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As I note farther down, IMHO, there are few people on the planet who write as well as Frank Rich when it comes to melding pop culture with our politics. Paraphrasing what someone once commented in one of my earlier diaries on Rich’s prose, ”That’s because politics is kabuki, and nobody writes about theater better than Rich.”

So, in his latest must-read, when he takes on one of the more provocative plays of our time, Bruce Norris’ (who’s white) Clybourne Park, over at New York Magazine, “Post-Racial Farce,” just posted there over the past 24 hours, it’s sure to be thought-provoking even if you don’t agree with everything the guy says.

Words of warning from Rich if you haven’t seen (or heard about) this Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony-nominated show [it “…has been a cultural fixture during much of the Obama presidency. Following its Off Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons in early 2010, it has been produced in Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Los Angeles; London (where it won the Tony equivalent, the Olivier); and Obama’s own town of Chicago…”], and you’re thinking about checking it out (I am): this is not a morally uplifting tale.

Rich tells us that the “…play is set, in two very different American eras 50 years apart—1959 (Act I) and 2009 (Act II). Or nominally different, anyway. Clybourne Park says that when it comes to race in America, not that much has changed over the past half-century, the historic arrival of an African-American family in the White House notwithstanding.

He reminds us that the play’s author “…violates…fundamental maxim[s] of mainstream narratives of American racial history written by whites as well—that they should be uplifting parables with a clear-cut message and, at the end, a glimmer of racial justice yet to come, God be willing. Clybourne Park could not be further removed in sensibility from, say, To Kill a Mockingbird …He reminds us that America has a long way to go before it gets anywhere near its promised nirvana of racial reconciliation, if it ever does. He tells us that unreconstructed white racists, of whom there are still a significant number in America, are not the whole problem. His lunatic humor may not be built for the ages, but it surely encapsulates the lunatic racial atmosphere of the Obama years to date…”

More from Rich…

Post-Racial Farce

Since America elected its first black president, the conversation on race has turned just as loopy as the hilarious and audacious Clybourne Park.

By Frank Rich
New York Magazine
May 20, 2012

…That Norris takes a bleak—albeit frequently hilarious--view of our racial state of affairs is not hard to fathom. For all the national chatter about a “post-racial America” following the 2008 election, America seems more obsessed with race than ever, if less honest about it, since Obama strode onto the national stage. If the official milestones of his administration thus far include the passage of the stimulus and the Affordable Care Act, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the endorsement of gay marriage, they have often been upstaged by the red-letter incidents of racial conflict that have steadily rolled out on a parallel track. Just a short list would include: the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. in Cambridge; the hysterical tea-party rally against health-care reform that showered obscenities on black congressmen entering the Capitol; the ousting of the African-American Department of Agriculture worker Shirley Sherrod after she was libeled as a racist; the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia; the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida; and, this month, the protest of more than 40 percent of West Virginia Democratic-primary voters, who pulled the lever for an obscure white federal-¬prison inmate rather than endorse a second run for the incumbent president of their own party. Last week brought the pièce de résistance: the Times revelation of a proposed super-PAC TV commercial that would slime Obama as pretending to be a “metrosexual black Abe Lincoln.” With material this good, it’s hard for a playwright to keep up. But, Norris comes close…

…There has been change on the American playing field of race since Inauguration Day 2009—not so much for the better or the worse, but a shift into a kind of twilight zone where the nation’s racial conversation has moved from its usual gears of intractability, obfuscation, angry debate, and platitudinous sentimentality to the truly unhinged. It’s as if everyone can now say, well, that’s that, we’ve elected our first African-American president, we can pat ourselves on the back for doing so, and, with that noble and historic accomplishment in the bank, we will sign on to sideshows ranging from a Herman Cain stunt presidential run to a malicious jihad mounted by a right-wing hit man in Los Angeles, Andrew Breitbart, to destroy Sherrod, an obscure federal worker in Georgia. You’d think Obama’s victory gave the entire country permission to act out like the racial brawlers of Clybourne Park.

It has certainly encouraged the GOP to unleash its id and wax with unapologetic nostalgia about the good ole days of the Jim Crow South. Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia issued a proclamation declaring Confederate History Month with no mention of slavery. Rand Paul, when running successfully for senator of Kentucky, disparaged the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Haley Barbour, the former GOP chairman and Mississippi governor and almost presidential candidate, reminisced about how things were not “that bad” back when the segregationist White Citizens’ Councils were in charge of Yazoo City during his halcyon youth. Toss in such other uninhibited party leaders as Newt Gingrich, branding Obama “the best food-stamp president in American history,” and Karl Rove, who labeled the public-spirited rapper Common “a thug” when Obama invited him to a poetry evening at the White House, and you see why some white voters in Steubenville, Ohio, were happy to confide to a Times reporter this month that they wouldn’t be casting ballots for a black man…

…The 2012 contest may be a more revealing indicator of the racial state of the union. Obama is running against the whitest man America could produce--a product of white states, white neighborhoods, and white institutions that include a church that didn’t give African-Americans full equal rights until 1978, well after the Old Confederacy had been forced to surrender to the new order of federal civil-rights laws….

Bold type is diarist’s emphasis.

Rich is always an interesting read, IMHO. Personally, whether or not you agree him on any given topic, I think his sentence, paragraph and story structure is some of the best political writing out there in the MSM today. And, when it comes to writing about the melding of pop culture and politics in our country, there are few, if any, who’ve surpassed this guy’s work…ever (IMHO).

For some background, including info on the actors and their characterizations and how to obtain tickets, here’s an excerpt from NY Magazine’s profile of Clybourne Park

Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris’s dyspeptic mini-epic of race, rage, and real estate, begins in a house in 1959 Chicago and concludes in that same house in 2009, at the dawn of the uneasy Obama Age. No cosmic Thornton Wilder dramaturgy required: This is just an old-fashioned two-act wormhole with White Flight at one end and gentrification, its blithe hipster twin, at the other. What’s changed in between? Not as much as you’d hope, posits Norris, who underlines his argument by deploying the same set of (fearless, fantastic) actors to play perversely analogous parts in both timelines.

Writing with quick, balled fists, debriding wit and feisty gloom (q.v. The Pain and the Itch, his earlier, bitterer experiment in white-liberal vivisection), Norris is unafraid of sacrilege: He grafts Clybourne — all withering contempt, heartsick disappointment, and lip-smacking cynicism — off that great sequoia of uplift A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s mid-century landmark in racial rapprochement for then mostly white Broadway. Fifty years later, still mostly white Broadway is treated to the story of the whites who sold their house to Raisin’s upwardly mobile black family and the ultimate fate of the neighborhood they left behind, and let’s just say uplift is not the primary force at work. Upthrusts, maybe — jagged social tectonics accompanied by immediate cave-ins: These better describe Norris Country, which is similar to the karst ground God of Carnage trod more clumsily and clownishly a couple of seasons ago. Abandon all pieties, ye preening progressives (white or black) who enter here. Clybourne, which took the Pulitzer in 2011, is an excellent play that doesn’t quite rise to greatness. Ultimately, when all the riotous bloodletting is done, Norris substitutes a haunted, cursed-be-Cain melancholy for true moral conclusiveness. But the show is brutally effective comic pessimism, a near-perfect blend of two great American literary pastimes: the comedy of bad manners and the gloves-off, say-anything racial cage match.

Needless to say, nothing stays buried. Norris isn’t above certain groaning tropes of armchair-racist indelicacy: breezy sociobiological conjectures about who skis and who doesn’t, the classic “half my friends are black” rallying cry of the cornered white liberal…

Clybourne Park has absolutely secured its place as a fantastic abattoir of middle-class self-regard, a mass joke-letting that’s smart enough to deny us catharsis. Norris ends by conjuring images over which he exerts imperfect control: a wraith from the past, a flashback that overstays its welcome by a few overwritten lines. (Some buried boxes are more powerful unopened, unexplicated.) Clybourne Park may not be a perfect and inviolate marble monument, but on the infinite road to utopia, a solid mile-marker might even be more important. — Scott Brown

Originally posted to on Mon May 21, 2012 at 11:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Excellant Post bobswern: (5+ / 0-)

    In the "post racial" America, the hard right - is there any other type? continue to say that Obama is the most DEVISIVE president of all time.

    I agree.  The conservatives hate him more than anyone before and since, mostly because he simply is black.  Its not the policies that are devicive, any policy that comes from this "Black" president is devicive.

    "How can the United States be the Greatest Nation ever if it is the only modern nation where citizens hold bake sales to pay for life saving medical care?" Single payer is coming but how many people will die before it becomes the only solution?

    by 4CasandChlo on Mon May 21, 2012 at 11:05:47 AM PDT

  •  What post-racial America? (5+ / 0-)

    If the unremitting drumbeat of hard-right criticism of Obama isn't enough, doesn't the whole Trayvon Martin thing tell you that "post-racial" is the pipe dream of a centrist?

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Mon May 21, 2012 at 11:14:54 AM PDT

  •  ha, now it all makes sense (6+ / 0-)

    and I used to think it was odd for a theater reviewer to jump to politics

    thank you random commenter

    Paraphrasing what someone once commented in one my earlier diaries on Rich’s prose, ”That’s because politics is kabuki, and nobody writes about theater better than Rich.”

    "I'm sculpting now. Landscapes mostly." ~ Yogi Bear

    by eXtina on Mon May 21, 2012 at 11:29:11 AM PDT

  •  I still think we have a money problem... (7+ / 0-)

    more than a racial problem. Not saying that there aren't ignorant racists out there, and I as a white male get the benefit of the doubt from cops, employers and all that, but now that we are fighting for scraps while the 1% loots the country while the first black President sits in the White House we were bound to see race come to the forefront.

    If we were living under more equitable economic conditions we'd see less people firing off nonsense about Obama and him being black. Post racial society talk is nonsense. We are always going to be a tribal nation, but when we all have a decent chunk of the economic pie those tribes will get along better.  

    As a nation, the U.S. consumes the most hot dogs per capita. So you'd be wise to never underestimate our powers of denial.

    by jbou on Mon May 21, 2012 at 11:52:35 AM PDT

    •  Income inequality is undermining much more... (7+ / 0-)

      ...progress in America than many (especially) on the right acknowledge it. This isn't a subjective comment. It's a statistically/historically proven fact (many times over).

      "I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong." --Katharine Graham

      by bobswern on Mon May 21, 2012 at 11:57:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  (shares asbestos cape) Truth! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jbou, joe shikspack

      But someone's going to be unable to handle that before the day's out, sad to say.  

      "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity" -W.B. Yeats

      by LucyandByron on Mon May 21, 2012 at 12:10:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  black against white... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lostinamerica, jbou, bobswern

      young against old, men against women, protestants against catholics, middle class against poor...  it's all just grist for the 1% to do their divide and conquer schtick.  it's the oldest game in politics, but it seems to work just about every time with the same predictable results. at least until the guillotines come out and the lower classes try to switch from eating cake to getting a piece of the pie. (after which the cycle repeats)

      i'm part of the 99% - america's largest minority

      by joe shikspack on Mon May 21, 2012 at 12:27:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Not really possible to disentangle (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Since income and race are so correlated. Each feeds into the other in ways that make it practially nonsensical to try to separate them.

      I think of it as a socio(incl. racial)economic division, that includes all kinds of complex interactions

      Courtesy Kos. Trying to call on the better angels of our nature.

      by Mindful Nature on Mon May 21, 2012 at 02:15:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  yeah... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mindful Nature

        but you can't change race but you can change how much money people make. People tend to worry about money problems which causes them to be angry and scared and to lash out. If you take away the money problems you will have less people lashing out.

        As a nation, the U.S. consumes the most hot dogs per capita. So you'd be wise to never underestimate our powers of denial.

        by jbou on Mon May 21, 2012 at 02:19:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  thanks bobswern, for another great diary... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bobswern, Lily O Lady, Wolf10

    theres nothing post-racial about the country i live in

    americans views on race and class are distorted daily by fox's noise machine and the elected teabagger pols clammoring for fame in our soundbite world

    what a sorry mess we have to clean

  •  I've been watching quite a few (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bobswern, Wolf10

    PBS Henry Louis Gates family tree shows. The pain of slavery is palpable not only for the slaves descendents  but for liberal whites who discover their families role in that awful system. It's powerful stuff. I hate to admit it but I couldn't quite figure out why Mr. Gates was so familiar to me and lo and behold here in your diary I realize he was the Gates professor from Cambridge of the have a beer summit .

    Hadn't thought about your bolded text of Mitt being the whitest of white before, but have to admit it makes sense.

    music- the universal language

    by daveygodigaditch on Mon May 21, 2012 at 01:13:30 PM PDT

  •  Excellent read as always by you and Frank Rich... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bobswern, Wolf10

    both you and he provide real informative and insightful things for us to read and expand our understanding of today.

    Plato's " The Cave" taught me to question reality.

    by CTDemoFarmer on Mon May 21, 2012 at 01:17:05 PM PDT

  •  Are you freaking kidding me? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wolf10, bobswern
    this month, the protest of more than 40 percent of West Virginia Democratic-primary voters, who pulled the lever for an obscure white federal-¬prison inmate rather than endorse a second run for the incumbent president of their own party.
    wow.  Just wow.

    words fail.

    Courtesy Kos. Trying to call on the better angels of our nature.

    by Mindful Nature on Mon May 21, 2012 at 02:12:11 PM PDT

  •   Calling Obama divisive (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wolf10, bobswern

    Is  like  calling the KKK  inclusive , Obama know in his heart of heart ,that lots of people are opposing him only because he is black ,but he cannot openly say it , i have not seen anything personally Obama has did to offend some Whites , only for him being elected as  President

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