‘Angels in America’
As a graduate, former employee and adamant apologist of the Arkansas Governor’s School, I am responding to Max Brantley’s July 14 column “Dumb and Dumber.” The piece addresses the Right’s ire over an assigned reading from Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” at this summer’s AGS program, and it unfortunately accuses the program of taming its curricula for Governor Huckabee and the larger influence of the Right. While I have no first-hand information about Kushner-gate or whatever it is that people are calling this non-scandal, I would like to situate Mr. Brantley’s column in a wider historical context.
I recognize that Mr. Brantley sees this non-scandal for what it is: the indefatigable efforts of the Religious Right to denigrate the program as a “liberal indoctrination” camp. I’m sure he would agree that this issue is rooted in the propaganda campaign that painted AGS as a site of “liberal brainwashing” (from “The Guiding Hand,” a short film that tried to tarnish the program and Bill Clinton, who heavily influenced it) in order to smear Clinton during the early 1990s.
Many of those associated with the program worry about its funding from year to year. Because so many people who work for AGS must be conscious of the potential for a public relations catastrophe owing to the scrutiny coming from the Right, I find it unfair for Mr. Brantley to describe AGS as “tamed” and incapable of defending its objects of study. In fact, the curricula steadfastly challenge students to interrogate their assumptions about knowledge and culture. The program has to go about this with a certain degree of diplomacy stay under the radar of the Right’s surveillance.
I sincerely doubt that Chris Campolo, the director of the program, is incapable of responding to criticism that some texts are “sinful and unworthy of serious scholarship,” to use Mr. Brantley’s words. The problem, though, is that such an argument — especially when it deals with homosexuality or religion — can never be won because it always boils down to questions of values, and no argument can overcome such fundamental, a priori assumptions.
For these reasons, officials at AGS must make nice with Arkansas politics. The future of the program — and its ability to present untamed materials — may well depend on such diplomacy.
I have to say that Max Brantley was really reaching by making a big deal out of the recent Governor’s School decision not to study “Angels in America.” I think going by the MPAA rating system makes sense. PG-13 is okay. R is not, at least for many 16-year-olds.
Do the majority of Governor’s School attendees have the maturity level to appreciate it for what it is? Probably so, but that should be for the students and parents to decide together, not for a summer camp to decide. Brantley basically thinks that the objections were for the “sinful” nature of the piece. I don’t know if that’s true, but it is probably shortsighted that he went to the most far-right examples of criticism of the play to illustrate his point.
He also held up “Passion of the Christ” as a work of art rated R that would be appropriate. He might as well have thrown in “Schindler’s List.” But that’s not the point. The delicate nature of “Angels in America” is, and he should know that a proper discussion of the material by officials, incoming students and their parents would be the most appropriate venue. Let them know what they will be studying during the summer, and if they deem it inappropriate, they can opt for an alternative or skip the camp altogether. In the absence of that, I see nothing wrong with taking the play off the table.
By the way, I have seen “Angels in America,” all six hours of it, on Broadway with the original cast in November of 1993. It was half entertaining, half excruciating, mostly overrated. But that’s just my opinion. I saw it when I was 22, not 16. Would it have made a difference? Who knows? But I would always err on the side of caution when it comes to other people’s children. Apparently, Brantley does not.
From the Internet
I’ve been reading your blog for the last couple of months. I think it’s great.
About the comments some readers offer I can only refer to a quote I ran across this very morning.
“I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.” — Solomon Short.
J. Craig Barnes
A recent letter writer’s assertion that it is “not a violation of dignity or privacy for employees to submit to a urine sample for drug testing” leads me to wonder what he’s been smoking. Aside from the obvious humiliation of being observed while urinating — an act considered extremely private in our society — there is the even greater degradation of being proven so subservient to another person/entity that the body’s interior can be searched on demand.
Unlike the peculiar circumstances of the military, in the real world it is not the employer’s nor the government’s business what a person may ingest on his or her own time. Government has bribed and bullied employers into serving as an enforcer of its drug laws. But despite government propagandizing to the contrary, urine tests don’t improve workplace safety because they don’t test for current intoxication. A 1994 committee report by the National Academy of Sciences (“Under the Influence? Drugs and the American Work Force”) concluded that “the data ... do not provide clear evidence of the deleterious effects of drugs other than alcohol on safety and other job performance indicators.” It would take a blood test to show active intoxicants.
Instead, most positive employer tests find inert metabolites of THC, which show up for two to four weeks after someone smokes marijuana. So instead of weeding out those who are not good workers, such tests require that a person’s life on and off the job meet criteria set by an employer — nothing less than a condition of slavery.
It is a myth that drug testing improves productivity. A 1998 Working USA study of 63 high-tech companies found that pre-employment and random drug testing were both associated with lower productivity. The researchers, economists at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, speculated that drug testing programs may create a “negative work environment” that repels qualified applicants and damages employee morale.
Regarding North Little Rock’s proposed ballpark construction tax, I appreciate the commentary offered by Arkansas Times. Warwick Sabin and Max Brantley raise good questions and have made important observations about North Little Rock’s rush to the polls. The political and financial expediency is alarming, and I speak for thousands of north shore residents when I say the doubling of our city sales tax is extraordinarily burdensome and plainly wrong.
Especially disturbing has been the absence of dialogue among city leaders and the public. There was no public hearing about a sales tax, no public hearing about whether a special election should be held. When the City Council voted to place the sales tax issue on the ballot, no public comment was allowed. Subsequently, residents have been allowed to speak at City Council meetings, but their questions and concerns are not publicly addressed.
The avoidance of public discussion is because the proposed sales tax will take more than $30 million out of the pockets of consumers who may not give a hoot about baseball and/or who cannot afford groceries, utilities and other essentials as it is. Also, it can’t be easy to look voters in the eye and say, “Pardon me while I raise taxes in North Little Rock to the highest levels in the U.S.” Or, “What do you think of paying 12 percent sales tax on a hamburger at the drive-thru?”
Hays and others say we’ll have our chance to speak at the polls on Aug. 9. I would prefer a public hearing and true dialogue, but it’s not going to happen.
North Little Rock