On June 16th, 2017, in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, a production of Shakespeares’ Julius Caesar that featured a Donald Trump look-a-like as the doomed protagonist (in the play Caesar’s wife speaks with a eastern European accident) who is mercilessly stabbed to death by his former compatriots was disrupted by a young woman who shouted that the play was normalizing violence against the right. The woman, a fairly popular internet personality named Laura Loomer, went on to say that the play was, “Unacceptable!” The agitated woman was promptly rushed off stage by a security detail but not before political journalist and pro-Trump activist Jack Posobiec began screaming at the entire crowd, calling them “Gerbils.” He meant of course, Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda of National Socialist Germany during WWII, not a furry little mammalian; the implication being that every present face who did not protest the play was complicit in some horrible scheme of anti-Trump propaganda. When Ms. Loomer was released from jail she remained unrepentant and stated, “Thanks to everyone who is supporting me & condemning political violence.”
All of this raises some rather amusing questions, such as:
- Is disrupting a play merely a extension of Free Speech?
- Were either the playwrights, actors or crowd-at-large “gerbils”?
- And most importantly, is artistic representation of violence equivalent in some fashion to actual political violence?
The answer to the first question might best be found in a hypothetical: Would you, dear reader, be perfectly sanguine about someone rushing up into a wrestling ring at some Indie show? The answer is obvious: No. It would be trespassing. Furthermore, obviously the crowd were not National Socialist of the Germanic variety, that much is so self-evident that it needs not be gone into at all.
Lastly and most importantly, artistic representation of violence is obviously not morally equivalent to actual violence but that does not mean that it is unimportant or that it can not lead anyone to act in a violent fashion. ISIS, for instance, has been particularly good at inspiring devout Muslims (with no previous contact to the terrorist organization) to maim and kill nonbelievers the world over with nothing but rhetoric, words and images typically in the form of lavishly produced short films. In short, the people who are saying that “it is just a play” are not taking art seriously. This can be observed from the high-handed way in which the arguments of men such as Jack Thompson have and are still being dismissed. Thompson is wrong but he is wrong in the particulars (i.e. there is little correlation between general consumption of video games and acts of murderous violence. If someone goes on a killing spree because of the sci-fi shooter, Halo it wasn’t because Halo was urging people to kill) but he is quite correct in the abstract, that is to say, he understands the undeniable power inherent in art.
This is evidenced by the visceral reactions the play itself evokes, that, in and of itself, is a testament to its power (which is really saying something given the fact that the vast majority of people decrying the play have not actually seen it and have only heard of it from secondary sources). However, it does not address the crucial question: Did the play itself urge people to kill the president? This can be answered by asking the question, does Julius Caesar urge people to kill? The answer is, no, but this present iteration certainly pokes fun at the president but it does not command or demand or recommend violence to its audience. Just like with Halo, if someone is inspired to kill because of this play they had something horribly wrong with them prior to a viewing of the play. Ms. Loomer has described the scene where Caesar is stabbed to death as a proto-type for a real assassination. This obviously makes little sense as it would be proscribing people in Trump’s own cabinet to, one would suppose, stab him to death. If someone attempts to assassinate our President it is highly unlikely this is the tactic they would employ.
This is not to say the play is in good taste, specifically given the visceral political tensions which have arisen since the 2016 elections. It is obviously a stridently Leftist production (all of the actors who end up stabbing Caesar are members of some racial minority – vicarious revenge for Trump’s “racism and bigotry”) with copious amounts of nudity and violence but it is not a blueprint for murder.