"Life imitates art far more that art imitates life." This Oscar Wilde aphorism came to mind recently when I read that some New York theaters are presenting new productions of Samuel Beckett’s play "Waiting for Godot." It struck me that there are similarities with this baffling play and some of the goings on in our contemporary society.
Since its premier in 1953, Waiting for Godot has become a cult favorite with intellectual elites. The New York Times drama critic gave the New York premier a rave review. Some critics voted it "The most influential play of the 20th century." Other critics as well as many audiences were less than kind in their reaction to the play. I prefer the depiction by British actor Robert Morley: "This is the end of the theater as we have known it."
Beckett’s play and similar works of art are characterized as "Theater of the Absurd." This is an apt description because Waiting for Godot is a play wherein nothing happens in either of its two acts. One reviewer was prompted to describe the work as "a play where nothing happens twice." We are reminded of minimalist composer John Cage’s famous piano composition where the piano is not played and the concert hall remains silent. The soloist closes the keyboard lid to indicate that the first movement has begun. The keyboard lid is briefly opened and closed two more times to indicate the beginnings of the second and third movements. At the completion of the silent composition, the soloist opens the keyboard lid, stands and bows to the audience.
In Beckett’s play, two despondent tramps await the arrival of Godot — a person they have never met but believe has special powers. As they wait they grumble about the futility of their lives and even contemplate suicide. But, because they are unable to take any kind of decisive action, they simply wait for Godot to change their dismal situation. The first act closes when a young child appears to announce that Godot will not come today. The second act is almost identical to the first and the play concludes when the young child again appears to announce that Godot is not coming.
Nathaniel Branden, former associate of the late Ayn Rand, once observed: "The soul of the man whose favorite play is Cyrano de Bergerac is radically different from the soul of the man whose favorite play is Waiting for Godot." An insightful comment. Cyrano is the one of the foremost individualists in literature, self-reliant and unwilling to compromise his ideals. Although desperate to have his play performed, Cyrano will not consent to even minor revisions to the lines he has written. On the other hand, Beckett’s tramps have neither confidence nor resolve. They are powerless victims of circumstance who slavishly wait for the Messiah-like Godot to change their predicament.
Looking at today’s society, you will find few Cyranos but a surplus of Beckett’s tramps. For the past few decades, American leaders, with an assist from the liberal media, have encouraged public dependency on government agencies. Indeed, one major theme of the Obama presidential campaign was that individual effort alone is inadequate for survival in today’s repressive society. Mr. Obama vowed to "change" societal conditions, even bringing about, as one journalist succinctly put it: "the leveling of social inequalities."
Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric was filled with grandiose commitments, the fulfillment of which required abilities the candidate obviously does not possess. But Obama-lackeys in the mainstream media accepted his Olympian promises without question. A peculiar stance for members of the Fourth Estate. Not only were they seduced by Obama’s overblown promises, they also characterized him as having top-notch skills. But, as everyone now knows, the candidate Obama that they praised so glowingly is not the President Obama that now occupies the White House. The Obama in the White House is neither a superstar nor a miracle worker. His first months in office have been characterized by almost daily gaffes, stumbles, and blunders. He is unable to speak without a teleprompter — often he even misreads the teleprompter; his meetings with foreign leaders have essentially fallen flat, and his oafish conduct during his travels has been met with derision. Consequently, the president’s sycophants in the media are still, like Beckett’s tramps, Waiting for Obama.
Sadly, the Obama the MSM is waiting for does not exist. That Obama, a media creation, was pure theater — in this case, Theater of the Absurd. In an attempt to conceal the discrepancy between the two Obamas, the MSM struggles to convince a dubious public that, although it appears that nothing worthwhile is happening in Washington, there are actually great events in the offing. In fact, Obama’s media supporters have described his first 100 days with such silvery superlatives as "stupendous" and "a bravura performance." Such hyperbole might satisfy those who consider words as important as deeds. But the rest of us can find little to cheer about in this administration’s first 100 days.
It is fortuitous that the revival of Beckett’s cryptic play coincides with the beginning of the Obama administration. There is an affinity between the two. The Obama administration is more theater than government. And Obama’s media supporters are like the play’s approving critics; they see what they want to see and write their reviews based on that perception. What concerns us is, that regardless of what the critics will say, an unpopular Broadway play cannot survive without paying audiences. But an unpopular presidential administration gets to perform for four years for a public audience held hostage.
Gail Jarvis [send him mail] is a free-lance writer.