Politics of Dissent? Reconsidering ‘the Political’ in Contemporary American Political Theater
- Introduction: Some Thoughts on the “the Aesthetic-Versus-Political Binary”
- From p (Personal Politics) to P (Realpolitik): The Continuum of Political Theater
- Fabulousness and Activism: The Case of Tony Kushner
- (Authentic) Voices of Dissent: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (1995) and Homebody/Kabul (2004)
In this paper, I investigate how contemporary American theater shapes and reflects current debates about political art. While a number of critics and theorists have expressed alarm over the supposed apoliticality of American theater since the 1980s, I argue that the “postmodern condition” along with the prevalence of the deconstructive aesthetic has made it necessary to rethink and reevaluate political art in general and political theater in particular. Analyzing works by playwrights Tony Kushner, Christopher Shinn, and Naomi Wallace, I examine how the dramatists respond to the collapse of the distinction between the economic and the cultural realms and the concomitant phenomenon that theater, as the most public of the arts, is inextricable from the economic and the political. In spite of this rather bleak outlook for a théâtre engagé, the playwrights under discussion have not succumbed to the matrix of power exerted by multinational capitalism, rather they have used these adverse conditions as a source of empowerment. In breaking with the transgressive politics of vanguard political art of the 1960s and 1970s, they, to use Philip Auslander’s wording, “expos[e] processes of cultural control and emphasiz[e] the traces of nonhegemonic discourses within the dominant without claiming to transcend its terms” (61). In doing so, they testify to what I call the politics of dissent, i.e. they take a critical stance on pressing issues of the times while self-consciously acknowledging their being deeply entrenched in the culture they set out to criticize. In sum, Tony Kushner’s, Christopher Sinn’s, as well as Naomi Wallace’s works show that even overtly commodified art is potentially critical.
Jeanne Colleran; Jenny S. Spencer