Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Conversation IV: Excuses

99 Seats creates Holtham's Law (dubbed such by Isaac Butler):

If, in any discussion, particularly of diversity or style, you bring up Shakespeare, you lose the argument. Boom, that's it, you're done. Thank you for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you. You can shut the hell up now.

Isaac adds the Butler Corollary (my naming, not his):

Anytime you are defending a script (or a moment/theatrical gesture in a script) and use Shakespeare or Beckett as reasons why it works, you lose.

I would add that Butler's Corollary is actually a special case of a larger rule, which is:

Any time you defend your own actions or work based on its similarity to the actions or work of other people, you are talking out of your ass.

I've seen this in a number of contexts. There are, for instance, any number of post-modernists who hold that because Jackson Pollack threw paint against a canvas, anyone who throws paint against a canvas is an artist. This is not true; Pollack had a very specific style that happens to be very beautiful, and was revolutionary in a certain context. John Cage's 4'33" was perfect in the moment; if you go out and do it now, we all know you're just doing a bad cover version of the master.

Another context is the one in terms of Israel. Every time I try and bring up Israel's abuses of the Palestinians, I often get the retort of Guantanamo Bay, or Palestinian attacks against Israel -- both are variations on the theme of either "nobody is perfect so I don't have to be" or "why do we have to be the first ones to change?" Morality is relative, but it's not relative to other people's actions. There isn't a certain amount of morality you show based on the world average of morality -- morality isn't racing away from the proverbial bear, where you only have to be slightly more moral than the least moral person in the world.

So if someone says "I don't like the fact that nothing happens," you can't just say, "Beckett did it." You have to argue about why nothing happening works in your play, in your context.

Same goes for Pinter or Karen Finley or Thomas Friedman or whomever you want to blame your own shit actions on.

I wish I had something as punchy as "CRICKET BAT TO THE FACE" to end this post with.