Monday, November 3, 2008

What will a new president do for the arts?

Michelle Obama recently took some relatives to see a revue at a Chicago theatre. Her husband did not accompany them. He'd already been to see a production of The Color Purple a few nights before, and anyway, it probably wasn't appropriate: the show was called Between Barack and a Hard Place, and it made comedy of the last days of the primaries as Hillary Clinton fought vainly to knock down a man who, the show suggested, somehow managed to be black, white, Jewish, Latino, gay and, if needs must, a soccer mom too. He was something to everyone, and a liberal's dream.
Liberals may or may not see their dreams come true tomorrow, but whether Obama or McCain is elected the 44th President of the United States, we might wonder what will unfold in the arts in the coming years. Won't many writers and artists lose their muse - along with their enemy - when Bush disappears? We've had countless Bush-era movies, from Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss to Oliver Stone's W.; we've had books such as Nicholson Baker's Bush-assassination novella Check-point and Curtis Sittenfeld's roman à clef, American Wife, wondering at how Laura Bush turned from a liberal-leaning librarian into the Republican First Lady.
The past eight years have also produced a flourishing of political art, so much so that when a Los Angeles print publisher decided to produce a portfolio to be sold in aid of the Obama campaign it managed to extract designs from the likes of Jasper Johns, Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly and Ed Ruscha, and raised $3 million.
No, creative liberals won't be sorry to see the back of Bush. But might an Obama presidency be just too much of a good thing? Happiness writes white, after all. John Lahr, the theatre critic of The New Yorker, says: “Historically, in times when there is change or hope, there is much more protest and wideranging opinion and activity in Broadway's experimental theatres. People feel that someone will listen. What we've had for the past eight years is a kind of torpor and resignation, and that's made theatre lose a lot of heat. I think there will be a lot more political, polemical stuff.”

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