Note from the Editors: This essay is part II of a three-part series arguing how the Right can reclaim culture from the left. Part I can be found here. If you’re not familiar with our publication, we suggest this IM—1776’s reading list on the theme of “Art & Literature on the Right” either before or after diving in.
Art & Literature for Dissidents, Part II: The Ruins We’re Building On
2020 reduced everything to a smoking ruin. Bureaucrats have been given excuses to enslave us and entire societies have been ripped apart. But there’s been some positive destruction too. As I wrote in the first part of this series, if you’re a writer and a dissident, 2021 is great news. Institutions and gatekeepers that have been shutting dissident writers out are scared now. They still have a lot of power to hurt if they want, but they’re weak, and generally incapable of helping anyone, let alone rival true value.
Ten or fifteen years ago, the literary establishment was a small but efficient international clique. The people running it could pick a few favorites every year, and start a publicity campaign to make their writers household names among educated people, and even manufacture a buzz to put their Chosen One in the running for major book prizes. This was so long ago that winning the Booker Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for Literature could guarantee hundreds of thousands of book sales. The literary establishment could keep their pet authors in the Amazon Top 1,000 bestseller list for six months straight (sometimes even the Top Hundred) so that even normal people would know their names.
But the literary establishment lost its magic touch. Today people in charge have no idea how to find a writer and turn him into a star. The system’s broken. All it does is pick losers.
There are still a couple of contemporary writers who can sell hundreds of thousands of books in a year, sure. The Marxist feminist novelist Sally Rooney is thirty years old and her first book has sold something like a million copies worldwide in four years. She’s one of the only ‘serious’ writers who can actually make a decent living off her work. But nobody’s going to sneer at you if you’ve never heard of her. Nowadays, contemporary literature has no prestige.
Things were different just a decade ago when you’d be embarrassed if you walked into a dinner party and hadn’t heard of any of the ‘big’ novels that won prizes that year. This wasn’t only in New York or London. In 2012 one could be in a dying industrial city in the Midwest and there would still be a prominent social group where one would be expected to know at least the names of all the successful writers that everyone pretended to read.
The most damaged area in the whole world of arts and culture is probably theatre. It’s also the best opportunity for dissidents to take over and reclaim culture. The theatre industry is so corrupt right now that a couple of teams of competent men in a few strategic locations could turn it around in less than a decade (maybe even five years). Nobody would be intelligent enough to stop them or even realize what’s they’re doing.
The problem, however, is that most people hate theatre and think it’s worthless. And in many ways they’re right. Most people have probably never seen a decent play in their life. Modern Shakespeare’s plays have directors inserting hip-hop, or some other token element, or trying to change the location to 1950s New York for some strange reason. No wonder people hate theatre.
Theatre people think they’re cutting-edge and ‘contemporary’ because they steal ideas from movies they saw two years ago. In fact, most of the ‘experimental’ modern theatre it’s just frustration over their inability to hold enough talent to get into movies, hence their attempts to make theatre look like one so they can feel better about their failures. If you pay money to watch a play like that, the truth is that all you’re doing is encouraging these people to fail even harder.
There’s no need to study these people’s work. The whole scene is stuck in the 1960s, because that was the last time normal people with families went to Broadway for a night out a couple of times a year.
Think about the plays that were performed at your school. Most of us never saw or acted in a modern play at school. They were all ridiculously dated texts like You Can’t Take it With You (written in 1936) or Arsenic and Old Lace (1941), where the jokes don’t even make sense anymore. Or else insufferable preachy liberal nonsense like The Crucible (written in 1953) or Twelve Angry Men (1954). Even worse musicals like West Side Story (1957) or Guys and Dolls (1950).
Having a drama teacher who was ‘edgy’ meant getting assigned shitlib classics like Rent (1996), the AIDS musical, or The Laramie Project (2000), a heroic tragedy about gay-bashing that turns out to be based mainly on lies. Really ambitious teachers sometimes try to stage AIDS epics like Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (part 1, 1991; part 2, 1993). School theatre’s only purpose in the 2000s in other words seemed to have been making people pity those with AIDS.
Having a normal drama teacher could have meant getting exposed to Sam Shepard and David Mamet. These are probably the last two straight men in America who wrote famous plays that aren’t just liberal propaganda or brainwashing. But Sam Shepard is dead, and David Mamet hasn’t done anything good in thirty years. In Britain, there’s Tom Stoppard and a few others. But in classrooms we’ve been brainwashed and gaslighted into thinking (for example) that a neurotic, self-obsessed, woman-obsessed, secretly misogynistic hysteric like Tennessee Williams is a great writer, and wrote some of the best plays of the twentieth century. If he really is the best, then we’d be right to think “forget it, movies are better,” and have every reason to never give theatre another chance.
But while there’s every reason to think theatre is a total waste of time and money, the more important artforms still depend on it. Control over theatre means control over the rest of mass media. Dissidents need to snatch control of the theatre from liberals. Winning theatre within this decade, would mean winning pop culture by the time the next one starts.
Every major scriptwriter for television, Hollywood and even video games learned how to write from stage plays. All the major talent scouts and agents for TV and movies spend time in the theatre because that’s where they will discover new writers who demonstrably know how to please an audience. And all the producers for the mass media still depend on the live theatre to develop characters, narratives and genres, because in order to test an idea, it’s cheaper and low-risk to produce a play and see how live audiences react.
For the cost of a single low-budget TV pilot, one could lavishly produce five full-scale stage plays Off-Broadway or Off-West End in London and have a good chance of breaking even or even making a profit. This is why producers prefer to blindly follow fashions in the theatre. It’s easier, cheaper and they can let the underpaid theatre people worry about coming up with original ideas. Just steal the best ones, poach the talent, and watch the profits roll in. (Or at least that’s the theory.)
There are maybe 25,000 people in London who are die-hard theatre people, who watch plays at least once a month. Dissidents should pay attention to what they’re watching, because these 25,000 (mostly) clueless middle-aged people are the most powerful single audience in the world. People in LA and New York find out which plays and writers they can’t get enough of, and try to buy them. Most of the writers really want to be writing for HBO and Netflix anyway so they stop writing plays after they get discovered. Some of the writers stay loyal to the theatre, but end up making most of their money as Hollywood script doctors. The whole entertainment industry worldwide depends on these 25,000 Londoners and their random tastes.
Yet while London is where the influence is, the real power and money are in New York. It doesn’t matter where one comes from, one’s ultimately aiming at the Big Apple, because it’s more convenient for Hollywood and TV people to study what’s successful on the New York stage, and they know that the New York theatre still has an inferiority complex about London. If what was a hit in London last year ends up being a hit in New York this year, then it can be transferred to both the big and the small screen and potentially become an international success.
Chicago used to dominate the New York-transfer part of the industry, but now there are a few theatres in LA, San Francisco, Minnesota and even Louisville in Kentucky that regularly manufacture more writers who end up in New York theatre. Again, once staged in New York, the door is automatically open for TV and movies. It’s pretty easy for a good producer to Astroturf a success these days, now that critics have less and less power. It’s hard for instance to explain the success of the musical Hamilton as anything other than the most successful Astroturf operation of the entire Obama era.
When it comes to countries like Australia or Canada, there’s an even closer connection between theatre and TV/movies than America or England. But there are also smaller audiences for theatre, and far fewer resources, so the real influence is limited to a few venues in the very biggest cities. Also, film and TV are small potatoes, and need government subsidies to survive because they don’t sell as well overseas and end up being mainly material for domestic audiences.
Regional cultures that anxiously pretend they’re proud to be ‘provincial’ and ‘small and friendly’ and ‘part of a supportive local arts community’ are always crippled by a deep inferiority complex because regional theatres don’t have much influence even over local TV and radio, and don’t attract much support from normal people. They’re provincial operations and they hate themselves for it. This makes some of these regional theatres much harder to break into than theatre in New York or London, or somewhere with actual prestige. The smaller the audience, the more jealous and protective the gatekeepers are.
In a lot of markets, the theatres are controlled by a tiny clique that never lets in outsiders, but that’s because nobody really cares what these people do. Their work is a state-funded hobby. They don’t want anybody trespassing on their territory because they have nowhere else to go. Still, even in a relatively middle-of-nowhere place like Perth, Western Australia or Winnipeg, Manitoba, the theatre matters for dissidents, if they can snatch a dedicated, loyal audience away from the hostile hobbyists.
Not everybody can be an international leader. Local influence matters too. There also needs to be viable, attractive local alternatives to this increasingly totalitarian internationalist mass culture. In smaller provincial centres, theatre is just a more aggressive and hysterical outlet for shitlib totalitarianism. It wouldn’t take much for a disciplined team of dissidents to change this.
Again, if you’re a ‘dissident’ writer maybe you’re not interested in writing for the big screen. Or maybe you’re stuck in your hometown for the foreseeable future. Still, we have to start thinking about how to win local influence, and build up an audience that will become our power base. It doesn’t matter whether you want to write novels, short stories, poems, or TV series, if you live in the provinces and haven’t got the right credentials or connections, you are not going to convince some intern in a New York office who studied Comparative Literature at an Ivy League college to even read your work, let alone get the wheels in motion so you can get paid for it. That’s where local theatre has value.
If dissident writers are willing to self-publish anonymous short stories to fifty faceless readers on the internet, why not produce a play for fifty real-life strangers a night, every night, for three weeks? Part of the problem with anonymous self-publishing is that the risks are so low that the rewards end up being even lower.
I’m not trying to shit on anonymous self-publishing. Some of the best men on our side have been doing this for a long time and they’ve managed to build a following and regularly produce valuable content. But we need to start finding ways to build an offline, real-life audience too. In order to reclaim culture, that has to be a priority from now on.
A lot of people on the Right have no experience acting or writing for plays. They also don’t know how to get the experience, and so the idea to put together one is not a very appealing one, as nobody wants to look like an idiot in public. These concerns aren’t neurotic. They’re a matter of basic self-respect. But the good news is that there’s nothing one can’t learn on the job. The state of the drama schools these days is quite telling in this regard. Are they teaching anything that we’re missing out on? The answer is no.
As far as the theatre is concerned, a great tradition has just died. This has created a chance for the Right and dissidents in general to be the architects of a new one. Twenty or thirty years ago it would have been insane to try and do anything like this. There were still competent people around who could have made anyone look like a fool. But these people are almost all gone. The ones who occupy the institutions and who have killed the traditions they were supposed to protect are now the incompetent and ignorant fools. The Right and dissident writers in general must take action as soon as possible and seize this ancient art form. With the right plan, allies and resources, theatre — and thus culture more at large — can be brought back to its former glory.