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Monologues are art, not propoganda

| Sunday, January 30, 2005

I enjoyed Peter Wick’s Jan. 27 column investigating campus reactions to the “Vagina Monologues.” But I was surprised by his claim that if Eve Ensler were “a better artist she would have chosen a format that allowed her to acknowledge dissenting voices.” It seems a misreading of the play’s purpose and the purpose of art in general.

Ensler’s play is designed to be deliberately provocative, like Ann Coulter’s books or Michael Moore’s films. All three take extreme positions in order to push the boundaries of public discourse. They take five steps to the left or right so that the general public may someday take one step. There is a word for creative endeavors that advance a particular political agenda to the exclusion of all other concerns – propaganda.

But make no mistake: Ensler’s play is art, not propaganda. Its wit and compassion for its characters elevate it above the level of mere polemic. They lend the play a depth and breadth of spirit that that may allow it to resonate with audiences in 2050. By contrast, both “Fahrenheit 9-11” and “Treason” are so circumscribed by their agendas as to be artless.

Would the Vagina Monologues be better art if, as Wick suggests, they included dissent? Perhaps. But it’s difficult to imagine how it could be integrated into the play. The resulting “dialogue” would seem to be like the ones that Notre Dame has regarding abortion and homosexuality – two diametrically opposed sides screaming invective at one another, each locked into an ideology that forbids compromise. Put Coulter and Moore in a room and see if they come out agreeing or dead.

As a centrist, someone who says, “There’s nothing vulgar about saying ‘vagina,'” but blushes as he says it, I, like Wick, welcome voices that provide evenhanded insight into multiple sides of controversial issues. But I do not claim, as Wick seems to, that a work of art ought to give the opposition equal airtime. After all, that is the purpose of a newspaper editorial page, not the theater.

Tom Miller

graduate student

Jan. 29