Revisionist Culture Poisons Young Minds
In the same week in which I attended Doctor Atomic, a play by Christopher Trumbo about his late father Dalton was produced at the Jermyn Street Theatre. It is a mammoth screed about the blacklisting of Trumbo by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1940s, whose work against Hollywood was followed by the 1950s Joe McCarthy Senate Committee. One accepts the fact that many writers and performers were ruined by blacklisting and went to live abroad. Some who refused to name names of communist collaborators or sympathizers went to jail, as did Dalton Trumbo. The play, performed to a capacity audience of mostly young people, paints a grim picture of a claustrophobic America in the Eisenhower era. I could not help but think of how the United States has moved on and how these stories are, to me, irrelevant in the world in which we live today. As Donald Rumsfeld used to say, Americans "have a good center of gravity and know the country needs to arrange itself to deal with new threats." As I write this, Muslim pirates seem to be kidnapping American ships willy-nilly, Pakistani students are being rounded up across Britain and charged with planning to blow up shopping malls, and prisoners in Guantanamo continue to rail against the American devil.
What purpose do plays like Trumbo serve in the modern world? Why must theater that denigrates the United States be the only fodder on offer since 9/11?
Let us go back in time to a Royal National Theatre 2007 production of A Matter of Life and Death, a staged version of the Powell-Pressburger movie of the same name and released in the United States as Stairway to Heaven, starring David Niven as an RAF hero who falls for the American dispatcher before he parachutes. It is a moving story of wartime hope and romance but the National Theatre's Nick Hytner decided to turn it into a polemic about the evils of Allied bombing raids. Happily Lizzie Loveridge of Curtain Up magazine said this: "The thing about anti-war campaigners is that they take the moral high ground and fudge the issues that lead up to the difficult decision to go to war. If Hitler had not been stopped, what do they think would have been the outcome?" The women of Coventry and Dresden voice misgivings about the actions of the airmen and the dispatcher becomes British because the fear was that 2007 London audiences would not like an Anglo-American romance!
The show lasted two hours and fifteen minutes without an interval and was greeted with disdain and, in some quarters, anger. Nicholas de Jongh of the Evening Standard said the musical was "a finger-wagging, pacifist sermon, as if victory over Hitler in 1945 was a source of shame, not joy." He said the production was "fit for mercy-killing."
During the past ten years there has been an avalanche of similar productions attempting to show how bad Americans and Jews are and how good the villains really were. Amongst the plays and musical pieces to have enraged me have been The Death of Rachel Corrie (when I tried to reason with one of the producers about Israel's viewpoint he, in keffiyeh but reeking of whiskey, told me he would have me removed from the theater if I did not belt up); Seven Jewish Children; Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea and The Madness of George Dubya (both plays are by Justin Butcher, perpetually furious with Israel and America; the Gaza screed actually features a pile of shoes equating Gaza with the Holocaust); Fallujah, a polemic about those brutal Yanks; Prayer Room (in 2005 I wrote: "This is an unfinished work based on a questionable premise: that hordes of impressionable young people were pouring into the Edinburgh Royal Lyceum ... is disturbing"); Guantanamo; and Stuff Happens, David Hare's condemnation of Rumsfeld and Cheney.
It is bad enough that the clerk in my local greengrocer berates me about the apartheid state of Israel because "I read Robert Fisk" but the worldwide proliferation of plays, musicals, and operas that time and again depict America and Israel as the biggest evils ever perpetrated on humanity unsettles me. If the young are made to think German and Japanese tyrants were misunderstood goodies and modern-day terrorists are figures of affection, we face a dangerous future.