September 10th, 2022
The number of incidents in which civilians and audience members have been compelled to violate the sanctity of the Stage and attack Free Speech in the year 2022 – in addition to the years since Cancel Culture became just as much of a trend as an isolated phenomenon – has increased with unusual vigor. In this essay, I will attempt to seek the cause of this new uptick which in its most recent manifestation nearly took the life of a prominent and historical author.
The Stage as Mirror
What is the Stage? Is the purpose of the Stage to provide entertainment? Or, is it so that we can see ourselves and learn something from investing our attention into what we are presented with? Is it so we can see the whole of what we are – from the beginning, to the middle to the end? If this is true than quite fundamentally, every part of the world – as the anonymous author of the works of William Shakespeare famously stated – is itself a stage.
However, in my view, we as human beings do not or, cannot always see the whole series of events which surround and encapsulate us and we can only observe the whole truth in pieces and fragments. This is where the role of the Artist comes into play. It is the role of the Artist – perhaps in a foolish, courageous and romantic endeavor – to see who we are and show the rest of us in some complete, digestible or, even entertaining form or, method – all that we are and all of what we do. I believe that all true art and all true writing is Truth Telling and any work that does not tell the truth disrespects the purpose of the existence and often is lost and forgotten in the sands of time. This is because the nourishment which humanity most needs in times of struggle, distress and hopelessness must be the Truth because if it was not, it would not be able to convince the mind, the heart and the spirit of its value and also provide something of value in return. The Truth shows us that everything in nature moves in cycles and shifts and that which is lost can be found, whoever is hopeless can find hope, whoever is down can find a way to be uplifted and those who oppress, tyrannize and attempt to hold onto power and resist the flows and the cycles of nature will be overtaken and replaced. In this way, the work, the depictions and the art which is most representative of Truth is the work which more successfully persists through time because it is this work which human beings treasure and hold closest to their heart and also fight to protect and preserve to keep with them.
I have been greatly disappointed and likewise dispirited on the attack on free speech and free expression which we have seen grow into gross and excessive proportions in recent years at a rapid pace. The amount of false truth telling and fake information we are seeing from scholars, academics and journalists – likely influenced by the ever expansive tentacles and reach of the worlds intelligence agencies – have now started to inject their poison into the minds and hearts of everyone – artists, entertainers, public figures of all kinds including civilians and the last bastion and mainstay of truth tellers – Comedians.
The Comedian as Fool – The Comedian as Truth Teller
In order to discover the truth one must be able to think and see freely. In order to deliver the truth, one must be able – and allowed by society – to speak freely. This is such a simple and fundamental component of our human existence and so integral to our well being that I cannot understand how or, why the assaults on free speech today are not more concerning or, seeing more pushback from everyday people. The Comedian has consistently been a strong advocate for Free Speech and Free Expression simply because they craft their work based on immediate audience feedback and also say what everyone is thinking but might be afraid to say. I have written an essay on my website, on the importance of Free Speech and how Comedians have long been at the center of fighting against the restraints of Censorship for decades and perhaps centuries. When it comes to Truth telling, there is a fine line between the mode and tone which is used and there is a fine line between Comedy and Tragedy.
“This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy for those that feel1” – Horace Walpole
I personally believe humanity oscillates between both of these meanings consistently and depending on the circumstances. Both of these extremes however, allow us to experience a kind of catharsis. There is some offloading of stress and perhaps an exchange of energy which helps us cope with the struggles and pains of life. In my view, it is almost as if both Comedy – through laughter – and Tragedy – through the shedding of tears – allow us to disconnect from our bondage to life or, the illusion of reality for a brief moment. There is something powerful in this observation of mine. Since as we know, physical reality is considered by our wisest, prophets, sages, philosophers, writers and artists – to be an illusion.
So, with these views in mind, when I witnessed what took place on March 27th, 2022 at the 94th Academy Awards when renowned Comedian, Chris Rock – who was presenting the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature – after making what I as well as most people have considered to be a lightweight joke about Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head and likening it to the image of GI Jane (a fictional character portrayed by a female who shaved her head upon joining the US Army) – I as well as everyone who viewed this particular segment of the ceremony were quietly stunned. Many have speculated that Smith – who had been laughing at the joke when it was initially delivered – was spurred by his wife to do something about the situation and of all the things that Smith could have done, on arguably the most important day of his professional life, he chose to go off script and assault not only a fellow celebrity, peer and friend but also disrespect and desecrate whatever value or, dignity the Academy Awards still hold in our society and culture.
No one was harmed in this incident, thankfully – and the professionalism displayed by Chris Rock allowed the ceremony to go on uninterrupted. However, to see an instance of such behavior on the world stage – which should be appropriately viewed as an assault on Free Speech and Expression – by an individual who also considers themselves to be an Artist and Performer – apart from being a lowly, desperate and pathetic act – seemed to me at least possibly be an indication of something else that is occurring in our modern societies and cultures.
I am sure that Psychiatrists and Psychologists would have a field day examining the behavior which Will Smith exhibited on this particular evening and ironically, as I did a brief amount of research on the words Stage and Mirror, I found the below information attributed to Sigmund Freud regarding what is known as the Mirror Stage of early childhood development which may or, may not be relevant to any issues Will Smith might personally be facing. Whatever the case might be, I am sure most can agree that the act was rooted in some degree of Narcissism, either Smith’s own or, his wives’.
Since the event took place in March 2022, less than 2 months later, an audience member – armed with a gun and a knife, tackled another famous comedian, Dave Chappelle on May 4th at a Netflix is a Joke festival in Los Angeles, CA. Chappelle, fortunately escaped injury and the attacker was apprehended and arrested but anyone who became aware of the incident saw immediate and direct parallels to the Chris Rock incident from earlier in the year. It is indeed strange and troublesome that there was a visible increase in possible and potential harm which could have taken place from the first incident to the second incident.
As if the trend of attacking the sanctity and stage of Free Speech somehow continued to weave its thread this year. Salman Rushdie, a prominent Indian-born British-American novelist was the victim of an assassination attempt after he was stabbed by a man and nearly killed upon delivering a lecture in Chautauqua, New York on August 12, 2022.
Although Rushdie has survived the attack, it has been reported that he has lost an eye and is still in recovery. After this third event of an audience member attempting to harm a Speaker, Performer or, Individual who is entitled to their right to Free Speech. I immediately wondered whether the attacker acquired any degree of confidence, nerve or, motivation from the attacks which occurred earlier in this year. I suppose that short of a confession from the attacker himself, we may never know the answer to this question and in a strange way, I suspect that there is some link which has not yet been verified. So, what could be going on in the world today that is causing people to be so bold, and fearless to attempt to cause harm to public figures on such a scale of visibility. A part of me wonders that the violation of individual personal rights across the world over – from the vaccine mandates as well as the violation of privacy by major Technological companies. From a performance stand point, there has always been a Fourth Wall which is acknowledged between performers and speakers and the audience and this boundary has usually been respected.
BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL
Are people fed up with what they are seeing on the World Stage? Are human beings beginning to be unable to distinguish between Reality and Fantasy?
In today’s world, with the rise of social media and also technological capabilities. The ability to create content is available to anyone and I would argue that there is too much content being created and not enough content with right messages and completely representative of Truth. Everyday people can have mass followings and become a celebrity in their own right and participate in the celebrity experience. I do not believe this is altogether a bad thing – however, I believe it can have a negative impact if the meanings and the values which are being presented to the world by content creators are not beneficial for the growth and understanding, health and welfare of the people. Instead of seeing what we need to see, people are opting to see only what they want to see. Has social media allowed human beings to be bold enough to project their narratives and realities onto the world stage?
The Fourth Wall is defined as, “a performance convention in which an invisible, imaginary wall separates actors from the audience. While the audience can see through this wall, the convention assumes the actors act as if they cannot. From the 16th century onward, the rise of illusionism in staging practices, which culminated in the realism and naturalism of the theatre of the 19th century, led to the development of the fourth wall concept.”4
THE BREAKING DOWN AND THE EROSION OF BOUNDARIES
I have always felt that the success of our societies is based in self governance – which is nothing more than an exercise in Self Control, Self Restraint and Self Discipline. If every individual practiced a personal level of control and self understanding, there would not be a need for an expanding Government and a small Government would naturally be able to intrude less in the affairs of its populations. Yet, in today’s world, there is so much to keep track of, so many temptations, distractions and an endless stream of information – both true and false. Have human beings bitten off more than they can chew? Are we losing our ability to control ourselves in an age of so much reckless indulgence and careless consumerism?
There is a strong disregard and impatience for what we are seeing on the world stage or, in the mainstream media and since there has been so many moral and ethical violations between what we are presented and shown and what we believe to be true that the boundaries have become blurred. We live in desperate times and while this is by no means an excuse for the criminal behavior outlined in the incidents and attacks outlined above and which we have witnessed so far this year. The question is, are these erosion of boundaries, agreements and structure in society a sign of a rising Chaos and a decline in Order? Are these events isolated or, are they truly apart of a larger trend which I personally believe they could be. I suppose that as we march deeper into the 21st Century – only time will tell!
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_wall | Bell, Elizabeth S. (2008). Theories of Performance. Sage. p. 203. | Wallis, Mick; Shepherd, Simon (1998). Studying plays. Arnold. p. 214.