Free Dartmouth
6/06/2005 11:28:00 AM | Andrew Seal

I found this very interesting editorial linked off PowerLine. The editorial's author, WSJ drama critic Terry Teachout, argues that

All art, political or not, must make everything more beautiful in order to fulfill its most essential function, that of seizing and holding the viewer's attention. Any political artist who aspires to be more than a cheerleader for the converted must first learn this lesson, and learn it well. A boring work of art cannot convince anyone of anything, not even that we should believe what it tells us about the world in which we live.

I agree totally with him up to this point. But then:

And nothing is more boring--or less believable--than a story with only one side.

This is simply, patently, inarguably false. One need only think of the Ancient Greek theater to come up with examples of very one-sided dramas. The plays of Aristophanes had overt political content, and though it was served next to some laughs, that does not make them any less one-sided. The plays of Sophocles likewise had an utterly one-sided vision of life as tragic, an understanding which is, in fact, political, as many critics have shown, and I’d be happy to point them out to (the apparently ignorant) Mr. Teachout.

Teachout uses Shakespeare as an example of someone who shows the humanity of his villains, but is this really an effort to create a drama that “[pays] us the compliment of letting us make up our own minds?” Does anyone truly feel like rooting for Lady Macbeth, even when she’s going into hysterics over her little “spots?” Do you think Shakespeare even meant to make that possible?

I am not arguing that the plays Teachout attacks are good or even watchable. (Well, I’ll argue for Tony Kushner’s plays, but Teachout can have the rest.) I am arguing that art that is both manifestly political in nature and one-sided in its message can be good or even great and that "neutral" art can be just as bad as anything else.

It is precisely this kind of conservatism that is most insidious--the type that argues for "fair and balanced" art or news or academic faculties when that fairness and balance is not even that beneficial and is, rather, a smokescreen for protecting the status quo. There is implicit or explicit political content in all art, all news, all teaching, all life, all the time. It would be far better to recognize it and work inside that recognition than to whine about a lack of balance.

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