Monday, June 22, 2009


How can we think of anything else right now. The courageous uprising of the people of Iran, across class, religious, and both urban and rural ( although most demonstrations are in Tehran). The youth of Iran led protests in 2003, but now everyone has joined in. Their dignity, commitment, and bravery is formidable. As the traditional press are expelled, BBC commentator John Leynes was told to leave yesterday, we must all communicate about the new revolution in Iran. For that is what it is. The people are tired of the fraudulent politics, hypocritical religious posturing, and totalitarian oppressions. More links soon.

I couldn't help compare the outpouring of focused and committed demands from the Iranian people to an event I went to in Seattle on Saturday night, in which exactly the same age group were freely expressing themselves, dancing, singing, painting, performing in a whirlwind of creative expression. But most of it didn't have much substance or any point really, which was too bad.The only point was that they were being encouraged and supported in being randomly outside the box, as in a chorus of young women dressed as angels, men in lab coats climbing up the theater to the tune of trumpets ( I liked this piece), and a young man painting perfectly terrible paintings. I went because my amazing yoga teacher was performing, and he didn't disappoint. He is a butoh dancer, and his range of expression with his body was astonishing. One felt the absolute disruption of facade and the revelation of the violence underneath in every human being simply through the expressions, body movements and gestures.

This is the freedom that the Iranian people are fighting for. The contrast couldn't be greater, between the young people of Iran, focused, brave, insistent on their right to be free, and the freedoms taken for granted here by ( at the Moore) predominantly young white people.
These two posters by Lida Red bring together art and the uprising in Iran.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Shakespeare's The Tempest Then and Now

Ahh how perspectives change and yet trully insightful people all get it right in the first place. Shapekeare's The Tempest, known as his "American Fable" currently being performed in Seattle by the Seattle Shakespeare Company, presents a contemporary perspective on the play as suggesting forgiveness. Yet this play only a few years ago was recognized as a parable of the earliest years of European colonization in the Americas. In 1609 the British were founding a colony in Virginia and England was excited. Shakespeare wrote this play using diaries by shipwrecked crews who landed in Bermuda and other primary sources.
So the story is that of an Italian duke whose dukedom has been stolen by his brother while he was brooding over books. He has landed after a shipwreck on an isolated island, but one which had indigenous inhabitants, represented in the play by Caliban.
Here is what surprised me. In 1964 in his book Machine in the Garden, Technology and the Pastoral Ideal, based on ideas he developed in the late 1950s, Leo Marx referred to this play as An American Fable did a protracted analysis of it as a reference to European civilization taming nature, the contradiction of nature and culture, etc etc.

But when I saw it, I was astounded by Shakespeare's acute understanding that Europeans were going to take over, destroy and enslave the Indians in their path. A speech by Caliban states just that. Of course his position as a"primitive" and "uncivilized" human being in the play echoes the dominant perspectives of Europeans in the seventeenth century ( and still really), but Caliban speaks eloquently of his love for his island, and the fact that after he showed the invadeing European around, the Duke enlsaved him. But Caliban's eloquence in spite of his constant assault as a sub human being by the Europeans, suggests that in the early seventeenth century there was also awe and respect for Indinas. Indeed, they were perceived as independent kingdoms, and their leaders were often celebrated as fellow royalites in these early days of European contact.

Then more Europeans ( Stephano above with Caliban) land on the Island, the result of a storm that the Duke (Prospero) caused by his magical powers in order to bring his brother and fellow plotters there.
They also want to take over the island. They suggest taking Caliban back to England as a trophy, which is exactly what was happening then with people like Pocohontas, who died very young in England. An amazing portrait of her survives in Elizabethan clothing.

The new arrivals give alcohol to Caliban and he immediately becomes tamed and subject to their will ( another perceptive prediction on Shakespeare's part, perhaps based on a reference in a contemporary diary about the susceptability of Indians to alcohol.)
But in the end the Europeans depart, back to "civiliation".

The program of the Tempest said not one work about all this.
All we got was "forgiveness" and that forgiveness is not Caliban's for his oppression, but the Duke for his brother's perfidy. So much for the new age of post racism. Well, of course Shakespeare doesn't exactly explain Caliban's feelings at the end of the play. The ending is unlike Shakespeare except for the dramatic death of the senior Duke. Everyone else just seems to move on without any explanation.

The trappings are Shakespeare, but the content is radically different. Go see it!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sweet Crude A film about oil exploitation in the Niger Delta

Sweet Crude a film by Sandy Cioffi confronts us with the human cost for our thirst for oil. Everytime we get in a car, we are part of the problem represented in the movie, the ruthless oppression of the people who live in the Niger Delta, the poisoning of their water, killing of their fish, razing of their villages, beating and murder of their resistance leaders.

We need to know that if we don't get out of our cars, our airplanes, and whatever other oil consuming toys we have,we are the reason that this part of the planet is bleeding literally and figuratively.
This brilliant film combines aesthetics and politics. It is full of information, human interest, and data presented against a backdrop of an abstract painting that suggests rusted oil drums. The footage of the river, the villages, the boats, is not aestheticized, we are not looking at pretty landscapes. We are looking at small pieces of a ravaged and ruined ecosystem. The film is documentary, but the stunning resistance, energy, and perseverence of the people who have been invaded by the thirst for oil, in spite of attacks by military of their own government, is the real message of the movie. They wanted peaceful resistance, they wanted to negotiate, they want some benefit from the enormous profits pouring out of their lands. They have no schools, no clean water, no health clinics, no fish. Yet they stay because they have nowhere else to go. They have lived there for centuries.

There is a straight line from their ruined lives to our plush comforts, connected by oil pipelines.

One of the best part of the movie is when the ABC newsman is trying to force a peaceful negotiator for MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) to say he was an armed terrorist in league with Al Queda. It was easy to see how the news forces its own narrow cliches onto its subjects. MEND began as a non violent group that tried to work with the government, but they were repeatedly betrayed, killed outright, and subject to massive retaliation, so now they have an armed wing. It is impossible to fight massive military attacks and full betrayal of trust without armed resistance. ( And I believe in peace)

The government is currently launching an all out attack against what it refers to as militant camps. The success of these resistance groups in shutting pipelines has been impressive. Why can't we do anything more to support them.
They must fight against Shell, Exonn, Total, their own government's massive military assault, and world indifference. It is simply greed that prevents the governmnet and the oil companies from respecting these people, giving them the basic survival necessities. What they want instead is to remove them, just as we removed our Indians, so they can completely destroy the entire Delta is the purusit of oil production.

In twenty years, where will the planet be. We just can't seem to change course! Instead of bailing out GM, how about paying the workers to learn how to make non polluting transportation. ?