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Showing posts from July 29, 2007

Roy Blount On South (and North)

Here is a wonderful article by Roy Blount about being from the South entitled "Deep in the Heart of It: Where Sounding Dumb Doesn't Equal Being Dumb." (Thanks for the referral from the "Ghost Light" blog).

I'm quoting only a small piece of the essay here, which is very funny and very insightful in the way only Roy Blount can be. (I loved the Michael Dukakis / John Edwards story near the end). Blount tends to use the stereotypes to his advantage, sorta like Mark Twain (yeah, I'm sure I'm not saying anything particularly original there -- every humorist who uses a folksy delivery probably gets that one). Anyway, he writes about when he was young:

Here’s what happened when I moved to New York. I hadn’t unpacked my bag before people started telling me, “You’re not from around here.” Didn’t I know that? “I see you haven’t lost the accent,” they would say severely, as if I were willfully convicting myself of narrow-mindedness with every syllable I uttered…

Examples

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, wo…

A New Idea on an Old Theme

"Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?" -- R. W. Emerson

Actually, Ralph, yeah it is bad to be misunderstood, but I like the quotation anyway -- good slogan for a blogger.

So at the risk of being accused of changing the direction of the discussion, I want to follow an exchange on Issac's blog that has led to a lightbulb for me. The idea is too young for me to determine its viability or usefulness, but I hope some of you can help me with it.

I tend to me what I think of as a "mashup thinker" -- I like to put together things that don't usually go together and see what happens. So I need to quote the comments to display the elements.

Here is the series of comments:

Isaac wrote:

The first thing that bugs me is that I'm not exactly sure what we'…

Action Plan: A Modest Proposal

A while back in this discussion, Matt Freeman asked for an action plan as it applies to the issue of regional representation in the arts. And of course, this topic also connects to my opinions concerning the value of decentralizing the theatre. So I allowed myself the luxury to imagine that I was suddenly named the head of the NEA -- what one thing would I do to enact change?

I decided that I would make the following rule in regards to funding:

If you are a regional theatre, you will receive NEA funding only if you meet the following criteria:

1. 75% of the talent involved with your theatre (actors, directors, designers, artistic director) is drawn from artists who have lived in your state for at least a year.

2. At least one mainstage production each year must be written by a playwright who is a resident of your state, and be set in your state.

The effect of these two little rules would be dramatic.

Suddenly, the necessity of moving to New York in order to be considered for regional the…

Another Voice

For those of you who might want to hear a voice other than the usual suspects about the topic we are discussing, I refer you to Cherryl Floyd-Miller's blog, Rootwork: A Writer's Life and Poetics. Floyd-Miller, known by many artists as "Blue," is a poet, playwright, fiber artist and advocate for fellow artists (for a more detailed bio, click here). In her post "Stereotype, Caricature...Balance," she talks about the ideas being debated on this blog, and her experiences as a Southerner and Southern writer, and the caricatures and stereotypes that she deals with regularly.

Many prominent NY bloggers have weighed in on this debate and declared there is no problem. In fact, they have declared the discussion over. On the other hand, bloggers from the South such as me and Floyd-Miller, have said there is, indeed, a problem. One might raise a question about who would be more likely to be aware of a problem, those affected by it or those who aren't. When African…

Active, Passive, and Active Non

In an essay entitled "Defining Racism: Can We Talk?," from her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, Beverly Daniel Tatum draws a distinction between "prejudice" and "racism." "Prejudice" she writes, "is a preconceived judgment or opinion, usually based on limited information. I assume that we all have prej­udices, not because we want them, but simply because we are so con­tinually exposed to misinformation about others." On the other hand, racism, she writes, is "a system of advantage based on race." Using David Wellman's book Portraits of White Racism, she notes "he provides example after example of how Whites defend their racial advantage—access to better schools, housing, jobs—even when they do not embrace overtly prejudicial thinking." She concludes, "Racism cannot be fully explained as an expression of prejudice alone." So prejudic…

What Is a Stereotype?

It occurs to me after reading many of the comments that we lack an agreement about what constitutes a stereotype. Here is what I mean when I use the word. A stereotype is:

a. an exaggerated image
b. of a subordinate group
c. created and perpetuated by a dominant group
d. and repeated throughout the culture without significant balancing

So a minstrel show (to use a clear example) was an exaggerated image (black dialect, exaggerated "black" features, shuffling gait, stock characters) of how black people (a subordinate group) behave that was created by white people (a dominant group -- minstrel shows began as white people in blackface, and later migrated to black people in, implausibly, blackface) that were repeated throughout the culture without significant portrayals of black people in respectful, less exaggerated ways.

Consequently, when Jon Stewart skewers George Bush, it is a caricature, not a stereotype -- an exaggerated image of an individual. If he skewers "Republicans…