Sunday, January 8, 2012

How do the Boston boys stay so civil? And why are the Parabasis boys so evil?

The recent, nasty brouhaha over at Tom Loughlin's "A Poor Player" reminded me again of one of the ironies of the blogosphere - that it's often riven by immature battle-royales between horrid little high-school-style cliques.  The usual reprobates were behind this particular imbroglio, I think - none other than Isaac Butler and J. Holtham of the blog "Parabasis," the "mean girls" of the theatrical blogosphere, who have banded together against me in the past, and who seem to think that somehow they run the Internet cafeteria; they're always denouncing people and insisting that so-and-so can't sit at their table, etc. (As if anyone wanted to sit at their table - I know they're both over-privileged types with connections, so a lot of people make nice, but seriously, there's a limit.)

Holtham, it seems, has finally accepted the fact that he is not a talented playwright; Butler keeps resisting the same verdict on his directing ability; meanwhile, both have slowly become cartoons of the kind of politically-correct mandarin so widely scorned by stand-ups and late-night TV.  Which, you know, would be okay if they weren't so bureaucratically-minded, mean-spirited, and basically censorious.  Their campaign against poor Tom Loughlin - whom I've read off and on for years, and who believe me, is no racist - to my mind only makes them look desperate.  And perhaps they should be desperate; I mean, what have they got left but race and racism?

Meanwhile, of course, the Boston bloggers - me, Art, and Ian - seem somehow to always get along, even though I'm sure we disagree quite strongly on various political issues.  Indeed, we make jokes at each other's expense and in general enjoy each other's company.  I don't know if this is because we actually bump into each other, and so know each other as human beings, or not (I certainly doubt that compromises our camaraderie).  I imagine the fact that we all are clever enough to read in each other's writing our varied, but mutual, intelligence and good nature, also helps us maintain our relative harmony.

Which leads me to the deeper problem with Parabasis - I simply can tell that those two writers are not generous of nature or spirit; their mutual flattery is so unctuous and all-encompassing as to be unconscious, and their political (and class) conformity is so explicit it's suffocating.  The latest evidence of this is their treatment of Loughlin - it is impossible to have been reading this writer for the past few years and imagine that he is a racist.  Do you hear me? IMPOSSIBLE.  So to pretend that he is, frankly, is obviously the coldest kind of self-aggrandizing, ideological calculation - which is, of course, typical of Parabasis.

I'll go a little further - I can't think of the last time I met a racist who was devoted to the theatre.  Seriously.  Do I know any racists in the theatre?  Okay, maybe there are some covert ones, maybe - but why would they stick around?  I mean, would Hitler take a job in a kibbutz?  Get real, guys.  When the Parabasis Boys start circling in their vulture-like way, and begin insinuating such things about somebody who has devoted his or her life to this declining, but delightful, and eternally progressive, art form - think twice.  And then think three times.  Because trust me, you are most likely being played by two of the most obnoxious, and obvious, operators on the Internet.


  1. I don't know if this is because we actually bump into each other, and so know each other as human beings, or not (I certainly doubt that compromises our camaraderie).

    To be fair, I think we had a respectful rapport before I had ever met either you or Art in person. We might simply have a different collective temperament than the Parabasis crowd and that is what causes us to read and engage with one another on a regular basis-- much as there seems to be a collective temperament at Parabasis. These are divergent personality types that happen to exist and they will flock together accordingly.

    As to Loughlin-- I don't read him regularly. I recall that he once invoked a the Yiddish-inflected dialect of a stereotypical New York Jew, in part to illustrate the resentment that upstate New Yorkers often have for New York City. And yes, while it was in bad taste, taken on its own, it certainly was not sufficient for me to conclude that he was racist-- it was certainly not as insidious as the sort of conspiratorial insinuations Butler and Holtham spread in the wake of the debacle that led to the cancelation of Deb Margolin's Imagining Madoff at Theater J in 2010.

    As I said in the comments section to Art's analysis of the statistics on race and participation in the arts, the problem with Loughlin's analysis was neither prejudice nor ideology but bad social science: not looking at all the available statistics before making in an interpretation.

  2. You know, Ian, the problem with criticizing Loughlin's statistics is that (as I pointed out in his comment thread, and as Art backed up in his blog) when you DO look at "all the statistics" you can find, they pretty much go Loughlin's way. In fact the opposing argument that everyone is shrieking at the top of their lungs has no statistical backup whatsoever. No, this doesn't mean we should treat Loughlin's "argument" as empirically justified - BUT it also means that we should be critiquing Holtham and Butler with precisely the same severity they're dishing out to Loughlin. Actually with MORE severity.

    But this is the problem with "critical thinking" as it has been taught to these liberal-arts goons: for them, it merely serves as a method of imposing their own political vision. I've never seen a "critical thinker" do a 180 and ponder the weakness of his or her own political assumptions. Certainly the Parabasis boys never do it. Which is why they're so intellectually worthless.

    What's funniest about the whole imbroglio is that if you just tweak the Loughlin argument slightly, you realize it's almost identical to the usual justifications for "diversity" that the Parabots usually cheer. Loughlin is arguing that "white" culture may exist in something like the same way all these folks insist other ethnic cultures "exist." Why is that such a freak-out? If you say it's because theatre is oppressive, or represents the white power structure - please! Theatre isn't at the center of ANY power structure. How do we know this? Because the white, wealthy people who support it happily go and applaud the most left-leaning productions imaginable - they know the content doesn't matter! My favorite example of this is the way the Met suppressed an Occupy Wall Street protest outside "Satyagraha." I mean there you have it - a boho opera about Gandhi is presented to New York's elite, who give it a wild ovation and then attempt to arrest the protesters outside.

    So rather obviously the bottom line is - if you want political change, then go do politics. Don't imagine you're working some political miracle by putting politically-correct stories on stage.

  3. Oh, and really the killer is the weird little argument on Parabasis over whether Loughlin could actually be allowed to raise these points because he's "half Puerto Rican." Seriously. Holtham and Butler have sunk to the point where they only condone speech from people with genomes they approve. If you've got the right racial background, all those problems with your statistics suddenly seem so much less important.

  4. One last dig at the Paraboys: seriously, without Butler's wealthy mother and father - and the connections that resulted to critics like David Cote - would anyone have ever heard of him? No. Ditto for Holtham. For them to be whining about economic injustice is just rich. They are the FACE of millennial privilege.

  5. Am I missing something?

    Whites make up 72.4 percent of all Americans. Among ticket buyers, they represent 83 percent of the total. Yes, that means whites disproportionately attend theater, but it's not greatly out of whack with what you'd expect. It's more or less consistent with their percentage of the population.

    Next if you look at just upper-income Americans, who are the ones who mainly go to theater, the percentage of whites is probably even higher. In fact, among the top 5 percent in the income bracket, 88 percent are white.

    So what I am saying is that whites are attending theater at a rate you'd pretty much expect given how much of the population they make up. How then can you conclude theater is a white person's medium?

    Now consider this: what proportion of tourists to New York are white? These are the people who make up the majority of the Broadway audience and I would bet the proportion of whites is significantly higher than blacks. So from a pool of audience members overwhelmingly white, to get 72.4 percent white attendance is an indication of absolutely nothing.

  6. Yes, Lawrence, you're missing something. First - according to the 2010 census, the non-Hispanic white population is about 63% of the American population, not 72.4%, as you claim (that includes Hispanics - also a group targeted for outreach, so please!). So you ARE looking at a substantial over-representation of whites at the theatre.

    We've already gone into the problem with the income/class argument - entertainment options that cost as much as theatre does nevertheless often draw a large proportion of the non-white audience (indeed, often a proportion roughly equivalent to the preponderance of whites on Broadway).

    You also ignore the historic argument - which we use without thinking when it comes to other cultures - which is that our dialogue-driven dramatic tradition mostly came from Europe.

    You also ignore the fact that statistics cited elsewhere, as well as experience noted everywhere, is in alignment with the Broadway statistics, indicating these trends are not limited to Broadway.

    Finally, I have to ask you - if, indeed, theatrical attendance is in alignment with what you'd expect from the population, then what are you so worried about? What's the point of the outreach crusade if everything's okay? Sorry, but you can't have it both ways - that's just shit that Parabasis says.

  7. I think blogger ate my last comment (which was rather lengthy) so rather that recapitulate my own elaboration on the illiberal faux-liberalism of the Parabasis crowd, I'll note the oddity that came up in the statistics that Art cited was that African-Americans, despite having a lower rate of attendance, are actually more likely to have taken part in a theatrical production than a non-Hispanic whites. It's a seeming contradiction-- and it's interesting.

  8. That statistic doesn't surprise me at all. I know this is RACIST and all, but I went to an inner-city arts high school where whites were in the minority, so I am quite familiar with black performers whipping the asses of white ones.

  9. Good catch on the error. I perused it too quickly. Fair enough.

    I still think more data is needed one way or the other. I would be very interested in knowing about the percentages of black audience members at shows about African Americans. If they're high enough, say 25 percent, then reaching out to new audiences becomes less of an issue. It's mainly a matter of putting on the right show. If you build it, they will come.

    I wasn't commenting on the outreach issue though, just noting the statistics. I wasn't suggesting or commenting on anything else.