Tuesday, December 22, 2009

If You See Something...

...say something, the MTA asks. And so I respond. I think this comment thread is all kinds of wrong. It starts off okay, but then, well, Thomas Garvey starts in and it takes a distinct turn for the worse and just gets worse and worse and worse.

I've thought about this all afternoon and thought about letting the whole thing just go and letting the parties hang themselves with their own words. But...I think there's been too much letting things go and not calling them what they are. And that thread is straight up sexist. By the end of it, they're basically saying that Sarah Ruhl is a sneaky, uppity bitch who has either somehow suckered the world into producing her or a completely incompetent writer who is receiving her accolades as some sort of affirmative action sop. Both are offensive.

The really funny part is that when folks like me, Isaac or Scott Walters talk about the MFA system providing writers a leg up, these are the same folks who leap out to say that MFAs are places where people go to learn their craft and shouldn't be assailed. But here they are, pillorying a high-profile grad as an affirmative action case, whose plays shouldn't be produced as widely because they're no good. As I've said before, it's a complete flip-flop dependent on who they want to trash.

But back to the thread, I'm in full agreement with jmdirexodus: the main charge of Art's post is she's a CAREERIST. And in full context, it reads like a slur. Again, it's just a synonym for uppity. Even the bulk of his comment is more about her interviews, which may or may not be her at her best, but not at all about her work.

She's "positioned herself to have a successful career"? How? By...being produced? By writing produceable plays? I mean, is she kneecapping other playwrights? Insisting that no one else ever be produced? I just don't understand the substance of the complaint.

Even Kris Vire's excuse is her ubiquity isn't much of a fig leaf over the sexism. I've never heard a complaint about a male playwright being ubiquitous. Not even Mamet, who just had two plays running on Broadway, and is the most produced living playwright in America. Not Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, who's been produced more this last season. Not Michael Hollinger, also produced more. Is Sarah Ruhl worse than all of those playwrights? Are her plays worse?

To be clear: I have my issues with some of her work, that's absolutely true. And I have lots of issues with a system that singles out one playwright as the new voice of a generation. Those are not the same things. I have issues with Sarah's plays, but that doesn't mean I can't see why someone else wouldn't. I don't pass myself off as some kind of arbiter of absolute goodness in playwriting. Is Sarah Ruhl the equivalent of other playwrights, older, more accomplished playwrights? That's not for me to say. I guess it's for these guys to weigh in on with absolute surety.

In my couple of years of reading these kind of threads, I've never seen these kind of attacks on a male playwright. Never. I know lots of people with issues about Chris Shinn's work or Adam Rapp's work and I have never seen a thread calling any of them a "fake," like some sort of con artist.

It's one thing to say that she's overrated, or overproduced, but those are issues for the theatres and the press, but they're not her fault. Acting otherwise just demeans the work we all do. And acting this way towards the highest profile female playwright working right now smacks of misogyny and sexism.

It's well known that Thomas Garvey and I don't see eye to eye. I don't know who Jack Worthing is, but we also have had our flare-ups. In general, I have respect for Art at The Mirror Up To Nature. But I think that entire thread is all off-base. And I think those three guys should be ashamed of themselves. I doubt they will be. But if I didn't say anything about it, I would go to bed ashamed. We shouldn't let things like this slide.

(Edited slightly for some spelling issues and clarity to remove one thing that, on further reflection, didn't quite jibe. Jack Worthing's reponse is in Isaac's comments.)

UPDATE: Make sure to check out the thread here and at Parabasis for some interesting additions and updates. For my part, I do want to make clear and reiterate that I don't think the individual commenters on the thread were or are sexist or misogynist, but that the conversation felt that way. See? Anonymous people on the internet can play nice.


joy said...


Jack Worthing said...

I like you, 99. I really do. But you're putting words in my mouth. Please don't. See my response.

joshcon80 said...

I heart you.

Art said...

Hi 99,

I respect you to, but I have no regrets, and no shame.

As you have said in your blog comments section before. I don't have a setting to make things any more clearer than all caps.


Of course, Isaac's post was, as I figured it would be, a trap set up by a lazy and, quite frankly absurd position.

Once again, no hard feelings. I feel no shame and will not, because, as Jack Worthing says, I didn't say what you are saying I said.

Art said...

And, by the way, I don't remember really weighing in too much on the MFA discussion as of late.

And, re-reading your post here, I am getting a little more angry. You, sir, are doing the slurring.

You put in quotes: "she's positioned herself to have a successful career" I never said that. It is deliberately misleading on your part.

My actual quote was:

"She also takes the opportunity, as we all do, (only we do it from smaller platforms,) to tell everybody what is wrong with the state of theater today. Of course, she positions her own work as the solution to the problem - many others do this as well."

But I suppose you read it the way you want to, right? And, well, never check a great quote twice.

Yes, I WAS talking about the interviews she gives, where she feels fine criticizing the audience and other theater-practitioners.

And that was my point. And it was the whole point of the post.

Maybe the reason you "don't understand the substance of the complaint" is because:

1. It wasn't a complaint.
2. You really didn't read it.

99 said...

Art, as I said to Jack in the comments at Parabasis, my criticism is for the thread in general and not every single part is aimed at every single person. It was about the general tone of the comments and the criticism. Some parts are more true for some comments, some are more true for others, but since, in general, you seem to agree with each other (sometimes openly), I took it all as one. And I stand by that.

As to the quote, in formatting, I'd meant to put in brackets to indicate that there was a condensation, but either didn't or it didn't print that way, but really, nitpicking about quotes is a poor argument.

I've never heard the word "careerist" used as anything other than a pejorative. I can't think of a context where it's a nice thing to be called, certainly for an artist or a writer. I also can't think of a time when I've heard a male playwright who gave an interview touting their work which was being produced was called a careerist for saying, in essence, they thought their play had something to say that other plays weren't saying. It's not like she was lobby to have her play done when it wasn't. She was being interviewed about her play, as a selling point. But that's really neither here nor there.

Given all of that, and the fact that it's the only word in your comment in all caps, I thought it was the most important word. Silly me. I guess there's some internet traditions I don't know.

Please, point me to where I'm wrong. If I say someone's an ASSHOLE, but you know, other people are, too, so that's okay, is ASSHOLE suddenly not an insult? If I say someone is a SELF-PROMOTING LITTLE BITCH, but you know, some other people don't mind it, is SELF-PROMOTING LITTLE BITCH suddenly genteel? I'm not criticizing her for being one, but you know, she just is.

I still stand by this post. I think you, Thomas and Jack are judging her, her work and her interviews by an unfair standard. And I do really think that part of that unfairness stems from her being a woman. Or you feel more comfortable saying it because she's a woman.

I'm sorry you feel slurred. It must suck to have some of your words taken slightly out of context and used against you by someone who really doesn't know you. It certainly must. But "That doesn't make ART a bad person, or untalented, (and I don't begrudge anybody a living in the theatre,) but it certainly opens ART'S comments and ART'S work up for discussion, debate and, yes, disagreement."

99 said...

Just to follow up, see here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Careerist

Art said...

Well, if you equate Careerist with Asshole, etc, then I can totally understand why you would be upset. And I'll agree with you, by the way, that it was the most important word.

But understand, I wasn't criticizing Ruhl for giving an interview, I was criticizing Ruhl for what she said in the interview.

Just as I have criticized Albee, Mamet, Rebeck, John Robin Baitz and a whole host of male and female playwrights, directors, critcs and actors over the years. All of them for things they have said in interviews or on panel discussions.

You want to make publicity interviews off-limits for discussion? What, because they have to do them to fill the seats, they can get away with saying things that don't make sense?

As far as being called something I don't like. I never ever called Sarah Ruhl a sneaky, uppity bitch, nor did Tom Garvey or Jack Worthing.

Apparently you still stand by that characterization.


99 said...

Yes. I stand by that as a characterization of the thread. Absolutely.

And, it's not just me equating "careerist" with all sorts of negative connotations, apparently. Particularly when flung at a woman.

This isn't some PC crusade, but the reality is the reality.

And the point is that it goes both ways. Your words, just like hers, just like mine, are open to interpretation and reaction. This is mine.

Art said...

Fair enough.

But I think you're just jealous of me because of my success.

99 said...

That is very, very much true. Sincerely.

You always see through me. Dang it.

Art said...

I put the following on the original thread, but thought I would put it here too.

After our exchange here, 99, and two e-mail exchanges with others, I am beginning to see hoe bad my choice of words was:


Not that anybody cares, but to clear up my earlier comment...

In going back and forth with people I see that my choice of words with "Careerist" was very bad. All I meant was that she is a practicing professional, functioning at a high level in her field, with all of the politics, publicity and problems that comes with that. In other words, she's in the system and of the system. To be VERY clear, I would say the same of Adam Rapp, Edward Albee, David Mamet, Theresa Rebeck, and on and on and on.

As I pointed out to 99 in his comments section: I have criticized, as well as supported at times, things all of these people have said in interviews or on panel discussions. That was the whole point of my comment.

I can only assure people I did not mean the standard definition of careerist which, I have found out, is all negative. I honestly didn't mean that, and in my defense, I kept saying, over and over that I didn't mean it in a negative way.

I wish I could correct my comment and substitute Professional with Careerist, but it doesn't seem to make that much difference anyway.

After all, 99 indicates that he still thinks I'm a misogynist.

99 said...

Thank you, Art, for posting that. And, as I did over there, and probably should have made clearer here: I don't think you ARE a misogynist or a sexist. I just think that thread was sexist. It may be a fine distinction, but it's an important one.

Jack Worthing said...

Thank you for the clarifications, 99, but I still don't buy the thrust: this is all because the work doesn't measure up. I don't care who wrote it. In two years, when THE BROTHER/SISTER PLAYS are in every storefront, I'll be saying the same thing about McCraney, and I'll get told it's because he's black. Maybe I'll do it with Nachtrieb, too, but I don't know his plays yet. SR is the topic because SR is at the front of the line.

Jack Worthing said...

Thank you for further clarifying at Parabasis.

99 said...

I know you don't buy it, but what I'm saying is that the focus is all wrong. Sarah Ruhl writes plays and tries to get them produced. Lots of people write plays I don't like, or think don't work and they don't get produced. What I agree most with in Art's adjusted comment is that she is of and in the system. Absolutely. The problem is the system. If the system was promoting work that I found more aesthetically pleasing in exactly the same way, I'd still have problems with the system.

As for Tarell, well, wait a year or two and he'll be in all the same places.

I'd rather focus on the parts of the system we can change, rather than tearing down the favored kid in hopes of getting a better favored kid, you know?

Jack Worthing said...

Very fair, indeed. I agree with you. My original point (ages ago now) was simply that there's real argument to be made about the work. That the Ruhl backlash isn't a bunch of jealous hysterics, as Isaac seemed to imply.

Anonymous said...

I'm new to your blog, but after reading this and the posts at Parabasis I'm wondering whether you can go a full 24 hours without some form of race-baiting. "Careerist" = "uppity"? "Knee-jerk" doesn't go far enough man.

99 said...

Thanks for the feedback! Much appreciated! The 24 hours start now, yes?

Anonymous said...

I clock you, 99, but I'll call Adam Rapp a big fake any day of the internet.

99 said...

And I just said anonymous people on the internet can be nice. Well, I knew it couldn't last...

Ed said...

Just want to chime in to say that Arthur Miller is actually catching some flack in the blogosphere for being too ubiquitous in Chicago of late. He was the chosen playwright to focus on by a prominent one-playwright-per-season company here, as well as the standard smattering of "All My Sons," "Death of a Salesman," etc., etc. It's not just living female playwrights that get crap in Chicago for being overproduced in a single season.

That said, I myself have mixed feelings about Ms. Ruhl. Personally, I love the style of theatre that she and others like her create. She can script very striking and engaging stage pictures and droll and poetic language. I feel like there are contemporary realistic plays dropping off every tree, so it's refreshing to see a playwright that eschews realism so completely get so much attention. I don't quite 'sneer at naturalism' as I think you put it in one post, 99, but I do think that some playwrights fall back on realism due to lack of imagination and inherited biases about the kind of theatre they ought to be writing, or the kind of theatre that's valid for any contemporary playwright to create. Her remark about modern playwrights trying to write too much like TV rang true to me, regardless of her actually viewing proclivities. Parts of Eurydice made me weep. Parts of it made me scratch my head. I don't fault Ruhl for her stage pictures, but I sometimes wish for a stronger narrative structure. But that's just my take- and people who call her work 'rubbish' as if it were objective truth instead of their own subjective opinion do irk me.

I think she is artistically successful as a playwright because her art engenders strong reaction- there are people who are deeply moved by her work and find it beautiful and worth watching, and people that are filled with rage that it exists and asks to be taken seriously by an audience. May all our art result in so passionate a response.