Fascists Put Shakespeare in the Park in their Crosshairs

June 18, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


Since 1954, the Public Theater has been staging free productions of Shakespeare’s plays in the urban oasis of Central Park. Shakespeare in the Park is a beloved cultural tradition in New York, where words written four centuries ago interact with the modern intrusions of Manhattan, creating an unforgettable experience. Shakespeare himself is one of the pillars of the Western Canon, long considered essential to a strong liberal arts education. Unfortunately, none of these things, not longevity or esteem or tradition or canonization, protects us from the repressive machinery of fascism.

The same fascists who claim the mantle of free speech for Anne Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, and other hate-spewing, genocide-advocating mouthpieces of the Trump/Pence regime have viciously attacked the Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park for its current production of Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar is a play that tackles questions of power and morality, and has a long tradition of interpretations that respond to contemporary politics. In this version, Caesar is a Trump-like modern leader with a Slavic wife and a cell phone addiction.

Even before the play’s opening night, the fascists swooped down. A Breitbart headline read, “Company Behind Trump Assassination ‘Julius Caesar’ Play Received $30M from Taxpayers.” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech and does that change things?” Other outlets have called this a “death threat” against Donald Trump, once again whipping up a frenzy among a base of violent vigilantes who routinely issue actual death threats, whose rabid members have already taken the lives of innocent people.

Bob Avakian: Observations on Art and Culture, Science and PhilosophyBob Avakian: Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy

"If you don’t have a poetic spirit—or at least a poetic side—it is very dangerous for you to lead a Marxist movement or be the leader of a socialist state." – Bob Avakian, BAsics 6:5

This provocative collection of reflections and observations by Bob Avakian on art, culture, science and philosophy offers a rare treat. Excerpted from formal talks as well as more informal discussions and conversations, many of the texts in this collection allow the reader to experience firsthand the freewheeling Bob Avakian—in the process of developing his thinking and reenvisioning the communist project on a wide range of controversies, from the dictatorship of the proletariat to discussions of truth, beauty, science and imagination.

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Under pressure, Delta Airlines and Bank of America withdrew their sponsorship, and in a disgusting, cowardly capitulation to these illegitimate terms, the National Endowment for the Arts issued a statement denying any financial connection to the production. The NEA is supposed to be an “independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens” the arts. Instead, the NEA threw the Public Theater under the bus and normalized these threats to artistic freedom. In contrast, the director of the Public Theater has been unapologetic and resolute, urging the audience to record and share his opening night defense of the arts. Theater critics have praised the production and Alec Baldwin called on supporters to make up the lost corporate funding with individual donations.

This is yet another illustration of how fascists only advocate for freedom of speech when it is on their terms, giving them a platform for their ideology that has terrifying consequences for millions of people. Free-flowing artistic expression, especially artistic expression that threatens the ruling norms, cannot be tolerated under fascism. This pressure from the highest levels of power and influence is an insidious form of government censorship. It submerges the art world in a climate of fear and timidity. It suppresses and eventually eliminates debate and dissent. It extinguishes the power of art.

Theater companies all over the country have staged interpretations of Julius Caesar through the lens of the Trump presidency. This is what good art should be doing—reflecting and responding to the big questions of our time. A wide variety of artists, from the avant garde to interpreters of older forms, have been finding creative and provocative ways of dealing with our current reality. Recently the Dresden Symphony Orchestra played a “Tear Down this Wall!” concert at the U.S.-Mexico border. This concert was supposed to be played on both sides of the border, but even this was deemed too threatening. In the end, the concert was held entirely in Mexico.

Art is supposed to be provocative. It should cause us to think deeply about the world as it is and envision, even briefly, a different possibility. This is the reason artists are threatened under fascism. We must fiercely defend them, with all of our determination, and we must, in our millions, get into the streets to drive out this fascist regime.


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