Page 18


ARTHUR. MILLER On Politics and the Art of Acting essence than the power that can lead nations:’ In a nutshell:”The most perfect model of both star and political leader is that smiling and implicitly dangerous man who likes you:’ . Miller seems wholly unaware of the gendered source of this script: Mom will always love you, but Dad’s respect you have to earn. \(Lest I forget, the man who wrote “The Crucible” also mar “The most perfect model of both star and political leader is that smiling and implicitly dangerous man who likes your the president as a “leading man,” he literally means a “leading man”: Bogart, Stewart, Cagney… Singular names, unqualified icons. Each one male. A president must demonstrate the relaxed sincerity and cool self-assurance that characterizes “manly command.” What we need, he claims, is “the reassurance that we are in the hands of one who has mastered events and his own uncertainties.” I wonder, what do we want from our leading women? Do we measure mastery the same in a woman, and is it something we are willing to accept from her? Did Hillary Clinton’s unstinting self-confidence and unequalled self-control in the face of public embarrassment mark her as an epic It’s all an illusion, Miller is quite clear, despite his longing to locate reality.The behavior offered for public consumption may bear no relationship to internal beliefs and emotions. To illustrate, he tells a Stanislayskian story about a Yiddish play back in the ’20s. In one famous scene, an actor spent several excruciating suicidal minutes with a revolver to his head. It was so startlingly nerve-wracking that the audiences came in droves to this theatre down on the Lower East Side just for this one scene. Asked afterward what he was thinking in these moments, the actor explained that he had never experienced a death wish of his own, but the thing he hated most was washing with cold water. While the character onstage was battling with oblivion, the actor was imagining stepping into an icecold shower. The playwright is prompted then to inquire: “If we transfer this situation to political campaigns, who are we really voting for: the self-possessed character who projects dignity, exemplary morals and forthright courage enough to lead us in war or depression, or is he simply good at characterizing a counterfeit with the help of professional coaching, executive tailoring, and that array of technological pretense which the grooming of the president can now employ? Are we allowed anymore to know what is going on not in the candidate’s facial expression and his choice of suit but in his Is the electorate as passive as Miller implies? The more useful questions may be: What role does the spectator/electorate play in this civic drama? Why was Gore criticized as arrogant when he tried to offer facts and argument? Are we getting the performers that we deservethat we script? The candidates may be actors, but how much are voters directing the performance? Miller takes the press to task for falling thrall to a good show, but he does not hold the electorate similarly accountable. Miller sees no escape from “the tragic necessity of dissimulation.” Except in the “other” theatre, onstage, where the artful lie may “construct a vision of some important truth about the human condition that opens us to a new understanding of ourselves.” In the very end, Miller plays the art card: Politicians will come and go, but art is forever. If all else is dissimulation, even if the artist himself [sic] is morally bereft, the artist in the act of creation is the truth-teller: “Tolstoy once remarked that what we look for in a work of art is the revelation of the artist’s soul, a glimpse of God. You can’t act that.” It’s a cheap theatrical trick, trotting out God and soul as his deus ex machina. This romantic notion of art as inspired, as asocial, as divine, doesn’t help further a political analysis. What he’s really doing is analyzing political performance through the eyes of the filmic spectator, enveloped in darkness and the big screen, awash in the infantile plenitude. It is an apolitical position, without room for resistance, let alone change. This occasionthe lecture, and now the bookis a lost opportunity for a more subtle, and useful, analysis of the performative dimensions of politics, and vice versa. Ann Daly teaches performance studies at The University of Texas at Austin. A collection of her writings will be published this spring by Wesleyan University Press. 1/18/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19