Friday, August 03, 2007


Over the course of the past week, I have been repeatedly asked to provide examples of the type of contemporary play that I feel illustrates the point I am trying to make. This has proven more challenging than expected for a variety of reasons, most notably, that the best plays tend not to use such stereotypes because as Adam Szymkowicz noted, "stereotype writing is bad writing. and it's writing that ignores humanity." Bad plays are usually not the ones who make it onto the publishers lists and into the anthologies where we out-of-towners in the "outback" get a chance to encounter them. There may be dozens and dozens of plays each month like Iowa 08 that use such stereotypes and run for a small number of performances and then are never heard from again. Or there may be none. It is not something I am able to comment on. So I will confine my examples to fairly major plays after making one caveat: many of these plays, in fact most of these plays, are powerful, wonderful plays that I enjoy reading, seeing, and teaching. Their inclusion in this list should not be seen as condemnation of their value as works of art, but rather examples of how even great plays can reinforce stereotypes. If there were greater balance of representation on stages, this would not be an issue at all.

In addition, I would reiterate what another blogger has already noted that the mass media is more responsible for perpetuating stereotypes than the theatre. In the case of theatre, the "sins" may be of omission rather than commission, i.e., it may be exemplified more by a lack of stage space devoted to rural or southern plays than plays that actively advance a stereotype.

OK, enough disclaimers. By request, here are a few plays that strike me as reinforcing stereotypes:

Mud by Maria Irene Fornes. Set on an isolated farm. Populated by uneducated, illiterate, violent characters, one of whom regularly has sex with a pig.

Sam Shepard has been held up as a positive example, but let's really look at some of his greatest plays.

Fool for Love. Set in the rural southwest. A violent, incestuous relationship between a half-sister and half-brother.

Buried Child. Set on a farm in Illinois. Characters include a one-legged, abusive son; another son who is seemingly lobotomized and cannot remember his own child; incest and murder. The only characters with any sense of normality are from the city.

A Lie of the Mind. Set in Wyoming and Arizona. Main character beats his wife nearly to death; her brother, also a violent psycho, shoots and holds captive the main character's brother; father of main character has tanning paste repeatedly rubbed into his feet because he thinks it helps. General sense of narrow-mindedness and intolerance.

How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel. Set in rural Maryland. Incest. Stereotypical portrayal of family members.

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean by Ed Graczyk. Set in a small Texas town. Homophobia. Narrow-mindedness. Lives defined by an encounter with Hollywood.

The Last Meeting of the White Magnolias by Preston Jones. Set in Bradleyville, TX. Caricatures of southern "good ole boys." Reinforcement of racist stereotypes. (In many ways, the entire "Texas Trilogy" is problematic.)

Given more time, access to some play catalogs, and most importantly, the willingness to spend additional time doing this, I could probably add to the list. But for now, let these plays stand as an illustration of the topic.


Mark said...


I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. I am going to note some questions about your list, but please don't let that make it seem like I don't appreciate the time you took to provide it.

First, I'm sure you've already noticed that How I Learned to Drive is the only play on your list that is less than 25 years old. (I'm not familiar with the last play, however.) I also noticed when you made a list of TV shows that they were also extremely non-current. Please note that I am not playing the it's-all-in-the-past card, only that I am suggesting that attacks on contemporary theater should be a bit more current.

Also, it would be very easy for me to make a list of contemporary urban plays that traffic exclusively in drugs, violence and other stereotypes of urban life. On days when I bring my three-month old daughter into the city on the train, I am repeatedly confronted with such extreme acts of kindness and support (particularly from other parents who can see that I'm still trying to get the hang of it!) that are not things that are represented back to me in the work about New York that I see. (I generally ascribe this, though, to the fact that plays necessarily need to traffic in dramatic situations, of which the kind people on the train may not be helpful in providing.)

Anne Bogart writes about the fact that she actively encourages the exploration of stereotypes in her work! Rather than simply discount or condemn these stereotypes, she advocates moving through them to find out what lies on the other side. I think that might be an interesting form for this discussion to take.

Gary Kline said...

Scott –

Thank you for the examples. Very much appreciated.

I think it’s pretty clear by now that whatever valid points you were trying to make (and I DO think you were making some valid points) they got lost in the maelstrom of your very original post where you, in a vehement rage it seemed, insisted that there was a clear “New York aesthetic” that was “openly scornful and dismissive of experiences and lifestyles that take place west of the Hudson.” You claimed the that Iowa08 was not just an isolated incident, but an example of a rampant “Geographism” and that it needs to be called out by every non-New Yorker who is tired of seeing good people insulted, and every New Yorker who has even a small conscience left. This happens regularly."

Obviously this riled up many people who felt peronsally attacked (as New York-based art-makers, they felt justifiably implicated in your claims of a hateful, disrespectful “New York aesthetic.”)

You never once backed off your original statements, or tried to correct yourself. Instead you tried to steer the conversation in a different direction, pointing it towards stereotypes in general instead. I don’t think ANYONE in this discussion ever said that stereotypes don’t exist in art, or that they were a good thing. I think most people would say, “Yeah, Scott, you’re right, maybe that Iowa thing does poke fun at folk from Iowa in a sophomoric way.” Or, “You know The Color Purple DOES traffic in racial stereotypes, do you think that a Southern black woman is being irresponsible for writing them, even if she’s writing what she knows?” That might’ve been an interesting topic too.

But the fact that you seem to be ignoring in all of this is that no one ever got past that “New York aesthetic” thing and your angry accusation that there was an inherent bias built into plays and musicals coming out of New York that systemically insulted and ridiculed our contry cousins. I’d like to know, yes or no, if you still believe this to be true. Because as it is, you pulled the conversation in dozes of directions (many of them interesting) but you ended up pretty much ignoring the thing that most everyone was REALLY responding to.

So, do you in fact, after all this brouhaha, still believe your original statement to be an accurate one?

As for your examples, you admit yourself that you had a pretty hard time coming up with any. If the “geographism” was as rampant and offensive as you originally stated, how could it be SO hard to find them? Could it be the problems you speak of aren’t AS systemic and widespread as you claimed? You say, well, good plays are better written, and they usually avoid the stereotypes you’re speaking of, so it’s hard for you to find examples of the bad plays that do it because they run for a short period of time and then are never heard from again.

Okay, so if the offending bad plays come and go so quickly that they never go anywhere, and very few people are actually aware of them (heck, you didn’t seem to know a single bad play that does what you’re claiming) then I don’t understand how they’re contributing to the widespread “geographism” you spoke of. I don’t doubt that there’s an occasional play in some 40-seat New York black-box that makes fun of hillbillies, but I bet there’s a couple of those plays somewhere in Iowa too. I can’t help feeling that as you lay out your evidence that the problem MAY not be as huge as you claimed it was. What do you think?

As for the plays you chose, I think arguments could be made that some of them may traffic in stereotypes, but again, that was NOT the issue that got people upset. If that was the point you were trying to make, it became irrelevant when you threw down the gauntlet and cited that whole anti-rural New York aesthetic thing. But for the record, as you admitted yourself, many of the plays you chose are pretty terrific plays, and if they DO rely on stereotypes (and perhaps many of them do) – that is certainly NOT their defining characteristic. And the good in those plays FAR outweigh what may be less than stellar examples of rural people. In my opinion.

The Sam Shepard Plays – Sam Shepard, as much as his plays get produced in New York, is NOT a New York writer. And I still don’t know how he falls into the New York aesthetic you spoke of. Maybe you could enlighten me.

Mud – I guess if you’re being as reductive as all that – “uneducated, illiterate, violent characters, one of whom regularly has sex with a pig.” Then I guess it falls into your definition, but Fornes writes such poetic, off the wall, highly theatrical stuff that I never once thought, “Oh yeah, another one of thos pig-fucking farmer plays.” That play is just too wonderfully insane to be reduced to that, even if it’s in there.

How I Learned to Drive – an incredibly complicated and nuanced play ABOUT incest. The beauty of that play is how UNstereotypical that molester is. That uncle is wonderfully intricate, charismatic, damaged and LIKABLE. It’s what makes the relationship between him and Lil Bit so engaging and dramatic. She loves him for very good reasons, and he loves her. He also happens to be taking advantage of her in a weird gross way. But they have a strange, almost lovely, co-dependence. There’s nothing easy in that play. It HAPPENS to be set in rural Maryland, but not ONCE do you think, “Oh, those hicks sure do like to have sex with their relatives.” Paula Vogel was writing an incredibly personal and autobiographical play. Should she have stopped herself because it happened to involve incest in a rural area? My god, we would’ve been robbed of an amazing play.

Come Back to the Five and Dime… I’m ashamed to say I don’t know this play. But it is 25 years old, and not an example of what people are doing in New York right now.

The Last Meeting of the White Magnolias – And this play is 30 years old.

Anyway, I thank you Scott for trying to come up with examples. I find it heartening that you had such an imposible time doing it. And that the examples you DID come up were tenuous at best, and not very recent.

Clearly that dearth of New Yorky anti-rural plays are mostly in your head (but inaccessible to your memory.)

Thank you again for answering my question.


Scott Walters said...

I agree that it would be an interesting direction to take. In fact, I just posted a link to an essay by Roy Blount, who seems to make the "folksy Southern" stereotype work entirely to his benefit. As Danielle noted in a previous comment, South Park seems to use stereotypes very pointedly and effectively.

And yes, I am aware of the age of those plays. Which may be an indication of my reading and viewing habits. I would only offer that many plays, films, and TV shows of the same vintage were offered as proof that these topics were not being slighted, including repeated references to Sam Shepard as a prime example of a playwright writing about rural experience without resorting to stereotypes. I might also argue that the theatre, more than the mass media, tends to regularly produce as many, if not more, plays from the past than new plays. Still, there aren't any brand new plays, you're right. For instance, I looked through Martin Denton's latest anthology "Plays and Playwrights 2007," and while I found quite a few urban plays, I didn't find any southern or rural plays. So the sin of omission more than commission, I guess.

Tony said...

Mark are you differentiating between what is currently being written or what is currently being produced?

And fully agree about the train thing. I have an 11 month old, and I've never seen so many helpful people on public trans than when I'm with him.

Scott Walters said...

Gary -- You know, I took seriously your request for examples, and I prefaced them with the very points you are throwing back at me. I presented them in a reasonable, and fairly even-handed way, I thought. One of the reasons I resisted providing specific examples was that the discussion would quickly turn to whether the plays were valuable despite the stereotypes, which evades the point. Merchant of Venice is a damned fine play, but it is hard to argue that it isn't also anti-Semitic, no matter how much you emphasize the "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech. It is not denigrating the play to recognize that it traffics in anti-Semitic stereotypes. Same with these plays.

But your final sentences are telling: you were not really wanting examples, but rather only to spring a trap. No matter how many examples I provided (and I seem to remember you only asked for a single example), there wouldn't be enough of them, or they wouldn't be recent enough, or they would be performed in an obscure location, or some such that would serve to support your assertion that I am, in fact, imaging all this.

It is difficult to get too choked up about offending people with a broad accusation when so many of them are willing to make offensive remarks on an individual, personal basis. Apparently, what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

I'm sorry I wasted my time trying to respond to what I thought was a legitimate request for information.

Gary Kline said...

Scott --

I apologize if you feel like I was setting a trap. That was not my intent. I was genuinely trying to figure out SPECIFICALLY what work you were basing your very strong opinions of. I very much appreciate the work that you put into your list. I DO. But I also felt that if the problem was as prevalent and clear as you claim it is, then it wouldn't be SO difficult for your to come up with examples. Obviously your diatribe came from something more than that YouTube clip, and I wanted to know what it was specifically.

Seriousy, am I wrong in my assumptions? Do you not think there is a big problem in plays being written and produced? It seemed like you did. And if there is, WHY should it be so hard to cite examples of that problem?

Scott, do you really not understand why people were angry?

Do you STILL think there is a wide-spread New York aesthetic that insults and ridicules non-New Yorkers? (Not JUST example of stereotype in plays.) And if so, WHY couldn't you easily come up with examples of it?

I was not setting you up, Scott. I was giving you ample opportunity to hit me between the eyes. "You want clear contemporary examples? BAM! There they are, Gary. Need I say more?" I'm a fair person, if you gave me something that actually does the awful things you're claming, I'd like to think I'd say, "You know what, I see your point. THAT at least is a clear example of what you're talking about. We should stand up and ratte our sabres and make sure this NEVER happens again." But you didn't do that. And at this point, I don't think you CAN.

So I'm going to do what pretty much everyone else has done and abandon what is clearly a fruitless discussion. You are a brick wall.


Adam said...

i also said stereotypes are based on truth. Which is hard because I think it is the writer's mission to seek truth.

I don't necessarily agree with all your examples but at least i understand where you are coming from now.

It brings up the question again: what is the artist's responsibility? And should you sacrifice a smaller truth for a bigger truth or vice versa? In any case, a play about people being nice on a train is not dramatic.

When it comes down to it, I think all we can ask artists is to write what they feel and know to be true either literally or symbolically. And the more non-racist multi-faceted people that exist, the more writers will know them and write about them.

Scott Walters said...

Gary -- I am very puzzled about what is expected of me. Apparently anything short of complete submission and abandonment of my ideas is unacceptable. It's like some sort of pack sensibility, where it is necessary that I lie on my back and bare my throat. Not gonna happen. These issues are too important. I am happy to adjust them, fine tune them -- in fact, I think I have over the course of the discussion -- but I also want some acknowledgment that what I am saying has validity. Dialogue is a give and take.

Like many others, you keep insisting that my initial post's reference to a "New York aesthetic" (oh, the offending phrase) was specifically and only about theatre, and you are trying to discount those ideas my referencing only theatre, and more importantly only theatre written within -- what? -- the last ten years? As I have pointed out, a reading of that post shows no reference to theatre after the identification of Iowa 08 as an EXAMPLE of a larger problem. Furthermore, the fact that theatres all over the country regularly produce the plays I mentioned makes them, in fact, CURRENT, since each production is new. If I were tracking examples of anti-Semitism in the theatre, I wouldn't ignore productions of The Merchant of Venice simply because it was not new-minted. The choice to produce that play indicates an orientation. Thus, 110 in the Shade is NOT irrelevant because it is an "old chestnut" -- somebody thought that story would be acceptable today.

Adam -- I know stereotypes are "based on truth," because otherwise they would be unrecognizable. But it is usually a truth seen through a particular lens. And that lens usually reflects the dominant culture.

I agree that theatre is based on conflict, not simply people being nice on a train. (Although I could imagine a very exciting play about people being nice on a train - all it would take would be the existence of a timebomb under one of the seats...) Anyway, I digress. I guess I think we can ask more of artists than simply to write what they know. Was it Steven Dietz who said don't only write what you know, write what you want to know? I think what makes artists great is that they transcend themselves, and open themselves to the experiences of others. And yes, that can take the form of adopting a stereotype and then bursting it wide open, as Shepard does, for instance. And that is wonderful, but particularly if it happens in an artistic world that is rich in images beyond the stereotypes.

That's starting to happen. Brian Santana lists quite a few wonderful contemporary films about the southern experience that could balance the stereotypes. But I don't think we can relax just yet.

I don't really think that my comments are focused primarily on the artists, though, as much as producers and artistic directors, those who choose what will and won't be seen. They are the ones who can provide the balance that makes for a rich artistic environment. As consumers, we need to insist on this, and protest when it doesn't happen.

danielle wilson said...

This story should dovetail nicely with the call for artists, artistic directors, producers, and audience to all work together....
I remembered the recent history of the Charlotte Repertory Theater which is no more.
Charlotte Rep was pretty much the only LORT theater in the Carolinas. It had a solid reputation of producing good work--classics and new work, mostly straight plays--and a fairly good subscriber base, but around 2000 it wanted to raise it's profile and become a bigger regional theater.
To do this, it hired New Yorker Michael Bush as it's artistic director. Michael is a wonderful guy. Very smart. Very funny. Very successful.
And so he immediately set about doing what the board hired him to do--raise the profile of the theater--the way he assumed it should be done. He hired some big name designers (Dawn Chaing) and actors (Hillary Swank) for a production of _The Miracle Worker_. It was a beautiful production to look at, but the acting in general was not great and Hillary Swank in particular was awful. So his first big show in Charlotte was a flop. Unfortunately it happens. But
the public never forgave him for spending a whole lot of money for something they felt wasn't any better than what they were used to seeing. In particular the public and the press railed against the use of New York actors instead of homegrown talent (several local favorites had not been cast)
Michael was just doing what he thought the board had hired him to do. And maybe the board thought they needed bigger names to sell more tickets. But when that show fell, the board turned against Michael. He hung in there for another year or so... He found the local talent and began combining it with talent from abroad. An example being a lovely production of _Pump Boys and Dinettes_ starring original writer/actor (and local Carolinian) Jim Wann. Scenic & costume designs by locals, lighting by a New Yorker with assistance from a local (me), production staff all local. But by that time it was too little too late.
There was no dialog between the board, the artistic director, and the audience. The board had stopped supporting the artistic director, so he left. The public had stopped supporting the theater, so a few years later, it died.
All three groups probably had valuable things to say to each other. Michael Bush, having worked with large, reputable companies knew a thing or two about running the sort of organization Charlotte Rep wanted to be. The board knew the city was ready for a bigger, better company. The public knew good local talent and good theater when it saw it.
But the public was the big loser. Charlotte has several small theater companies, but no big regional theater to do the quality of work that was being done at Charlotte Rep.

Mark said...


With due respect, it is disinegenous to claim that there was just some sort of semantic mistake with regard to your comments about the NYC theater aesthetic. You have made standard practice of showing your disdain for New York theater practitioners, especially those who blog, using heated rhetoric in a variety of forums.

The fact that others have sometimes responded in kind does not negate the fact that you have said provocative, inflammatory, largely unsourced things about New York theater artists for some time now. These discussions follow a pattern where you then try to walk back your rhetoric and claim that there was some sort of misunderstanding about this word choice or that one, which is what has happened again. I can see why people get frustrated with this.

You said those things. Repeatedly. You meant them. They are in black and white all over the internet. The reason you keep getting the same questions over and over again is because you can't back up your claims and you can't bring yourself to apologize for making them.

And all of this linguistic slight-of-hand is insulting everyone's intelligence.

David M said...

So I won't deny that Scott has some very...strong...opinions about New York and its dominant role in American theater culture. And yes, they do sometimes...burst forth...all over the blog in a way that gets people riled up. (I entered this conversation, which I rarely do being a bit of a lurker at heart, because I was irritated with the initial post.)

But on the flip side: if I have to read Joshua James dismissing what Scott writes with the epithet, "He's just an academic!" one more time, so help me....It's like the 723rd time that some "hard-working New York theater artist blogger" has tossed that down as their supposed trump card, and it's a little tiring. So maybe Scott can cool his heels a bit with the rhetoric if he's after a real discussion, but maybe my fellow New Yorkers can cool it with the out=of-hand dismissals of anything Scott says, just because of the particular path he chose to follow in the world of theater.

Lastly, since when was the act of developing and changing an idea such a sin? I think the best thing about this discussion over the last few weeks is the fact that we started with the one, narrow thing, sprinkled with a dash of vitriol, and by the end had sort of pushed it around, tried shaping it this one way to see if that got at the unlying issues better, then reshaped it another to see what that showed us...Anyway, I thought that was great.

Signing off, back to lurker-land.

David M

Joshua James said...

David M,

Point of order - my large issue with Scott has been less his academic pursuits and more his intellectual dishonesty.

The "he's an academic" thing has been pointed out by Nick has Rass Sass (linked in Scott's own post) and others before me. Mac mentioned in his post he doesn't mind academics, he likes them as long as they ACT like academics. His point is, by his dishonesty, Scott isn't.

I've brought it up, sure . . . because, as outlined above by Mark and on many other sites by others, Scott has attacked the work of New York artists . . . without having seen it.

If he were writing about shows he'd seen and trashed them on his site, I wouldn't have an issue with him on this subject.

Here is an excerpt of a comment I left at Travis's site to explain myself on that.

"For the same reason, if you had a post where you discussed, critically what you thought of theatre you saw (like playgoer) as a critic, I wouldn't have issue with you . . . I'd probably disagree with you, but a critic's job is to respond as an audience member.

You are not doing that. You are not responding to my work, or Mac's work, or anyone's work that you've seen.

You're writing to tell us what theatre should be, in a sense, without risking anything of your own ass in the process, without reviewing any of the work being done in New York by New York artists, nor are you really interested in the work we do here . . . you're basically interested in your role as a guru in theatre without having to really EARN it, that's what it seems like to me.

In other words, you seem to think I WORK for you . . . I don't. I work for me and the community I belong to and the audience that follows me.

You belong to none of the above group. "

So in the end, I don't necessarly think MY issue is with Scott's academic position, just his own dishonest take on it . . . I don't think it's necessarily cool to urge others to paths and or risks that one isn't willing to take themselves, I don't . . .

But really, to condemn an entire group without knowing anything about their work is bad, and to deny you've been doing it, is dishonest.

So make no mistake . . . there have been a lot of straw men set up and knocked down during this whole mess . . . but the issue is, as Mark laid out, that Scott's been very dishonest about what he's said and his positions . . . on and on and on.

I know lots of cool professors . . . and I've been one, at one point.

But no worries about hearing me go on and on . . . I'm about to follow my brethern and leave this discussion permanently . . . as one told me, "it's just not worth it, talking to this guy."

danielle wilson said...


I don't have the time or inclination to look back over all the posts and comments, but I think you've read into Scott's posts something that wasn't there. I believe he held up the Iowa 08 publicity as an example of what theater and the media at large do to perpetuate stereotypes of "the country". In his further examples he equated geographism to racism as an example. He didn't say one was as heinous as the other, just that they both existed. He didn't condemn New York Theater specifically, just the media which happens to be centered in New York and LA. He tried repeatedly to clarify his position and even apologized for the misunderstandings.
I would also like to take exception to the idea that academics don't "work" or "earn" their living. Or that the theater we do in academia is somehow lesser than other theater. I have poured my heart into every production I have ever done whether in an academic setting or whether out in what you seem to think of as "the real world". I know Scott has done the same. I was once his student. Yes, we have job security, but we would work in academia even if we didn't. Our role as academics in the theater world is no less than to teach and mentor the next generation of artists. It is not easy. It is a great responsibility, and one that I chose not because I am unable to work in the outside world, but because I love the excitement of watching students learn.

Joshua James said...

Danielle, I did have time to pour over all those posts and comments and Scott has specifically done the things you mentioned he hasn't.

So forgive me, but how can you tell me that he hasn't done what he's done when you admit you haven't read / or followed everything?

Don't take my word for it, since I'm being cast as the bad guy here, follow up with Mark or Mac, if need be . . . Mac outlined it very clearly and specifically - it's a fast, clean read.

He has done those things. Truly and absolutely . . . nor has he apologized . . . he said his intent wasn't what we thought it was and if we thought that, we're mistaken.

Again, at Mac's site.

Now then . . . I do not birsmirch teachers . . . I don't. You do what you do and it's a valuable thing. I've known great teachers and I'm a better man for it . . . but what teachers are doing is teaching, and that's different from what I do as a professional writer . . . you don't have the same worries I do, nor do I have yours.

They are different jobs. And that's cool, no one says we have to have the same ones.

Besides, it's not the issue.

Scott's role here, as I outlined, is to tell us what we're doing wrong without A) doing what we do or B) being familiar with the work with do or C) being an audience to the work we do.

That's it. In a nutshell.

I have friends who teach in college, they're wonderful people . . . they're also responsible and intellectually honest.

I don't believe Scott has proven himself in that regard, and as I've outlined in my post, anyone can be specious, whether a writer or actor or academic.

It's not about whether you or he are academics . . . that was never the argument . . . it's a straw man.

The argument is, Scott maintained at the beginning that the New York Arts "aesthetic" thumbs its nose at all cultures west of the Hudson and practices a cultural hegemony on the rest of the country.

He compared it to racism, the New York Arts hegemony on the rest of the country.

When challenged, Scott changed his tune while insisting he hasn't changed his tune, just that we've misunderstood him.

He's been pretty much dishonest about everything he says or does . . . again, Mac outlined this better than anyone on his MAINTENANCE post in the comments (after which Scott again misread what Mac wrote).

Listen, talk it over with Mac . . . you don't have to take my word for it, since I'm the one cast as the heavy here, for some reason . . .

But don't tell me I don't like teachers, I do. I have taught. I love good teachers. I love good writers, good directors, good actors and good teachers.

I hate bad ones. Especially dishonest ones.

And by the way, if one of your students came to you with a homework assignment and said, "I didn't have time to do all the research, I didn't do all the reading, but I know that my position is right and I should get an A," what would you say to that?

danielle wilson said...


Several things...

I think you are writing a research paper on this topic and I am writing a review.

That said, I did go back and re-read the original "NYC aesthetic" post and the commentary on Mac's site under "maintenance notes"

Perhaps the whole thing stems from semantics. Mac quotes:

This is the kind of bullshit I am talking about when I insist that the NYC aesthetic is not universal, and in fact is openly scornful and dismissive of experiences and lifestyles that take place west of the Hudson and in places with less than 7 million people.
--Scott Walters, July 25, 2007

The problem that I am trying to draw attention to is systemic, not personal. It is not overt and aggressive, but rather subtle and buried.
--Scott Walters, August 2, 2007

In the first statement I never read "openly scornful and dismissive..." as "NYC is aggressively hostile and actively repressive of other cultures" which is apparently what a lot of people read. I read it as "these stereotypes that exist in the city are scornful and dismissive of the people portrayed in the stereotypes." So in my reading there isn't a big jump from the first statement to the second.

Sure there are some strong words there, but the way I read it, there wasn't a whole lot to really argue about. Just "these stereotypes exist and it's time to recognize it and do something about it."

The power of words is that they can be taken so many different ways. I'm going to make a presumption here that what I've read was pretty close to the original intention. It doesn't excuse all the mess in what should have been a civil discussion, but maybe it explains some of how the mud started flying.

Joshua James said...

Fair enough on your assumption . . . though Scott has been politely asked by many for evidence to back up his claim, and has yet to put forth evidence to satisfy.

No doubt there are class differences, as Isaac outlined . . . but there certainlly isn't a single New York "aesthetic" or "Identity" practicing a hegemony across the country.

Certainly Scott chose something we're all familiar with . . . the City / Country divide.

Is there a problem there? Sure.

It's one thing to point out a problem.

It's quite another to claim, "I know what the cause of the problem, it's New York" without backing it up, you know?

Like those pundits who always claim San Francisco's loose morals are to blame for this country's woes . . . you need evidence for that kind of thing.

Certainly I feel his argument is specious, as I outlined, and why.

I would add, I certainly didn't come out guns blazing, either, not in the beginning . . . most of the mud flew when people tried to nail down Scott's proposition . . . he was quite condenscending in response, often . . . and specious answers over and over again . . . it got uncivil pretty fast as a result.

For me, I feel somewhat akin to Mark and Gary, up above . . . there's a common thread when trying to clarify what Scott says and hold him accountable for his words.

For an example, over on Travis's site, where I again reference Scott's tendency to compare NY arts vs the rest of the country as bigotry . . . this is something he did before he began the first post on this.

Scott asked Travis where on earth does Josh get this stuff, can you find it, I never called them guys bigots.

I told him where the link was and instead of saying, "Oh, right. I did. I'm sorry about that, it wasn't the point I was trying to make, etc"

He said, "Evidently you don't understand the meaning of the word bigot, here let me look it up for you . . . " and finished it to say "I meant the word in the broadest sense possible."

Which is upsetting, simply because there are little to no positive connotations of that word, and plus, first he says he didn't say it, then he says, well okay, I said it but you don't know the real meaning of the word!"

It's his bag of tricks, as Mark points out above, he's good at it and it gets folks riled.

So that's how it is on my end, Danielle . . . I find the guy a brick wall as does Gary, and I believe his ego won't let him hear anything remotely critical, at least not openly, and really, your right . . . this thing didn't need to be as big as it is . . . but he has things things happen on his site every six weeks or so . . . this is why he installed a Code of Civility on his blog a couple months back, and then promptly chucked it for this.

He's argued and fought over little shit with many a blogger, many.

In fact, six months ago we were arguing on David Cote's blog . . . I said the same thing and he told me that it wasn't true, he only argued with ME and no one else, so it was my fault.

Which was very ironic, since at the time he posted that he was in the midst of a viscious fight with David Cote over religion . . .

And Mac is not the first blogger to go, "that's it, he's coming off the blog roll!"

Me? I admit I'm feisty on certain subjects, you bet. I will absolutely admit it. Especially when it comes to politics and religion.

I also state I'm willing to listen to reason when presented, and willing to be civil when need be.

I believe, but I don't know, that Scott has more trouble with civility than I do . . . perhaps because he gets challenged more on his posts, I don't know.

I'm not his shrink, I'm not his student, I'm simply a writer who loves to surf the net when I got a deadline, heh. I'm a guy who's been blogging for a while, and I've certainlly been friendly enough in the past and unfriendly when it's thrown back at me.

Or hinted that I'm part of a bigoted conspiracy. I'm very touchy about that.

But whatever . . . I'm sure we hit the peak on this thing long ago . . . time to let it whistle away, I think.

Scott Walters said...

Danielle --While I appreciate your attempt to discuss what I have written, and you clearly have an excellent grasp on it, I would encourage you not to waste your time trying to argue with Joshua. Joshua is, after all, The Expert when it comes to my writing. In fact, he knows better than I do what I mean. He can even dig out meanings I didn't even know existed!

And the cool think about Joshua's trenchant analyses is that he can piece together things from entirely different discussions and make something new from it! It is so cool -- like collage!

For instance, this "bigotry" thing. It comes from a comment I made concerning a June discussion about theatre people being unwilling to talk to conservatives in a progressive way. I referred to what I considered the narrow-mindedness of this stance as "bigotry," which means, in essence, an intolerance of the ideologies of others. So what's really great is that Joshua has taken that single sentence and appended it to the current discussion, where I draw an analogy between the mechanisms of geographism and the mechanisms of racism, and with a few staples we have an image of me calling the NY theatrosphere racists! And now I have to waste my time trying to defend myself about things I never said.

By the way, Danielle, he's right on one thing: even in its broadest sense, "bigotry" is not a good thing. Very perceptive, that. I wasn't using it as a compliment, and never claimed I was. I used it to condemn narrow-mindedness.

The other thing that is annoying about Joshua is that he doesn't know how to make an exit. I don't know how many times he has declared that he was abandoning the conversation, it wasn't worth his time, I was a brick wall, he's going back to his blog where I can find him if I want to talk -- and then he's back in the comments box again! It's like an obsession! He scampers from blog to blog sniffing out anyone who might actually understand what I've written to disabuse them of the notion that they can read as they like. Instead, he imparts the Gospel of Joshua like an evangelical preacher haraguing college students on the campus. It's a little creepy, actually. Sort of like being stalked.

So don't engage him, Danielle., You will find your words twisted and your blood pressure elevating.

Joshua James said...

You bet, Danielle . . . it's best not to speak to people critical of Scott - LOL!

Well certainly we can say that I've been civil while talking to you, Danielle . . .

I would note that Scott maintained he didn't intend the word bigot in the nasty sense, now he's saying he did . . . again, this is what he does, as stated by Mark above.

I don't believe I'm obsessed, at least not with Scott . . . I find him highly amusing in a sick sort of way, he's the typical hypocrite - ironic how he chides me for not leaving the conversation, when he's said he'll ban me and doesn't whenever it serves his own purpose.

It's cool, though . . . whatever damage that has been done to Scott's reputation was done by him, not me . . . really, what I think of Scott will matter little in the end . . . he has his audience, I have mine . . .

And besides, while I can get upset about being accused of intolerant bigotry (a huge surprise to anyone familiar with my work, as Scott obviously is not) it's short-lived, it really is . . . this is just one week whereupon whatever time I spent on the blogs was far down on the list of things I did that week . . . an insomniac has much time on their hands, and I'm good at multi-tasking.

So I will leave this particular conversation, you bet. And start my rewrite and do all those other things I like to do.

And while I don't anticipate having a conversation with Scott, too much, I am unhappy enough about being called bigoted that I may just have to ridicule him on my blog from time to time.

Then again, that just calls attention to him, so maybe I won't.

We'll see.