Jussie Smollett and the International Theater of the Oppressed

Strange as it may seem, an International Theater of the Oppressed actually exists.  It was founded by Augusto Baol, a Brazilian who sought to eradicate the distinction between actors and audience by having both involved in revolutionary theatrical activism that emphasized the victimhood of the oppressed.

Though there now seems to be a cast of thousands vying for roles in self-scripted plays featuring victimization and oppression, Jussie Smollett appears to have been one of the most recent players auditioning for the starring role in Baol’s theater.

As the whole world now knows, Smollett created a play designed to reinforce his identity as a victim of racism and homophobia. By writing his own script and hiring Nigerian thespians to perform in his racially themed production, he hoped to raise consciousness of racism as well as to effect a pay raise. His elaborate theatrics pulled in the Chicago police department as unwitting and eventually resentful players on a revolving stage of virtue signaling. Smollett’s vogueish concept was revealed as a complete hoax designed to garner him sympathy as well as to extract greater financial remuneration from FOX productions.  As an angry Chicago Chief of Police stated, Smollett merely wanted “to promote his career.”

If Smollett’s drama was a one-off production, there might not be much to worry about. Unfortunately, activist drama has many permutations, with many actors lined up to play in scenes designed to draw in empathetic fellow revolutionaries.

The big questions about invented victimization scenes are these: How did Smollett and other hoaxers get to the place that made-up dramas of self-authentication damaging innocent people were considered a valid form of protest? How did elaborate lies deliberately designed to enhance victimhood get their start? What ideas have prevailed in order that lying is valid political stagecraft? Most importantly, how has the theater of oppression invaded politics in order to fundamentally transform society? How have actors such as Smollett, Christine Blasey Ford and now perhaps Michael Cohen, who is playing a role as political star in the House, gained parts as actors in victimology plays?

Partly due to the moral paroxysms of World Wars I and II, existentialist philosophers and playwrights gave up on traditional forms of drama and began drawing on themes that resulted in what became known as the Theatre of the Absurd.  One idea of the new approach to drama was that the human condition was essentially devoid of purpose or meaning and that the individual could only authenticate himself by a desperate act. As Albert Camus, the famous French novelist, wrote in his essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” “What [a man] believes to be true must determine his actions…There is but one useful action, that of remaking man and the earth.  I shall never remake man.  But one must do “as if.”

It was the “as if” that began to dominate post World War II drama and eventually politics during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The idea was to act out what one believed to be true regardless of what larger society might consider true. Revolutionary zeal and outrage were considered keys to authenticity.  The consequence was a spate of dramatic ventures dubbed “happenings,” events designed to dissolve the traditional boundaries between viewers and actor in order to create changes in social structures. To put it another way, the line between drama and activism is erased and the idea of drama as created entertainment or as a vehicle for expressing the joys and sorrows of the human condition was replaced by close encounters of the revolutionary kind. The purpose was to break down the barriers between the actors and the spectators so completely that the spectators became part of the play, reinforcing the status and beliefs of the actors; thus becoming part of the script.

The concepts behind the “happenings” gradually became absorbed and lately have become unarticulated assumptions behind most modern political stagecraft, spilling over into street performances such as the recent Jussie Smollett drama. You, the onlooker, were supposed to have been drawn into his perceived experience of racial and homophobic victimization, joining in his rebellion against oppression.

For Smollett and those who imitate him, the anti-hero hagiography must be written and dramatized in real life. He must seek to bring down any narrative that might contradict his view of himself as victim. He must increase the circle of people who affirm him by being outraged by his victimhood. He must be authenticated, even if it means destroying others. But his stage craft goes further than mere corruption of an ancient art form. To utilize trendy terms, Smollett’s choreographed intersectionality as gay, black and politically left wasn’t enough to authenticate himself.  He must constantly reaffirm the narrative of himself as victim; bringing into his circle anyone who is also outraged by his victimhood.

Smollett was committed to the idea that he could create his own truth and act on it, no matter what the results. The absolute ultimate in play acting in order an abstract concept like eternal oppression is creating and reinforcing that concept, even when your “truth” is a lie.  If by a lie you can rearrange the entire world order, reinforcing and authenticating your almighty oppressed and victimized SELF, you have succeeded in acting “as if” it is true.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Fay Voshell