Sunday, July 11, 2010


A Living Newspaper
by Arthur Arent

ag·it·prop /ˈædʒɪtˌprɒp/ –noun
1. agitation and propaganda, esp. for the cause of communism.

I am leftist, I will admit it. Not "a" leftist, I do not define myself that way, that is not me as a person. But my belief system veers to the left of center. I believe in tolerance and compassion, I accept alternate points of view, and often champion them. And I believe in the obligation of our society, our civilization, our government, to see to the needs and assistance of those who need assistance.

I am not a Communist. Neither am I a Capitalist, in its purest sense. I am against slavery. I am against slave-like conditions. I oppose starvation and want. I oppose fear, fear of oppression, of domination, either through direct threatening means, or by the endorsement and reinforcement of the dominant paradigm, of the necessity of an underclass, or workers doing all they can for little while the few live lives of unspeakable luxury and waste. And yes, that might make me sound like a Socialist. Today, over 55% of Americans believe the President is a Socialist, which means they don't really know what the fuck that word even means, but if they think Barack Obama is one, then paint me red and call me Uncle Joe.

Having said that, upon reading another "Living Newspaper" by Arthur Arent, I am not so sure I feel as strongly as I once did about the House Committee on Un-American Activities efforts at pulling down the Federal Theater Project.

The majority of work created by the FTP was non-political. There were many children's plays, and when conservatives called those productions out for indoctrinating the young against the Man, well that is probably because most good, strong children's stories do have moral lessons pertaining to fairness, honesty, being kind, and all kinds of messages that leave, I dunno, British Petroleum, for example, withering under scrutiny.

But these Living Newspapers are inarguably agitprop - they are propaganda which agitates. They are not well-told stories which inspire the mind or the heart. They are also not dispassionate portrayals of fact. In the case of POWER they are quotes taken out of context (Arent himself admitted this was a technique of The Living Newspaper, though he did not use that turn of phrase) and bent in such a way as to turn the viewer in a certain direction, and keep them pointed that way until a direct appeal is made; the audience is instructed, to-wit, to rise up, take a stand, to take action against the forces which oppress them. To stand with strong government and against big business.

Are these good ideas? If you can't find work and your children are dying before your eyes, well, sure, they are the only ideas. I didn't say it was wrong, or even proper to create this work. But reading it, I can understand why there are those who would believe that plays which champion the efforts of the current administration should not be paid for with public funds.

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