Monday, July 23, 2012

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

The quote of the day comes from Joe Starnes, Democrat, Dixiecrat, US Representative from Alabama from 1933-1939, who served on the Dies Committee (1938-1955). The Dies Committee was a precursor of HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, which investigated the supposed Communist infiltration of the New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA), Federal Writers Project, and Federal Theater Project. It was named after its Dixiecrat chair Martin Dies of Texas.

When Hallie Flanagan, the head of the Federal Theater Project (FTP) appeared before the Dies Committee Starnes questioned her about a Mr. Euripides, who Starnes accused of preaching class warfare (ah the old anyone who talks about class in America must be a red demagogic strategy), and about a "Marlowe...so we can get the proper reference". Flanagan replied that Marlowe, as in Christopher Marlowe, was a great dramatist from the age of Shakespeare.

I am not describing a Monty Python sketch here. Starnes really asked Flanagan about Mr. Euripides and Mr. Marlowe in real life. Apparently Starnes was concerned about the "communist sympathies" of the of FTP staged The Trojan Incident based on Homer and the great Greek tragedian Euripides at the St. James Theatre in New York in 1938 and FTPer's Orson Welles and John Houseman adaptation of the great Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe's Tragical History of Dr. Faustus in New York (1937), Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, New Orleans, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle. Starnes apparently didn't realise that Euripides and Marlowe were figures from a theatrical past and that they had long since died and so couldn't be called to testify before the inquisitorial Dies Committee. Congress, by the way, put an end to the Federal Theater Project in 1939 after 4 years of operation.

If this ignorant lunacy sounds familiar it should. I never imagined that I would be living through yet another age of ignorant McCarthyism in the United States but thanks to people like Michele Bachmann, Alan West and others I am. By the way, if the current crop of Republicans sounds a lot like the Dixiecrats of yore that too is not surprising. The Republicans have, by and large, essentially become the Dixiecrats of old with their states rights ideologies, don't tread on my freedom mantras, and paranoiac delusions of reds, socialist nazis, and now, in addition, Muslims under the bed.

Before you accuse Flanagan of being a flaming red--yes she was influenced by the experimental Soviet theatre of the 1920s before it was decimated by official Socialist realism but then the Soviet theatre was one of, if not the, great innovative theatrical dynamos at the time in the US and in Europe--let me remind you that theatre director and filmmaker Joseph Losey, who fled the US for the UK in as a result of the HUAC inquisition in the early 1950s, never forgave Flanagan for asking him to temper the supposed "leftist bias" of his The Living Newspaper, which presented topical news from 1936 in theatrical form and was staged at the Biltmore Theatre in New York in that year. The living newspaper genre of theatre, by the way, originated in Russia spread to Germany through playwright Bertolt Brecht and theatre director and producer Erwin Priscator and migrated to the US thanks to dramatist Elmer Rice and Hallie Flanagan.

This inquisition against the Federal Theater Project and Mr. Euripides and Marlowe raises a number of intellectual questions including why it is that any empirically accurate portrayal of the news, particularly when it uncovers the less than angelic side of American capital and American foreign policy, is always accused of "letist bias" while if it is pro-capital and portrays American foreign policy as the work of the angels it is rarely ever questioned and is regarded by most Americans as fair, balanced, and objective? What does it tell us about nationalistic theologies of good and theodicies of evil and binary ideologies in humankind? And what does it tell us about the power of mass ideological propaganda and its polemical and apologetic demagogues?

Bibliography
Benedict Nightinglae, "Mr. Euripides Goes to Washington", 18 September 1988, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/1988/09/18/books/mr-euripides-goes-to-washington.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
Anthony Badger, The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933-1940, Hill and Wang, 1989
Losey on Losey, edited by Tom Milne, Doubleday, 1968
Library of Congress, The New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theater Project, 1935-1939, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fedtp/fthome.html

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