosity.
With the death of poor Otto Warmbier, might be a good time for the American government to brush up on a little history:
Every newspaperman who ever knew him testified to Roosevelt’s extraordinary sense of news value, to his ability to create news, to dramatize himself to the public. He had a genius for it. “Consciously or unconsciously,” said the journalist Isaac Marcosson, “he was the master press agent of all time.” The risk, of course, was great, for it would be acutely embarrassing if the facts leaked out during the coming campaign. It may have been the risk itself that tempted Roosevelt, for he loved a prank and loved danger for its own sake; if he could combine danger with what William Allen White called a “frolicking intrigue,” his happiness was complete.
Next day, June 22, the memorable telegram, “This Government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead,” flashed across the Atlantic cable over Hay’s signature and was simultaneously given to the press at home. It was not an ultimatum, because Hay deliberately deprived it of meaningfulness by adding to Gummere, “Do not land marines or seize customs without Department’s specific instructions.” But this sentence was not allowed to spoil the effect: it was withheld from the press.
At Chicago, Uncle Joe Cannon, the salty perennial Speaker of the House, who was convention chairman, rapped with his gavel and read the telegram. The convention was electrified. Delegates sprang upon their chairs and hurrahed. Flags and handkerchiefs waved. Despite Hay’s signature, everyone saw the Roosevelt teeth, cliche of a hundred cartoons, gleaming whitely behind it. “Magnificent, magnificent!” pronounced Senator Depew. “The people want an administration that will stand by its citizens, even if it takes the fleet to do it,” said Representative Dwight of New York, expressing the essence of popular feeling.
Please allow me to be the dumb one among my PJM colleagues who believe that interrupting Julius Caesar protesting the depiction of the assassination of President Trump was wrong.
I not only believe it was the right thing to do, I believe it should be done night after night until the production ends.
This is not a free-speech issue. The theater company staging this play chose to shout "fire" in a crowded theater and therefore has lost all claim to protection under the Constitution. They not only crossed a line -- they obliterated it. Whatever their intent -- and I make no claim to possessing the ability to read the heart and mind of anyone -- the practical effect of their depiction of a sitting president being brutally murdered has real-world consequences that extend far beyond the proscenium.
No doubt the production company knew that the headlines and buzz on social media from murdering Trump would guarantee a huge box office and bring fame to the players -- a move worthy of Shakespeare himself who wasn't above including gore and violence in his plays to sell tickets.
I would ask Charlie if the validity of a protest should be measured by how many hearts and minds are changed or is standing on principle worth the effort? To Michael, who, among other arguments, recommends staging a version of the play truer to Shakespeare's original intent, which was to portray Caesar in heroic terms and his assassins as corrupt, you might find a high school gym somewhere that would be willing to take on such a project. But as a counter protest to Shakespeare in the Park, fuggetaboutit.
To Andrew, who worries that aping the left's tactics is not the best way to fight them in this case, I would ordinarily agree with him. Being a RINO, I am constantly making the argument that claiming that "they do it too, only worse" is stupid and childish.
But this case is unprecedented. It's not every day that incitement to assassinate a president is disguised as entertainment. In these special circumstances, civil disobedience is called for. And as long as the protests are peaceful and the protesters accept their punishment, I have no problem with it.
To Paula, I would say that it is hardly "barbaric" to protest barbarism. And it's interesting you brought up Lincoln and his first inaugural.
I always get a kick out of cable pundits solemnly informing us that politics have never been this divisive or dangerous. What the hell do they think was happening in the country prior to the Civil War? The caning of Senator Sumner didn't happen because of a dispute over a railroad bill. Fist fights broke out on the floor of the House. Several members challenged each other to duels.
People were tarred and feathered for their political beliefs back then. And don't get me started on "Bloody Kansas."
Lincoln uttered those beautiful words -- and then a little more than a month later tried to resupply Fort Sumter knowing exactly how South Carolina would react. Lincoln took the country to war in order to save the Union. He chose a brutal, bloody tactic for a treasured end.
We're not exactly in the end times of the republic. But special circumstances in desperate times require we step outside the normal bounds of accepted behavior in order to make a vitally important point: that the depiction of the assassination of an opposition political figure is immoral, unacceptable, and incredibly dangerous.
On Monday YouTube announced steps the company plans to take to combat terrorism. Fine. Except it sounds like the Google-owned company's efforts may go beyond rooting out actual terrorists:
- Take a tougher stance on videos that do not clearly violate YouTube’s policies. For example, videos that contain inflammatory religious or supremacist content will soon appear behind an interstitial warning and will not be monetized, recommended, or eligible for comments or user endorsements. [Emphasis added]
Are we just talking radical violent Islamic content here, or is YouTube going down the path of censoring Christian "hate speech" (i.e. unpopular biblical teachings on marriage and gender) and all forms of nationalism that the left finds objectionable? It sure sounds like the former. There are plenty of anecdotal stories of folks on the right having their perfectly legitimate content removed (or denied monetization) because someone at YouTube found it offensive. Don't be surprised if we see censorship on that platform increasing in the name of fighting terrorism (see: House of Cards: Season 5).
Via Twitter, Otto Warmbier has died:
Count me in on the side of free speech — with Michael Walsh and Andrew Klavan — in the Julius Caesar controversy. A wise person (God, in fact) once said, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" We don't win the war of ideas by becoming barbarians.
A lot of people apparently agree with Loomer's tactics:
More and more we see that whenever groups or individuals adopt the left's brutish tactics (in this case shouting down a performance) they also adopt their values (i.e. compromising on free speech). It doesn't bode well for the right/conservatism/the GOP (or the Republic for that matter) if our side becomes indistinguishable from the left. Bold colors should separate us from the left so that voters have a clear alternative — hopefully one that appeals to the "better angels of our nature," as a great president once said. In fact, Lincoln's first inaugural address is worth quoting at greater length. We'd do well to heed his words of warning given at a time of even greater conflict:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention.
Peggy Noonan's latest at The Wall Street Journal hits on America's polarization and the Scalise shooting.
And was anyone surprised? Tuesday I talked with an old friend, a figure in journalism who’s a pretty cool character, about the political anger all around us. He spoke of “horrible polarization.” He said there’s “too much hate in D.C.” He mentioned “the beheading, the play in the park” and described them as “dog whistles to any nut who wants to take action.”
“Someone is going to get killed,” he said.
That was 20 hours before the shootings in Alexandria, Va.
The gunman did the crime, he is responsible, it’s fatuous to put the blame on anyone or anything else.
But we all operate within a climate and a culture. The media climate now, in both news and entertainment, is too often of a goading, insinuating resentment, a grinding, agitating antipathy. You don’t need another recitation of the events of just the past month or so. A comic posed with a gruesome bloody facsimile of President Trump’s head. New York’s rightly revered Shakespeare in the Park put on a “Julius Caesar” in which the assassinated leader is made to look like the president. A CNN host—amazingly, of a show on religion—sent out a tweet calling the president a “piece of s—” who is “a stain on the presidency.” An MSNBC anchor wondered, on the air, whether the president wishes to “provoke” a terrorist attack for political gain. Earlier Stephen Colbert, well known as a good man, a gentleman, said of the president, in a rant: “The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c— holster.” Those are but five dots in a larger, darker pointillist painting. You can think of more.
And how Trump broke the media:
We have been seeing a generation of media figures cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump. He really is powerful.
They’re losing their heads. Now would be a good time to regain them.
They have been making the whole political scene lower, grubbier. They are showing the young what otherwise estimable adults do under pressure, which is lose their equilibrium, their knowledge of themselves as public figures, as therefore examples—tone setters. They’re paid a lot of money and have famous faces and get the best seat, and the big thing they’re supposed to do in return is not be a slob. Not make it worse.