Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Class lines on the front lines, part 3: Why facts can't kill prejudice

[A note from Jackrabbit:  after spending the morning counting <span> tags and <div> separators, I finally managed to find the problem which made half my post disappear.  You can now read the whole thing!]

In my last post, we looked at how a couple of really outraged west Laramie residents schooled the AP reporters who portrayed the community as a poverty-class wasteland of despair.  Both wrote letters to the editor of the Boomerang to counteract both the poverty narrative of West Laramie and the notion that Matt's murderers were typical of the people who lived there.  

While I had that little thrill from seeing ordinary Laramie citizens taking on "the man," so to speak, something didn't seem right-- and the more I thought about the AP article and the local response it just didn't feel right.  But after these letters rattled about in my head for a couple months, I finally realized what was bugging me: what's the point of attacking the reporters anyhow?  They aren't the ones who made this story up

 In the month following Shepard's death, locals and former residents attacked that article as everything from "a putdown" to "asinine." My personal favorite was the person who told them to "lose the finger paints."  But none of that changes the fact that the form of that story wasn't an AP construction.  It's ours.  Sure, those AP hacks should be held accountable for their lazy reporting and filling in details which weren't true, but the narrative driving that portrayal is a local product.  It's like slapping that little kid who points out that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes so you can keep pretending that there's no parade going on. 

In short, all these reporters did was to link two firebomb narratives already present in Laramie-- the Shepard beating and the West Laramie class divide-- and do a really lousy job of it.  So when the outrage started, sure, it gave people an opportunity to stick up for the home crowd, but it goes no farther.  They can't exorcise this story from Laramie because it would also mean confronting it head-on.

I guess what I'm saying is that you can never really succeed in attacking a false narrative about power-- whether it's between classes, between races, or genders-- by proving it's not true; you can only attack a powerful narrative by exposing why it exists, what fears it elicits, and who needs that story to be true.  I'd like to spend a little bit of time thinking about that disconnect in the West Laramie story, and why it's still floating around.  But that also means I'm going to go all Marxist/Lacanian analytical on you and pull out some Slavoj Žižek.  You've been duly warned!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Laramie in Pictures: Lincoln Highway

To be honest, I don't really know why somebody felt like naming the highway running from Evanston to Cheyenne after Abraham Lincoln, but the state of Wyoming has always had some sort of Lincoln fetish; we were almost named "Lincoln" instead of Wyoming, there's a Lincoln county.  As far as I've figured out, it's had that name at least since 1913, and that original road became the route for Interstate 80 some decades later.

At the highest point of the pass and just off of Happy Jack Road is an enormous, random monument for Lincoln, standing next to the Interstate named after him.
Lincoln Monument 3It's one of the more eerie feelings as you're driving along on I-80.  You're surrounded by tractor-trailers going twenty miles under the speed limit as they limp their way up the deadly incline, there's nothing but high pink granite walls on both sides, and then, startled, you jerk your head up and say, 
"Oh look, there's an enormous disembodied head of Abraham Lincoln."  
Once you see that behemoth for yourself and the way he hunches over to observe the traffic, usually the second thought in your head (and everyone else's) is this:
"What a minute... um, Mister Lincoln looks like he's standing at a urinal..."
You can see it, can't you?   I guess that the designers of the statue never really considered that most adults have exactly the same imagination as a twelve year-old boy.  

All immature giggling aside, this really is an impressive piece of statuary.  The monument's placement makes it absolutely dominate the landscape, but the natural rock of the pedestal asserts that it is nevertheless a part of the land he gazes upon.  For many this monument is a symbol of Laramie's values.   Some even appeal to the monument to appeal to The Equality State's values of freedom and tolerance.

To be honest, until recently, all I could ever see when I looked at this statue was a giant herma, and that always made me break out into infantile giggles.  (I blame Dr. H., my Laramie Classics professor.  Man, I love that guy.)

I finally had an experience on the Fourth of July this year that forced me to look at the monument in a new light.  I had brought some cool new toys with me to Laramie, a tripod and a remote shutter release, and I wanted to try taking some long exposures of the stars.  I headed up to Happy Jack to my favorite stargazing place only to find that the entire canyon was locked up in heavy, super-low clouds almost brushing the ground.  Rats.

So, I grumbled and stomped my way back to the car, and when I turned around I saw President Lincoln bathed in an eerie orange glow from the sodium lights, with rays of light shooting out of his head.  So, without further ado, here's a view of the Lincoln Monument like you may never see again:

Tree, Lincoln, and Nimbus
This is hands-down my favorite picture I've ever taken.  I just love the rays of sodium light shooting out of his head, like Moses, which light up the world.
Next is a picture of the otherworldly Lincoln from the front:

Abe Lincoln Casts a Long Shadow!

You don't normally think of sky shadows at night. Here's a clearer picture of old Abe's shadow carving shadows on the surface of the fog.  In person it looked more like a deeply layered, three dimensional hole in the sky.

Abe Lincoln Casts a Long Shadow!

After about an hour, the clouds cleared and I finally had a chance to try some night sky shooting.  I'm standing about a mile away from the monument when I took this, which is creating the orange glow at left:

Laramie Night Skies

I hope you enjoy them!


the first picture taken of Lincoln during the daytime comes from Steve-stevens' Flickr photostream, and is available under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Class Lines on the Front Lines, part 2: The Citizens Strike Back!

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at an AP article about the class divide in Laramie, WY from the time of Shepard's murder and how it overplayed a narrative of class antagonism to the point of absolute absurdity.  In their attempt to capture the "feeling" of the social divide in Laramie, the reporters resorted to using tropes that distorted West Laramie's character and had no basis in reality.  The reaction to that AP article, mostly from West Laramie residents, is really quite interesting.  On the one hand, they (rightly) try to attack the article as inaccurate, using their own personal experience as Laramie residents to shore up their claims.  On the other hand, after observing both hate protests and their counter-protesters for the last year or so, I have to ask: how effective is this approach for neutralizing prejudice?  I'll save that for a later post, but let's look at a couple of Laramie responses after the jump! 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

That's one step for justice, one giant leap for Republicans!

CNN is reporting that US federal district judge Virginia Phillips ruled this afternoon to issue a worldwide ban on the enforcement of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the US military, which is a major victory for LGBT groups.  The catch is that the military has 60 days to assess the ruling and decide whether or not they would like the Department of Justice to appeal.  You can see the entire injunction as a PDF here. CNN is also reporting that the ruling will probably be appealed in the next day or to because normal policy is to appeal all decisions which take down a Congressional decision. 

In any case, we have a couple of months to see if it's going to fall now or not, but DADT is very, very close to ending.  But do you know who's been driving this lawsuit for several years?  Log Cabin Republicans.   People within the same party which promoted anti-gay policies for years essentially crippled this massive piece of injustice.   

See, world?  Not all Republicans-- or conservatives-- suck.  No political party can "own" justice because justice is universal.

And appropriately enough, it was announced on October 12.  Maybe there's hope for my old political home after all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Twelve years later: tu benedictus in die natalis sis, Matt...

Another October the 12th is passing, which means one more year to look back on Matt's lamentable death, one more year to get all moody and self-referential, and yet another opportunity to lapse into a misanthropic grouch-fest and hate the whole world because it's such a downer.  I seriously need a more positive way to remember this person whom I had never personally met but who has changed the course of my life in ways I didn't expect.  I need to find a way to commemorate this day in a way that does justice to him and celebrates him in a positive light, not simply as a victim. 

So, where can I go for a different perspective?  Since I'm a medievalist, I guess that my natural impulse is to look backwards to the past for insight, and so pondering my problem eventually brought me to thinking about medieval memorial practices.  In medieval Christian society, for instance, monasteries often kept a calender or roll of their brothers and associates (called a liber vitae or "book of Life") in order to remember their passing.

Although a name in a Liber vitae was an act of commemoration in of itself, sometimes calendars of names organized by death date were used so the community could read their names aloud during the prime hour service as they performed the "work of God" in the cloister.  In those lists, the death date of a person is recorded as their dies natalis-- that is, their "birthday."  It makes a lot of sense from a medieval perspective, as Christianity often talks of that as the day that we are finally and truly freed from the bondage of sin and attain our real home with God when the soul is "born" in heaven.  It's the date of our heavenly birthday. 

This kind of commemoration was important in the monastic setting because it reinforced the sense that their brotherhood was an eternal bond, and that those who passed should continue to be recognized as a part of their community.  It reinforced that death really cannot sever their social, religious and personal ties, and that the departed who served the community in life are still a benefit to their abbey.   

And so, in my struggle to find an appropriate way to remember this day,  I think I'll do it with a celebration of Matt's continued presence and life within my community.  From here on out, this will no longer be for me a time when I'm forced to revisit a horrible, brutal crime that has scarred so many and ended a human life; instead, I'm going to mark this day as Matt's dies natalis, to recognize the part he still plays in my communities: in Laramie, in the states, and in the lives of those who loved him.  Is this the sensible approach that everyone will accept?  Probably not; all I know is that it helps make all of this make sense to me
Memorial bench, Matthew Shepard

Happy 12th birthday, Matthew Shepard.  You are still very much a part of us all.     


Okay, so I couldn't find a picture of a liber vitae under a CC license, so the above picture is a leaf from Yale University, Beinecke Library MS 923, an unusual travel foldaway calendar and prayer book, which is available for CC use via the library's Flickr photostream. This text lists the feast days and/or dies natalis of popular saints (marked with giant, stretched out N's) in October.   The pic of Matthew's memorial is mine and very much free for use.

If you'd like to see what a liber vitae looks like, you can follow this link to one of the more famous manuscripts from the time period I work with.  On this single page of the Durham liber vitae, there's literally dozens of names written in hands at least three centuries apart, and it's remarkable.  

On a side note, October 12 marks the dies natalis for two of the more famous Anglo-Saxon saints:  Wilfrid, who tended to stir the muck, and Edwin, who was the first Anglian king to take up Christianity.  One of the most famous passages of Anglo-Saxon prose comes from his conversion, as recounted by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History 2.13.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Christians?! Speaking out against homophobic bullying??? AWESOME!

I don't know about you, but the recent rash of suicides of gay students in response to bullying really bothers me.  Sure, part of it is just the injustice of it, but after having dealt with the suicide of a gay friend under different circumstance, this is something I tend to take very, very seriously.  After what had happened to Tyler Clementi at Rutgers,  I was really quite encouraged to see how the students of Rutgers had come together to remember him and speak out against his treatment by his roommate. 

One of CNN's religion bloggers, Warren Throckmorton, has thrown down a sort of evangelical gauntlet in front of other Christians on the issue of anti-gay bullying, insisting that Christians need to apply the "Golden Rule" of Jesus to victims of anti-gay violence:  "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets"  (Matt. 7:12).  (Personally, I'd point to the Great Commandment, which insists that we love our neighbor, just like we love ourselves. And upon that, and a love for God, hangs all the law, and all the prophets.) 

Obviously, with my own personal sentiments, this is an argument I find extremely timely for my faith community.  What I find particularly interesting is that Throckmorton holds traditional conservative views on homosexuality-- and yet he's still issuing this appeal:
"As a traditional evangelical, I may have some differences of opinion with my gay friends. However, such ideological differences don’t matter to a middle school child who is afraid to go to school."  
 That's a great place to start from, and it's a lot farther down the road to acceptance than a lot of my fellow evangelical Christians ever get.  I don't know how far we can actually get Christians down that road to acceptance-- but if we can accomplish just this one thing and realize we're not following Jesus' own commandments about loving one's neighbor like we love ourselves, and we can encourage evangelicals to speak out against anti-gay violence and bullying, we could make a huge impact on the injustices inflicted on the LGBT community, and that's nothing to scoff at.  I therefore salute you, Warren Throckmorton, as one Christian to another...