Friday, October 10, 2008


If you've never heard it, you owe it to yourself to listen to this priceless classic. Ira Glass's 1997 interview with an amateur actor on what delineates a bad night on the stage from a total fiasco delved into the exquisite point at which a crowd shifts from pulling for the actors on stage to turning on them completely. The interview was described by a diarist on Daily Kos not long ago this way:
The host, Ira Glass, chats with an amateur actor on the difference between a real fiasco and a bad night. Audiences, they decide, root for actors to have a great evening. A great evening for actors means a great evening for the theater-goer who has paid good money for a good time. Paradoxically, a glitch or two during a performance usually makes the audience root even harder for the actors to have a good show. But a certain point - a tipping point - enough goofs and the audience gives up on the show and they turn on the actors. The audience actively roots for the actors to goof up more.
Indeed, in the interview, they discuss how the audience becomes just short of blood thirsty. Perhaps they subconsciously decide they'll get their money's worth from this production if they have to take a bite out of the actors' hide to do so. In the end, the night will still have been a total theatrical disaster, but at least the audience will have contributed to, rather than been the victims of, the meltdown.

I was thinking about this when it dawned on me that the mood in New York seems to have shifted from one of palpable panic last week to a remarkably numb sensation about the economy this week. It's almost as if we're at that tipping point where it's clear no financial wizard is going to swoop in and save this situation. There's no reason to go on pretending things might reverse themselves and tomorrow all will be back to normal. We are witnessing a true fiasco, and we have stopped rooting for the actors---Paulson, Bernanke, Bush, etc.---and are approaching the point at which we're now simply expecting them to screw things up even more.

There's anger out there, no doubt. You see it in the crowds that Governor Palin seems to willingly work up into a frenzy (and why not, if she succeeds in creating a furious mob that will carry her to the Vice Presidency, she can always resort, once she's in power, to shooting the rabid citizens still foaming at the mouth from Air Force Two's helicopter). But there's also, at least temporarily, a strange calm. As if the whole thing is so surreal you can't help but watch it in stupefied wonder.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to see the economy worsen just for the absurdist entertainment value of it. I realize folks are already seriously hurting, and there's plenty of pain in store for the rest of us. It's just I can't bring myself to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the theater any longer. I've paid for my ticket, I certainly want something for my money, the actors unquestionably suck, and it's foolish to imagine they'll get it together at this point...what else is there to do to make it all less of a loss than to sit back and relish in just how badly they can continue to f*ck it all up?

Oh, have I mentioned. Vote for Obama.

Labels: economy, politics


Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Love this post- thanks Ed!

I was suprised at something I saw on the news where Nancy Pelosi stood up and said- let's bring in part 2 of the economic stimulus package that was supposed to come into play if the rebate checks they issued in may or june did not work- and then bush is reportedly going to veto it- huh?

10/10/2008 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

If you ask me it's a farce. She shouts "the party is over" while handing out free tickets to the elite under the table.

But if you wanna know where the word fiasco comes from, here's the link!

10/10/2008 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Without being oblivious to the larger financial picture, I wonder where this leaves the artworld and its constituents.

Will corporations continue to fund non-profit institutions? Will private donations continue to fund the non-profits? Will corporate collecting continue? Will private collecting continue? How many galleries will not be able to hang on? Where do newly-unrepresented artists go now? What happens to the art prices that galleries and artists have worked so hard to establish? Will grant-giving be reduced? Will museum attendance drop? And if so, will there be cuts in programs and staff? Will art school enrollment drop? And if so, will there be personnel cuts? Will the cost of art supplies go up? What will happen to studio buildings owned by over-leveraged landlords?

I'm not being rhetorical. Are there financial folks out there who have a clue to any of this?

10/10/2008 12:14:00 PM  
Anonymous LOL said...

Me, in my opinion, if there is an important fellow from now in a century or two--well! he will have hidden himself all his life in order to escape the influence of the market… completely mercenary [laughs] if I dare say.

10/10/2008 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger Balhatain said...

Some of the best art comes out of times that were economically hard. So my guess is that if things go cold artists will keep the coals burning for when the economy is better. There always seem to be an art world boom after hard times if you think about it.

I'm concerned about early art education though. Middle school and high school art programs are always the first programs to be dropped even when the economy is good.

That is one reason why I think blogs like Winkleman's, AFC, and others are so important. As long as you have an internet connection you can learn about art at no cost-- aside from the cost of having internet connection in the first place.

By the way Ed, any current words on gallery closings?

10/10/2008 02:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, the secret service went over those tapes and questioned agents there. The crowd was saying "tell him" and "tell them" NOT "kill him". So maybe the crowd was not as fanatic as you think.

10/17/2008 06:05:00 PM  

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