“You are quoting from this [Christopher] Marlowe. Is he a Communist?”
— Congressman Joseph Starnes (D.-Ala.) of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, grilling Mrs. Hallie Flanagan, director of the WPA’s Federal Theater, 1938
If you’re wondering how a bunch of enraged conservatives wound up threatening theaters across the country for performing the anti-American play Julius Caesar by some libtard named William Shakespeare, I could, by way of explanation, take you back to Joseph Starnes, or even earlier.
But let’s make it simple: Accompany me back just to last Wednesday, when a left-wing nut attempted to assassinate some Republican congressmen at a baseball practice.
Nuts of all political persuasions, abetted by the ease with which the mentally ill can obtain advanced weaponry in America, have been shooting up our politicians for years. Readers may recall the horrific shooting of Democratic representative Gabby Giffords in 2011, to which Republicans responded with a heartwarming display of Don’t You Dare Pin That On Us And Especially Don’t Blame Guns!
Republicans are, for reasons I will not venture to guess here, only rarely the target of such shootings, and when James T. Hodgkinson took a rifle to a congressional baseball practice and shot five of them — most grievously wounding Representative Steve Scalise, who was only upgraded from critical condition on Saturday — some of us expected it to go as it had in 1981 when, in the last shooting of a major Republican politician, Ronald Reagan was gunned down, wished well, and upon recovery welcomed home without much political incident.
But conservatives these days are much more zealous than once they were, and many immediately started screaming that liberals were trying to kill them.
At National Review, the ghostship publication of intellectual conservatism, Kevin D. Williamson — who first rose to prominence by grabbing and flinging a fellow theatergoer’s phone in a fit of rage — cried, “The American Left has embraced political violence….Progressives including mainstream Democrats have embraced the sort of violence that has been directed against the likes of Charles Murray as an instrument of liberationist politics.”
Williamson appeared to be referring here to recent riots over college speakers, such as this one over Murray’s appearance at Middlebury College; attributing support for these campus contretemps to “mainstream Democrats,” however, is like saying the 1968 student occupation of Columbia University proved Hubert Humphrey was a Weatherman.
Williamson wasn’t the only one making such ridiculous charges.
“The ‘Resist’ movement spawned a shooting rampage Wednesday morning that targeted Republican lawmakers,” declared Dave Boyer at the Washington Times, quoting several Republicans: “This is the fault of the left,” said a local board of supervisors chairman; Trump cheerleader Carl Higbie blamed “the Democratic Party, led by Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, my home-state U.S. senator Chris Murphy” and “this childish, anarchist #Resist movement.” “A Virginia poll watcher” even told Boyer “she was spit upon and cursed at by the Resist protesters.” (That one never goes out of style!)
“Screw talks of ‘bipartisanship,’” tweeted Joe Walsh, former congressman and current radio shouter. “This country is at war with itself. Choose your side and choose it now. Grab your musket and get ready.” “The #VAshooting is a leftist terror attack by bullying scum who want to stop Trump’s #MAGA agenda!” hollered Alex Jones, who I guess thanks to the attention of Trump and Megyn Kelly is now a mainstream conservative, too.
Now, many of these Republican factota are, as regular readers of this column might expect, themselves guilty of violent speech — here, for example, we have a Tweet from Trump confidant Roger Stone condemning liberals’ “climate of hate,” paired with some of his earlier death threats against them. (Hilariously, death-threat machine Ted Nugent and journalist attacker Greg Gianforte both pleaded for civility after the shooting.)
But that doesn’t matter because, number one, IOKIYAR, and, number two, what you and I might see as a moral high ground is to conservatives merely a political advantage to be ruthlessly exploited.
Next, to make it more visceral for the dummies in the cheap seats, conservatives had to find a specific wrath target — one easier to blame violence on than, say, Nancy Pelosi and better known than Twitter randos. Many, including Newt Gingrich, shook their fists awhile at Kathy Griffin, but since their big freakout over her bloody Trump head photo, Griffin has been little seen and, more to the point, probably has bodyguards, so she was no-go.
That’s when they hit on Shakespeare. As I noted earlier this month, wing nuts went wild because the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park — as venerable and well-loved a theatrical institution as exists in America — was presenting a version of Julius Caesar in modern dress, with Caesar done up to look like Donald Trump.
Since you can read the big words in this column, you probably already know that modern-dress productions of classics are exceedingly common, that making Caesar a modern politician such as the American president (including, as was done at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater in 2012, Barack Obama) is standard operating procedure, and that Caesar’s assassination is portrayed by Shakespeare as a Bad Thing, which makes the problems the conspirators were hoping to fix even worse.
But the Republican “base” doesn’t know any of that, so conservatives portrayed the play to them as an invention of Godless New York City Liberals to incite violence against Trump, leading naturally to the shooting of Steve Scalise.
Somebody got an employee of a right-wing media company to go see the Public’s production and then bitch to the press about it. Suddenly, every wing nut in America was screaming about the Public’s Evil Libtard Play. Sometimes the coverage connected the Libtard Play with some guy named Shakespeare, but sometimes they just called it “NYC play,” or “Trump Assassination Play,” to hide the author’s identity just in case some of the dummies had heard about Shakespeare and knew he wasn’t some Brooklyn hipster living off welfare.
A few nervous sponsors pulled out of the soon-to-close limited run, and on Friday night a couple of assholes stormed the production in Central Park and screamed that the audience were Nazis before being quickly escorted out. One asshole was arrested; the other made a video, then presumably went down to the subway to look for Muslims to harass.
Wing nuts were ecstatic, portraying the interruption as payback: Liberals were always protesting shootings of unarmed black men so now, by God, conservatives would protest metaphor, irony, and dramatic representation!
“SILENT MAJORITY, SILENT NO MORE!” hollered Right Wing News. DMOTI Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit declared a major victory, reporting that the interruption “went on for over half a minute.” It’s not hard to believe that’s his benchmark for success.
“The Left doesn’t like it when their tactics are used against their ‘expression,’ ” tweeted conservative publisher Laura Ingraham. “How many wd storm stage if ‘Obama’ was stabbed?” Telling Ingraham, or any other conservative, that an Obama Caesar actually had been done in 2012 was usually useless. (One conservative to whom I sent a review of that production in the American Conservative merely said, “That’s just a picture & an article. Where’s the video?” — apparently believing the American Conservative might have been making it all up to protect liberals.)
Perhaps sensing the bare facts of the case made them look stupid, Twitter wing nuts invented new rumors proving Shakespeare and his liberal friends were trying to murder Trump. National Review’s Deroy Murdock repeated a bizarre charge from Ingraham’s PoliZette, not verified by any reliable witness, that “the play has reportedly received standing ovations when Trump/Caesar is assassinated.” Steve Tatum reported via Twitter, “Audience member revealed that recorded audio as part of ‘Caesar’ play had crowd chant of ‘KILL TRUMP! KILL TRUMP!’ Yet they claim it’s Caesar.”
Riding under and sometimes on top of their rage against the play was also the traditional conservative hatred of New York City — land of libtards who reject their hero Trump (whose golden towers and successful grifts represent to conservatives the real New York) and go to brunch and plays and movies with subtitles and think they’re better than them.
A particularly ripe example appeared at Erick Erickson’s Resurgent, where Marc Giller imagined a New York City couple, frustrated in their desire to see Hamilton (LOL), going to Julius Caesar because
It’s hip. It’s free. And as a bonus, they’re putting on a production of Julius Caesar where Donald Trump gets killed! In most of the country that sounds kind of icky, but here in the Big Apple it’s date night.
Wow, it’s almost like he knows us, right? Wait, it gets better:
So there you are, holding your best girl’s hand (she voted for Hillary, but really wanted Bernie Sanders), both of your hearts pounding as you anticipate that moment when the blade plunges deep into the Great Orange Menace, at long last raising the respectability of assassination porn out of the ghetto of Fifty Shades fan fiction and into the mainstream…
He forgot the part where we all go out to Planned Parenthood for a nice fetal fry-up afterward.
Like mainstream Democrats looking to win back Trump voters, the Public Theater tried reaching out to the people who were mad at them (“The Public proudly stands for free speech and equal access to art. Let’s talk”) and got the sort of reaction you might expect: “Your goal is to normalize violence against Trump and to have people see it as noble,” “Just like the play that VP Pence went to disrespected him we’ve had enough of this bullshit!” “Free speech my butt,” etc.
Trying to reason with them is futile. Politics they might, if cornered, discuss semi-rationally, but art drives them absolutely insane. They know there’s some kind of power in it, but they don’t know how to control it — and they certainly don’t know how to make it. That’s why whenever they talk about “culture” it inevitably turns into “culture war” — because their only possible relationship to it is adversarial and violent.
You and I might see a top Shakespeare company’s production of a Shakespeare play as something that brings pleasure and maybe an insight into life; but these guys only see it as a threat to be neutralized. That’s why, when the controversy arose, Kyle Smith of National Review exulted, “Lefty Actors Are Beginning to Fear Donald Trump”; conservatives see works of art not as experiences to engage and learn from, but the way they see everything else: as something to dominate and force to their will.