Critical Difference: December 2009 Archives
"We have a tendency in this country to confuse a long life with a worthwhile one," TV critic Robert Lloyd writes in today's Los Angeles Times. He's talking about television series that go on too long (22 episodes a year instead of, say, 13; five increasingly wan seasons instead of a robust two), yet his point applies across the culture -- and across artistic disciplines.
That may be meager comfort to the author whose sublime novel is overlooked and swiftly remaindered; the playwright whose scintillating drama will never see the lights of Broadway, let alone thrive under them; the director whose small masterpiece of a film opens and closes in the blink of an eye. But that doesn't make it any less true.
It will be a while before Lincoln Center's reflecting pool is once again a serene oasis, but it's reassuring somehow to be able to glimpse Henry Moore's "Reclining Figure" in the water -- even through construction fencing. At least the barrier is chain-link and mesh now, not wood.
You can't act death.
From the page of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" to which my Grove Press copy automatically opens:
The fact of it is nothing to do with seeing it happen -- it's not gasps and blood and falling about -- that isn't what makes it death. It's just a man failing to reappear, that's all -- now you see him, now you don't, that's the only thing that's real: here one minute and gone the next and never coming back -- an exit, unobtrusive and unannounced, a disappearance gathering weight as it goes on, until, finally, it is heavy with death.
Telling someone you're a vegan tends to have precisely one effect: Your listener will immediately turn defensive. If the topic comes up over a meal, say at a restaurant, a pall descends, as if you'd just broken it to someone who had her heart set on a bottle of wine that you don't drink. Whether you're a vegan or a teetotaler, people often assume that your decision to opt out is an indictment of everyone who doesn't do the same.
That's one of the reasons I tend not to mention, unless I have to, that I'm a vegan -- have been for 20 years. All of my credentials are in order: soy yogurt in the fridge, lentil soup on the stove, non-leather boots on my feet, vegan makeup on my face, requisite cat standing by. (Well, technically, he's sleeping.) I'm a vegan for ethical reasons, but that choice is mine. I'll talk about it if asked, but I don't proselytize. It only alienates people.
So why bring it up now, given that no one is asking? Because People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- which by all rights should be one of my favorite organizations -- is driving me batty, again. PETA is as vegan as can be, but it's also a case of arrested development: a perpetually furious adolescent that sees no damage to its cause in making little kids cry or ruining families' holiday outing. Which is exactly what's going to happen Saturday if, as The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, members hand out anti-fur leaflets and stickers to children on their way to see the Pennsylvania Ballet's "Nutcracker" at the Academy of Music:
Why kids? "Children have a natural affinity for animals," says PETA's Dan Mathews in a statement. "Once they learn how animals are killed to make jackets, boots, and bags, we expect that they'll be reaching for stickers before you can say 'Sugar Plum Fairy.' "
That's just plain mean. Yes, kids have an affinity for animals, and young people are more likely to go vegetarian for ethical reasons than are their elders. But is there, perhaps, a better, kinder time to try to teach children about the connection between animals, leather and fur? Not according to PETA, which apparently staged a similar event last Saturday at the Detroit Opera House. WDIV, that city's NBC affiliate, explained: "PETA feels this is an outlet for kids to 'stick it' to their parents or anyone else they know who wear animal skins or fur."
There's the holiday spirit: Encourage children to stick it to Mom, Dad, Grandma, Uncle Stephen -- whoever was evil enough to take them to the ballet. And if the little ones should notice the leather on their own feet and shed their shoes in a snowbank? Too bad about their frostbitten toes, but it couldn't be helped.
Especially because, in keeping with its black-and-white adolescent outrage, PETA views ballet and opera audiences as uniquely deserving of aggressive tactics. In a leafleting alert, it declaims:
With the holiday season upon us, the temperatures are dropping, and cold-hearted fur hags everywhere are coming out in full force. No matter where you reside, you can be sure that a local fur hag is dusting off an animal carcass disguised as a coat, hat, or scarf for a night out at the ballet or opera.
What better place to educate the public about the cruelty of the fur industry than at a classic holiday ballet, such as The Nutcracker, where fur-wearers are sure to congregate and show off their expensive cadavers?
The irony, for me, is that I agree with PETA about cruelty to animals, and about the necessity of much of its work. But there are effective ways and self-defeating ways of getting a message across. This little campaign is one of its nastier efforts.