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Sunday, January 10, 2016

the hegemony of drama

The Hegemony of Drama

I hold my heart in my hands letting my blood freely flow


                Ira B. Jones, "the sign of freedom"


only fools don't intimately know ghosts,

the  dna of humanity, leaping like porpoises slick out of the sea


                Kalamu ya Salaam, "Ghosts"


Cognitive restructuring of behaviors through moral justification and palliative characterizations is the most effective psychological mechanism for promoting destructive conduct. (172)


                Albert Bandura. "Mechanisms of moral disengagement. " Origins of Terrorism. Ed. Walter Reich.

                Washington, D C: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998. 161-191.



If you are an American of a certain age and ethnic group, it is possible to reread Bill Gunn's Black Picture Show (Berkeley: Reed, Cannon and Johnson, 1975) and have an overdose of nostalgia . There actually was a time when every movement or word was not a performance?  The poetic language of Gunn's play reminds you it was once possible to discriminate what was pretense from what was intended to be serious.  Contemporary culture minimizes such discrimination.  The world is not like a stage; the world is a stage.  The Renaissance metaphor has lost its charm.  The metaphor is plain, ugly fact.

Under these circumstances, your rereading of the play is a performance, an involuntary admission that what Black Picture Show depicts is the thin line between the insanity of what is normal in 2016 and recognition, possible way back  in 1975,  that certain abnormal entrapments were  not alien in the worlds of American theatre. Over a period of forty years, the rules of the game you play with race cards have changed very little.  Assisted by technological changes and American moral regression, the rules have become more deadly.

In a gripping bit of monologue, Alexander, the poet/playwright/protagonist, recites

Some piece of European truth

that has dearly come apart

emaciates my blood

and manipulates

my heart.


I have come to understand

through the accident of stress

that art devoid of me is


at best. (82)


Alexander sends a most discomforting "truth" about art into your ears.  Alexander's words, like those which challenge and tantalize you in some plays by Adrienne Kennedy and Suzan-Lori Parks, an absence or gap of meaning that is not filled by the critically acclaimed plays of August Wilson or by the overwhelming popular productions in several genres of works by Tyler Perry. You begin to think about the probable crisis of art in America.


 Through distress you gaze into an abyss with stoic awareness that you and people like you signify nothing, or signify a lot that has come to mean very little.  Your exaggerated sentiments are grounds for claiming that the paucity of serious discussion of plays by African Americans from 1975 to now is a flaw in the production/performance of how we ought to account for black writing.  You are thinking of plays that get reviewed nowhere.


The hegemony of drama in our social and political lives seems to have silenced our voices about Black Picture Show and kindred plays that seek to create rather than merely perform emancipating languages. Why do we so willing swallow whatever panders to our foibles? We have not been sufficiently proactive  in calling out the hegemony of drama for the obscenity that it is, or in cursing about  the moral disengagement  so highly prized and rewarded by the Academy and the Establishment.  We have not fought hard enough to create conversations about the work, let us say, of Harold E. Clark, a New Orleans playwright who is morally engaged. Those of us who say we are deeply interested in black writing must, unfortunately, live with our complicity in being performed by theory and praxis into self-destructive conduct.


Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            January 10, 2016

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