Not because Colonel Blimp. But as my father used to love to say "y'all forget".
I am in receipt of a missive from somejoint called 'CodeSwitch' which is a quite 1991 term, but y'all forget. It occurred to me that we have gone 20 years beyond the point at which there was actually something new to learn from the vanguard of multiculturalism in the Identity Wars which were really best exemplified in the very first movie I bought on DVD - Strange Days. In case you forget, which I know you do, Strange Days can be summarized like this...
A washed up ex- something or other white dude stumbles across a tape of the murder-by-cop of the world's greatest political rap star on the verge of Y2K. Except the tape is no ordinary tape, but a Vulcan mind-meld tape so that you can experience exactly what other people experience. It features pre-apocalyptic Los Angeles, complete with sleazy dangerous night club owners, plucky prostitutes, poker-face middle aged powerbroker suits, douchebag Japanese millionaires, a Gibsonian tech geek selling hot warez, a double crossing psychopathic murderer / best friend, the most fatal femme torch singer on the planet and her perky tits, and a strong black mother keeping shit real in the middle of the overflow of decadence who ultimately saves the day.
As you can imagine it was one of the greatest movies of all time. That's not the point, so much as the point is that it was done in 1995, and people are still trying to make all that vanguard identity narrative work its way like so many ear-boring beetles at the hands of Khan, into the psyche of the next generation. To wit: CodeSwitch:
NPR this mornin':
"The straight white men of Straight White Men aren't what you might expect. Near the beginning of the new off-Broadway play, two adult brothers play a homemade, family board game, refashioned out of an old Monopoly set. Because the family is liberal and progressive, it's called "Privilege." It makes fun of their own straight-white-male privilege.
"Ah, 'excuses' card!" one of the brothers exclaims. The other reads it aloud. "What I just said wasn't racist/sexist/homophobic because I was joking," he deadpans. "Pay $50 to an LGBT organization."
The playwright, 40-year-old Young Jean Lee, is arguably one of the hottest playwrights in America right now. Her work revels in subverting stereotypes. With Straight White Men, Lee was interested in exploring a problem: What do you do when you've got privilege — and you don't want to abuse it? Lee, who is Korean-American, wanted to create straight white men on stage who think about these things.
"I know they're out there," she says. "I mean, I know them personally. Men are changing."
Lee writes about everybody. Straight white men. Native Americans. Asians. She even wrote a play actually called The Untitled Feminist Show. And in a play from 2008 called The Shipment, she did something that's hard for a nonblack writer to do. It's partly an absurdist sendup of African-American stereotypes seen over and over in movies and on TV. The first half of the play is an over-the-top compendium of cliches. Lee's process is to write plays using her cast to improvise scenes and ideas, and she developed this one with a group of five black actors.
There's also a twist in The Shipment that it would be unfair to reveal, and that captivatedNew Yorker theater critic Hilton Als.
"Black and white people were confused," he observes. "It was amazing. She was doing something very profound in terms of the ways in which we listen to 'ethnic speech' and 'regular speech.' "
Young Jean Lee writes by listening. When she started working on Straight White Men, she took advantage of being a playwright in residence at Brown University.
"I asked a roomful of women, queer people and minorities, 'What do you want straight men to do? And what do you want them to be like?' " she recalls.
Lee wrote down all of the answers. It boiled down to this: They wanted the straight white male character to sit down and shut up.
"When you hear that around the table, you just feel yourself sinking slowly into the chair," remembers James Stanley, who plays the character created from the list. The character, named Matt, is a sort of idealized straight white male. He works for a not-for-profit and is guided by a sense of trying not to — in his words — "make things worse." Lee and Stanley workshopped the character in front of the students. Who hated him.
"Hated him," Lee said, clearly still surprised. "And I realized that the reason why they hated him was — despite all their commitment to social justice — what they believed in most was not being a loser. [Matt] is exhibiting behavior that gets attributed to people of color: not being assertive, not standing up for himself, always being in a service position."
It's an existential dilemma, Lee says. She had one of her own while working on Straight White Men in the largely white-run world of American theater.
"I can always say, 'Oh, well I'm just pursuing my own ambition, but I'm making the world a better place,' " she says. "Because now there's this Asian female playwright who can be a role model for other artists of color, and I'm helping with diversity. And so I can do whatever I want and sort of get on the good-person list. And it occurred to me as I was doing the show, and listening to people talk about straight white men — straight white men don't really have that option."
Which is not to say that playwright Young Jean Lee thinks straight white men are categorically oppressed. But she likes using theater as a tool to reveal and dismantle our perceptions — of each other and of ourselves. For her, it's a place to check complacency at the door."
I know people keep having 'existential dilemmas', especially so-called 'white males'. It's rather sad that so many people think of themselves that way, but you know we black Americans made you into that. Didn't you know or did you forget? Here let me remind you as I did in Quora recently.
America's most powerfully dangerous minority made it race and ethnicity because we said so. But it wasn't about race and ethnicity, it was about us and what we wanted. Because the NAACP is not about 'people of color' it's about black Americans. And we won. And we dictated the terms of how people talk about race and ethnicity in America. And it's going to continue to be that way until nobody (meaning black Americans) cares any longer, about halfway through the next black President's term.
Now there happens to be a movie called 'Fury' that's around these days and you ought to watch it because ideals are peaceful but history is violent. A lot of people stuck in their identity crises remain there because they never face danger. They don't face the do or die moment which is the only real existential crisis there is. But we managed to redefine 'existential' somewhere along the way and so inflate the idiot problem explored within the semantic and semiotic swamp that is the stuff of CodeSwitch and that there ilk.
What am I saying? I'm saying that dudes with Node.js and VC money don't make the world a better place, fighting men do. They make it a worse place too, but the point is that they make it and there are no big fat unanswered questions about that which require a seat in a theater on Broadway where some person with an interesting identity has done the thinking for you as you are entertained during your night on the town in fashionable shoes.
Winston Churchill. Douglas MacArthur.
We have a couple examples of the sort of men we could aspire to, who were not merely war makers, but impressive in multiple dimensions. They were none of the characters you might meet in a Broadway play or Hollywood film, and perhaps that's why young American men these days plop so easily into the 'white male' bucket. That's all they know. Too bad.