Back in my twenties, I worked at a theatre company. Actually, I still work there, but that’s beside the point. A play was being staged there, a play about AIDS, and family dysfunction, and denial…in short, it could have challenged people, but in the main, it offended them.
The playwright showed up at a matinee. I sat in the lobby with him making small talk. I didn’t want to tell him that I didn’t think his play was particularly well written, because I was in my twenties, and still hanging onto a shred of “YEAH! Subvert the dominant paradigm…or…um…something.” I believed, as I still do now, that art could upset people while making them think. I was afraid that I was missing something about this play. I was afraid that I was wrong for not thinking it was very good. And I wasn’t quite sure why this playwright was sitting here with me on a Sunday afternoon, when the house wasn’t full of critics or peers, but mostly little old ladies.
And then he abruptly got up, and headed to the side door which would grant him access to the orchestra section. He turned to me and grinned. “I gotta go in there…this is the fist-fucking speech. I have to see the look on their faces.”
I understood, then, that while he perhaps hadn’t written this not-particularly-good-play with this situation in mind, he was going to enjoy the fruits of being “provocative.” He was going to ride it like a body surfer on the tides of outrage.
I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. I’m still not sure.