Click the link for an amazing first-hand account of a dissident’s escape from China this summer.
Yesterday I saw “2012: The Musical,” the latest play from San Francisco Mime Troupe.
For those of you unfamiliar with their work, they aren’t mimes. They’re a political theater group that writes and performs original plays — a new one every year, always reflecting the state of current national and geopolitics.
As you may have guessed from the title, the play is about the end of the world. The planet is dying, the world’s economy is dying, serious political discourse is dying, even the theater troupe at the center of the musical’s story is dying from lack of financial support. All of these slow deaths are cause for legitimate concern, the play suggests, but the media encourage us to fear such distractions as illegal immigrants, legal abortions, and China.
You knew China was going to appear here somewhere, right?
The fictional theater troupe in the story struggles to balance political purity and corporate sponsorship, fighting its sponsor’s efforts to undermine its spirit and message (“Death to pigs!”).
Early on, the play mentioned the loss of American jobs to China, and the specter of an ever more powerful China lurked around the edges of the show. Which got me to thinking about how this play, with its overt criticism of President Obama (played by an actor wearing a mask brilliantly inspired by Sheppard Fairey’s famous campaign poster), could never have been performed if our government were like China’s. Not only the president, but the Congress, especially in the portrayal of a senator as dim-witted as our last president and as our current crop of Republican candidates, comes under fierce satirical onslaught.
There were lots of laughs and a good time was had by all and we all went home to rest up for the soul-killing jobs we’d resume in the morning, the same jobs the play’s characters were ashamed to admit they held.
And that just goes to show how unnecessary China’s repression of artistic dissent is.
Give people a release valve, a chance to laugh at their own plight, and a space to gather to share a sense of futility in raging at the machine, and they go home again in peace.
How great that a documentary on HIV in China is getting shown. How sad that any mention of sex workers was cut by censors. And of course, no mention of the government’s coverup of HIV for so many years. But what’s the alternative? Include those things, and the film is banned, the filmmaker jailed. Which course would you, as an artist, take? How many of us are willing to risk oblivion for artistic purity? I’m willing to go pretty far with my art, but when the outcome of some action is so certain, I don’t think I’d have the guts. Would you?
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