Apparently several of my fellow bloggers feel that I have personally insulted them with my last post, especially the following comment: "It sounds as if you are weekend warriors working day jobs to pay for your theatre habit." I really did not intend it to be insulting (argumentative, yes; insulting, no). Josh wrote this: “"I want to write for a living. I don't want to be a weekend warrior, like the cover bands I've written about in "No More Covers" - driving a truck during the week and doing theatre on the weekend." My use of “Weekend Warriors” came directly from him, and while he seems to have meant it in a belittling way, I did not intend it to be so. What I meant was that, whether you are in NYC or Iowa, most artists are working another job in order to pay the rent because this country doesn't support its artists. Working a job is hard, it is admirable, indeed it is almost heroic! But you’re doing the same thing in NY that you’d do in Iowa, so there must be some other issue that is keeping artists there, and the argument needs to go there.
Nobody is asking anybody to defend your choice to be in NYC, nor are we trying to get you to move. I think I said that directly somewhere. (That said, I think that you all are demanding that Zachary and I defend out decision NOT to live in NYC.) The discussion isn’t about individuals, it is about a larger issue. By defending your decision to be in NYC, at least the way it is being defended, you all are insulting Zachary (and indirectly, me) for making another choice.
I think NYC is a fine place – it is not a place I care to live in, but it is fine for others – my co-author lives in NY, and he and his wife wouldn’t live anywhere else. Where I draw the line is when we hold NYC up as the only place where worthwhile art is occurring, when we say that nothing is worthwhile until it has been blessed by NYC, where NYC is held up as the only place in the country where it is possible for an artist to make a living doing his art. I think this country is too big to have a theatrical center. And my experience of the quality of the offerings in NYC doesn’t live up to the hype – most of the theatre is just as crappy as non-NYC places, just crappy in a different way.
Zachary posted an interesting essay that proposed a particular approach in a non-personal way. If you read most of the comments, they are very personal: here’s why I live in NYC. It wasn’t me who made the conversation personal, but those comments are what I had to work with. Furthermore, I think there was a very dismissive tone to many of the comments concerning Zachary’s ideas. Look at this quotation from Josh’s post: “I did theatre in Iowa and Nebraska, I came here to pitch in the big show.” Now, what is the implied statement here? That anything but NY isn’t “the Big Show”? That is dismissive and vaguely insulting. He goes on: “Hey, there's nothing wrong with people that want to be big fish in a small pond - but it's not what I, myself, want out of this life” – good so far: couched in personal terms, “I-statements,” but then: “I want to do it for a living. As Matt pointed out, you simply cannot do that from Bumfuck Iowa. You can't. If you could, I'd still be there.” First of all, “Bumfuck Iowa” is an insult. Do a websearch and see how it is used – here is a sample: “So, here I am in Bumfuck, Iowa, sitting in a Barnes and Noble that caters to dairy farmers looking for information on teat sucking machines, and chunky housewives needing a book that'll get them wet, that will make them feel like they married Buck Hardass, or Thor Meatwand. I'm sitting here, solidifying my legacy and preaching to heathens, telling them that my biography of King Wilhelm I is a great read.” There is no respect in that term, and it says that Zachary’s decision to go in that direction shows he is a fool. Once you’re past that word, the larger statement requires support. Perhaps Josh couldn’t make it in Iowa, but Megan Terry made it in Nebraska. In other words, don’t inflate personal experience into global generalities.
I guess the larger point is that New Yorkers regularly denigrate and insult non-New Yorkers, painting them as unsophisticated rubes who require remedial artistic classes taught by NY Elites. You guys don’t even know you’re doing it. You use phrases like “the Big Show” and “Bumfuck Iowa” and don’t even notice the underlying ideology. The issue revolves around hegemony, a term used by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci “to denote the predominance of one social class over others (e.g. bourgeois hegemony). This represents not only political and economic control, but also the ability of the dominant class to project its own way of seeing the world so that those who are subordinated by it accept it as 'common sense' and 'natural'. Commentators stress that this involves willing and active consent. Common sense, suggests Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, is 'the way a subordinate class lives its subordination.' I am trying to counteract NYC hegemony – I no longer accept as “common sense” and “natural” the idea that NYC has to be the center of the theatrical world. Comments that try to say that "that's just the way it is" are using ideologically-charged "common sense" to maintain hegemony.
I’m sorry that I came across as personally attacking people. I think it is great you live in NYC, and I hope that we can have a beer the next time I visit, which may be soon. I am talking about a larger issue, one that I care deeply about. And one that seems to be almost invisible in the consciousness of New Yorkers.