A General Election Conspiracy Party – October 19, 2015

Vancouver’s Theatre Conspiracy was kind enough to invite me to perform a piece as part of their federal election night event last October 19th. Here’s what I performed.



Hi everybody.

I’m here tonight as, I suppose, a member of the “cultural intelligentsia” so despised by some people in this country, maybe even some people in this room.

I must say, this had to be the ugliest, most disillusioning, most disappointing election campaign I’ve ever had the misfortune of living through.

Opportunism, negativity, half-truths and outright lies, inept communications and poor strategizing were the modi operandi of the three major parties, sometimes all at once.

Now, all my life I’ve been a close follower of politics. There was actually a time where I knew the name of every single MP in the House of Commons. Since I reached voting age, I have voted in virtually every single election – federal, provincial, municipal.

So, as anti-establishment as I tend to be, I’ve never been so anti-establishment as to not participate in our electoral system, as fucked up as I know that system is.

But I gotta tell ya, this particular election has been so bruising that it’s got me thinking, Is it really worth it?

Maybe the best way to participate is to not participate.

Maybe the best way to engage is to disengage.

Maybe we idealistic members of the cultural intelligentsia should just hide completely behind our work, retreat into the artistic realm, and be content with being “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” as the poet Shelley called us.

But then I keep going back to the example of Goethe, the great German artist and visionary, who somehow was able to function inside his society’s system and find a way to effect meaningful change as a citizen.

So, right now, internally, I’m caught in this dialectic between these two approaches, between pragmatism and idealism.

Anyways, this morning, when I was sipping espresso romano at Cafe Artigiano, I thought about all the issues that fell by the wayside during this campaign.

Like the $15-per-hour minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage would certainly be one small but significant step in realizing Marx’s dream of removing the worker’s alienation from the products of their labour.

During the campaign there was a rally here in Vancouver advocating for the $15-per-hour minimum wage, which I definitely would have gone to had I not been in New York that same night, attending a symposium about how contemporary poetry is created on the precipice of silence.

Issues pertinent to Indigenous communities were also largely ignored.

Now in my humble opinion, there is nothing more important for the moral fabric of our nation than reconciliation.

In fact, during this campaign I was asked to be a volunteer facilitator at a bridge-building workshop for Indigenous communities and new immigrants. I would have totally agreed to it … except that I had plans that night to dine at Cafe Carthage with a friend and fellow cineaste. Over Pinot Grigio we meditated on Kurosawa and Antonioni.

The great Frankfurt school philosopher Theodor Adorno talks about how in our society concepts cannot find their referents because capitalism invariably distorts reality.

So case in point – this election. The corporatist media pushed certain narratives and certain poll numbers in order to increase the likelihood of election results that would better serve their interests.

During this campaign I was asked to talk to young and first-time voters about these corporatist manoeuvres. I would have absolutely done so … but the proposed date conflicted with the Vancouver Opera’s production of Rigoletto, for which I had complimentary tickets.

So, it’s agonizing. Do I, as a thoughtful artist, engage or not engage? Is it still worth it?

For me at least, it helps to seek inspiration from one of my idols, the late, great, Susan Sontag.

I assume most of you know who Susan Sontag was?

Now Sontag was this committed aesthete who was also burdened with a raging social conscience.

So much so that in the early 90s, at the height of the Bosnian crisis, she flew to Sarajevo to live and work with the people there.

One of the great things she did in Sarajevo was direct a production with local actors of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

And I gotta tell you – it’s just absolutely harrowing to read about how every evening, when the cameras weren’t following her, while scores of people were being killed outside, Susan Sontag  would actually sit in her Executive Suite at the Sarajevo Holiday Inn, planning for the following day’s rehearsals while steady supplies of cigarettes and chianti were delivered to her room.

So. The artist as citizen.

I still cling to the belief that we, as artists, can play a valuable role within the system.

But why does the system have to make it so hard for us?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: