President Elect Trump Needs a Safe Space
I want to take just a moment to address something many have heard about. Last night at a performance of Hamilton, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence was in attendance, where the cast gave a brief message to him directly at the end of the show. If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to go do so. It’s very measured, non-combative, calm, and honestly, could have been a message to ANY newly elected official. Make sure you watch it before continuing, because the context and delivery of this message will be important to keep in mind.
That’s all it was. Just over a minute of one very simple message delivered by Aaron Burr actor Brandon Victor Dixon. Pence did stop in the hallway to listen, then departed. He was seen smiling when he left the theater. Normally, that would be the end of it. Normally. But it wasn’t. Instead, we got this a few hours ago.
Let’s stop for a moment and consider these comments, both politically and theatrically. First:
“…V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton…”
No, he wasn’t. Go back and watch that video. Watch it again. And again. If you find anything harassing in it, I might suggest you’re being a bit to sensitive. Like I said, you could lift that message up and deliver it to virtually ANY newly elected official at any level, and it’d carry the same weight, value, and context. To consider this harassing is thin-skinned of the worst kind. Even worse, Trump is apparently upset FOR Pence. At least so far, I’ve seen no indication from Pence himself that he was the least bit offended by this message. Pence was photographed as he left the theater and was smiling. Not what you’d expect from someone that feels like he was just personally attacked by the cast of the biggest show on Broadway right now. Brandon Victor Dixon’s response was perfect:
Trump seems to think that any voice that speaks up to him or his group is combative, forgetting that people can have an open dialog without it being an attack. We can disagree, we can argue, we can debate, and we can speak to people that are viewed as against us with out that being “harassing.” Next:
“This should not happen.”
Why not? Even if he were harassed, he has no right not to be. The right to free speech does not protect you from criticism. Being in power does not make you untouchable — quite the opposite. Here, Trump implies that apparently people should turn around, pull down their pants, and bend over for his administration. As if he is somehow immune from being openly criticized and mocked in public. Just because you can’t take being called out in public doesn’t make it harassment — it just makes you weak.
“The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night…”
Really? When was that. Yes, the audience was rude to Pence at times, but the cast is not the audience. And see above — being powerful doesn’t make you immune to rebuke from those around you. Pence could have left. He could have not gone at all. That wasn’t the choice he made though. As a result, he’s subject to what came from that. The cast was nothing but professional and polite and purposefully so. Again, go watch the video and the message. They even thanked Pence for coming and offered their appreciation for such. I’m not sure you can be less rude to someone you don’t like. Trump is manufacturing a reality to create a narrative that he wants to tell — but that doesn’t reflect what happened.
For. Fucking. What? The cast did nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing. Even if they used that stage to lambaste Pence, that is their right to do so. They have paid for that stage space and that opportunity. And the irony here can be cut with a revolutionary cavalry sword — a man who has uttered the words “I’m sorry” for virtually nothing that would normally demand it asking the theatre to apologize for an imagined offense. This is prime choice, top shelf hypocrisy in action. I am brought back to the video from the lunch event where Lin-Manuel Miranda first shared the opening song for Hamilton to President Obama and company to smiles, laughter, and a standing ovation. It’s a stark and saddening contrast to what we see now, the same show being accused of being rude, harassing, unsafe, and owing of an apology. A show about the very foundation of our nation, and the role people from all walks of life had in shaping it, and the struggles they fought through and overcame (or didn’t) to get us where we are.
And finally, something I really want to point out:
“The Theater must always be a safe and special place.”
Not it most certainly should not be. Let’s completely disregard the irony of him asking for a “safe space.” The idea that a theater is a safe place is absurd. Special? Yes, absolutely. But special because it’s not safe. Theatre exists to challenge you, to make you aware of social, economic, political, and many other issues in life. Theatre exists to make you feel things, and if it does it well, to make you feel things that are extremely uncomfortable. Theatre is not supposed to be fucking safe. Rent was successful not just because it had good music. It was successful because it addressed an extremely uncomfortable and socially stigmatizing issue. Death of a Salesman was successful not because it was simply good drama, but because it spoke to the heart of economic and personal issues people were facing in a post-World War II society that was harming families but was kept in the dark. The best theatre is such because it’s not safe (and that’s without even getting into it’s much longer history before Broadway ever existed). If you want safe, go to a movie theater where you’re force fed a common narrative and never have to interact with what’s on the screen. That’s where you go if you need safety. Theatre raw, aggressive, and hopefully, confrontational. The emotion, hours, blood, sweat, and energy that goes into putting those shows on day after day isn’t done so you can be safe. It’s done to change something.
I don’t know what Trump thinks he accomplishes here. I know he rallies his base with it, and that makes me sad. It’s sad because they don’t care that it’s made up pandering. He needs Pence to be bullied, so that he can look like the hero rescuing him. Trump is, in this sense, creating his own mini-theatre. Except his is based on the idea of propaganda. His isn’t meant to make you feel things and make you acknowledge hard truths. His is simply a commission to himself, to paint him the hero. He needs people to applaud him and see him as the savior. He needs his own Jesus-narrative, because without that, he’s just a sad, sexist, racist human being.
Maybe the worst part about this is the fact that if you buy the narrative, if you believe this was rude, and attacking, and deserving of apology, and that theatre should be “safe,” you’re probably one of the same people that laughs at “liberals” for being big babies that are too sensitive and politically-correct and need coddled. How are these situations different in any way?
Originally published at fienen.com on November 19, 2016.