SLURRING THE LINES
Re "Irish Lives and Livers" [February 26- March 4]:
Michael Feingold's review of Observe the Sons of Ulster . . . and Dublin Carol is well written and his criticisms of the two plays may be well-founded. However, remarks like the one below, seem to cross the partition into ethnic slur:
"I kept drifting away mentally, imagining a Celtic Misery cable channel which would present the familial torments of a different set of Dubliners every evening, their tongues loosened each night by a different brand of Irish whiskey. Only certified AA members of provable Irish ancestry could subscribe, and the rest of us would be left in peace to go to a theater where the events onstage were of dramatic interest . . . "
The Village Voice is noted for its liberal viewpoint and its sympathy for minorities and underrepresented ethnic groups. No matter how bad the play might be, would the Voice print a similar joke about African Americans singing the blues over ham hocks or Jewish Americans kvetching about anti-Semitism while enjoying some brisket?
Is only the suffering of certain ethnic groups to be taken seriously? I doubt that an educated and sensitive readership would answer, "Yes."
Michael Feingold replies: Since I spent a good part of the review praising Irish playwrights whose vision of Irish sorrows is deeper and less self-indulgent, I think it's clear that my joke was not intended to be dismissive of the Irish generally. I wonder, incidentally, whether Kearns would have taken similar offense if such a joke had appeared in an Irish playwhich it very well might have.
To George Smith:
Thank you for your Weapon of the Week column. I find your selection of systems incredibly interesting, and your critiques incredibly humorous. As a result, I've made your articles a regular entry on my weblog (opendiscourse.com) so that my friends and acquaintances can join in the fun.
In regard to your recent article ["Zak the California Sea Lion," February 26-March 4], how exactly do they transport these sentries, and how do they equip them for temperatures to which they are unaccustomed?
George Smith replies: The U.S. military is renowned for its logistical ability to send anything anywhere. Zak the sea lion could have been moved in his own private swimming pool, and the navy is certainly capable of better digs than I have seen afforded his peers in some zoos. And according to the military, sea lions are preferred as warriors because they are more easily transportable than dolphins.
As for adapting to water temperature, the California sea lion's habitat ranges from Vancouver Island to the southern tip of the Baja, an expanse that covers a wide climatic range. But it is also true that the Persian Gulf is warmer and saltier than San Diego waters. However, it's clear the military expects the marine soldier to serve without complaint. His job: to travel to foreign countries, meet interesting new people, and maybe take a chunk out of them.
Re Thulani Davis's "NYC's Forsaken Future" [February 19-25]:
Bravo to Davis's diligence and the Voice for covering a story that no one wants to hear. New York's women of color, while commonly the largest influencers of style and attitudes in Gotham, are usually brushed aside when it comes to practical inclusion and real issues. People need to start caring about what happens to all members of our society. This means all of us need to care.
Davis's article is a warning: Be aware of the position you are forcing these women into with your indifference.
Lower East Side
TOBIAS TOO BIASED?
Re Tobi Tobias's "Skit Skid" [February 12-18]:
What a review Tobias gives us of Bill Shannon! We got "suffer," "brave," "turned his condition into," and finally "making a spectacle of himself"! This tired discourse might be quaintly amusing if it weren't so thoughtless and inaccurate about people with disabilities.
Not to go on a political-correctness tirade, but language has powerand Tobias's language, full of condescension, is insulting. People with disabilities, or Tobias's substituted "condition," understand that disability cannot be "turned" into anything. While critics must call it as they see it, we don't need patronizing; we need equal opportunities to be critiqued fairly, without all those Tiny Tim tear-jerking expressions.
In the future, if Tobias makes an effort to attach condition to person, not person to condition, she might be able to address abilities, accomplishments, or failures of creative expression more honestly and directly, regardless of how performers are configured.
Providence, Rhode Island
Re "Skit Skid":
I am profoundly disheartened by Tobias's condescending attitude. Certainly she has every right to print her opinion of Bill Shannon's work even if she didn't like what she saw. But words like "suffers" and "spectacle" are blatantly patronizing. Bill Shannonand all performers who have disabilitiesdeserve a public apology.
Tobi Tobias replies: I certainly didn't intend to demean Bill Shannon. I think what he's doing is, as I wrote, "brave and ingenious," his solo work "compelling." "Suffers from" used in relation to disease is standard English, though perhaps not politically correct. The trouble with p.c. lingo is that it quickly turns into jargon.
And it keeps changing, too. I remember when the very mention of "disability" was a no-no; people weren't "disabled," but "differently abled." Then "physically challenged." The current "people with disabilities" is blessedly accurate, but it's hard for the "temporarily abled" to keep up.
As for "spectacle": All performing artists make spectacles of themselves; that's what they're forto go past conventional limits and give us spectators something worth looking at and pondering.
GOOD ON BADU
To Ta-Nehisi Coates:
Your item on Erykah Badu's performance at S.O.B.'s was hilarious, refreshing, and exactly on point ["Cuz She's Cleva," The Sound of the City, February 5-11].
It's refreshing to read a concert review that delivers more than a critic's opinion. "Cuz She's Cleva" made me feel like I was jammin' right behind Badu's freshly picked 'fro.
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