Saturday, May 09, 2009

Playwright Tony Kushner on Being a Socialist

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis is currently celebrating the works of playwright Tony Kushner. As you are probably aware, Kushner won both a Pulitzer and a Tony in 1993 for Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches, as well as a Tony in 1994 for Angels in America, Part II: Perestroika.

The big event of the Guthrie’s Kushner celebrations will be the May 22 world premiere of The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures - a play that the theater commissioned from Kushner.

Writes John Townsend in the May 8-21 issue of Lavender:

“The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures” promises to be a very American and 21st century view of family life. . . . Kushner’s style is a beguiling combination of the epic and the intimate. He is unapologetically political – something rare in major American playwrights – yet never at the expense of developing richly textured characters. Change, hope, and human interconnection in the face of insurmountable social upheavals are an empowering hallmark of his work. He refuses to become cynical, believing in humanity passionately. He is the consummate playwright for finding resilience in a time of chaotic change. Even when he waxes fantastical, he’s never the least bit sentimental.

Townsend interviewed Kushner for Lavender, and being the left-leaning gay guy that I am, I found the following exchange particularly interesting.

John Townsend: You once said something to the effect that being a socialist is actually more stigmatized in our society than being queer.

Tony Kushner: I’m not sure that’s true anymore. I used to say that . . . in the 1990s, when people were sort of getting used to the idea of sort of prominent gay people. After all, it had been over 20 years since Stonewall. I think it was time.

But the idea that anybody would call themselves a socialist in the middle of Glasnost and Perestroika in the middle of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall . . . was sort of shocking to people. I always felt that I got a little bit more of a kind of jaw-dropping reaction when I said that I considered myself a socialist, by which I basically mean that I believe in a category of economic justice.

Social justice is important, but I don’t think that social justice or the achievement of justice in a purely social realm is possible without there being a serious look at economic issues, at the level of the playing field from which most people start their lives, [and at] the degree to which economic facts militate against anyone having anything resembling a coherent or decent life.

And issues [and questions] that are more part of the socialist tradition: That you work for a wage. What is it that they’re actually selling? What do they get back in return? What aren’t they getting back in return? Was Marx right? And that thing that they’re not getting back in return – is that what we call profit? Who gets that profit? Who benefits from it? Where has the wealth gone in the country? And so on. I think these are all important issues.

And I think the political right is furiously policing the margins of thought to make sure we don’t ask those questions about money. As I’ve been saying for a while now, the only question you’re allowed to ask is: How can I get as much money as possible, and how can I keep as much of it as possible from the hands of the government in the form of paying taxes or cutting taxes.

To read John Townsend’s interview of Tony Kushner in its entirety, click here.

For more information about the Guthrie’s celebration of the works of Tony Kushner, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Richard Flanagan Wants a “Gentler, More Generous” Australia
Capitalism on Trial
R.I.P. Neoclassical Economics
Obama, a Socialist? Hardly!
A Socialist Response to the Financial Crisis
Obama, Ayers, the “S” Word, and the “Most Politically Backward Layers in America”

Recommended Off-site Links:
Left Evolution Down South
– Mick Schommer (OoMick, March 16, 2009).
The Left Needs More Socialism – Ronald Aronson (The Nation, April 1, 2006).
World Socialist Web Site

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