The outrage du jour is a story out of New York where Delta Airlines and Bank of America decided to pull their corporate funding for New York’s Public Theater. The move was made after intense criticism came over the death scene in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” recently performed. The outrage is that the performers followed the story but re-imagined it in the Trump era.
Now, because of our highly toxic political climate, two major corporations have pulled funding from artists attempting to use Shakespeare to explain truths of humanity in a modern context which is desperately needed, but that point is completely missed by rabid partisans squawking about “the loss of Western Culture” all over social media 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The work of William Shakespeare is considered a bright shining symbol of Western Civilization and it has remained relevant for 460 some odd years precisely because of the truths about human nature that it explains.
Truths Western Civilization need to hear on a regular basis.
“But it is referencing the president and a leader is assassinated!” people will say with sure-fire indignation. Indeed, it does because that is how Ol’ Billy Shakespeare and history tell the story. And that is how this theater company performed the same play in 2012, in context with the current president, named Barack Obama. That’s a well-written review of a play no one noticed in a time when identity politics was at its premium as political currency.
The New York Times reported:
Criticism of the play reached a fever pitch on Sunday when Fox News reported that it “appears to depict President Trump being brutally stabbed to death by women and minorities.” Donald Trump Jr., a son of President Trump, joined in shortly after that report, seeming to question the theater’s funding sources.
It isn’t about funding and it isn’t about what is or what isn’t art — it is about using reverse identity politics to browbeat and negatively frame political opposition. We haven’t seen a clip of the current performance playing now and it may well be a controversially graphic take on the classic story — Julius Caesar was, after all, violently stabbed to death. That, however, doesn’t excuse the social media mob that has assembled to indict the entire notion of what is art and if we should fund it publicly.
This is what the director, Oskar Eustis, said about his own work:
Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means,” Mr. Eustis wrote. “To fight the tyrant does not mean imitating him.”
Delta and Bank of America have the absolute right to pull their funding — it is their money after all — but none of this was an issue in 2012 and indicates a decline in discourse. It is very hard to find the slightest bit of internet controversy over the same play that imagines a leader who looked like Obama. You can see the death scene from a 2012 production of the same scene.
Here is another review from 2012 that says
It is no accident that Julius Caesar and his wife bear a striking resemblance to President Barack and Michelle Obama. In fact, my son and I had a discussion about whose silhouette was in the screen, our current president, or the actor who portrayed Caesar. Zach noticed that they picked an actor who looks like a leader, tall, long face, strong jaw.”
All Delta and Bank of America did today was remind America why Shakespeare matters. Because the outrage bender conservatives are about to go on to defend the president and his feelings this cultural crisis will be the best fundraising campaign the arts have seen in some time. This is Western civilization, conservatives. This is what you’ve been claiming to defend. Instead of getting strung-out on outrage perhaps try a healthy dose of consistency.