In its latest production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," the Public Theater makes the dictator a Donald Trump character. The golden-haired, business-suited tyrant meets the bloody end that Shakespeare wrote for him and which, one supposes, some Trump haters wish they could write for the president.
This week, disinclined to alienate those of their customers who support President Trump, Bank of America and Delta Airlines pulled their sponsorship from the play.
The result was a liberal meltdown. Vox, naturally, offered a 4,000-word tragedy, the gist of which was that the play's critics are poorly read. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes described the critics as delusional, and he supported the production, saying it "is not doing what the critics who haven't seen the play or read the play are assuming the play is leading the audiences to think."
At The Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg warned of hive-mind simpletons, a category to which she's sure she does not belong, saying, "If you're going to get outraged about art, at least try to see it and form your own opinion, rather than letting a big corporation or an outraged news anchor tell you what to think." She went on, "It's desperately important that the rest of us continue to approach art with all the subtlety, intelligence and curiosity that corporations apparently can't."
Rosenberg's next line demonstrated what she believes to be subtlety, intelligence and curiosity. "The 2016 presidential election provided an unnerving lesson," she opined, "in what happens when citizens only read news reports that tell them what they want to hear."
All the world's a stage, the Left wants us to know, and all Trump supporters merely morons.
But there is a lacuna in their logic. If a play is deliberately produced to reflect current politics, as "Julius Caesar" is — members of "the resistance" post wall signs and wear pussy hats — its creators have no right to be free from political challenge. Put another way, the luvvies cannot plausibly stage a piece of explicit political propaganda and then, when criticized, pull up their petticoats and shriek, "But we're artists!"
Comedian Jon Stewart was notorious for this schtick. He gained all his currency, prestige and popularity by turning his show into a liberal political commentary, but when he received pushback he tried to inoculate himself along the lines of "I'm a mere comedian! How can you take me seriously?"
"Clown-nose off; clown-nose on" is the term for this tiring and hypocritical act.
The controversial production of "Julius Caesar" is definitely political speech, so a political reaction is fair. A cathartic liberal scream in the doom of Trump's America should expect the dismissive and irritated pushback it deserves.
The New York Times broadly admitted this in a June 9 review (before the storm of controversy erupted), noting that "when the famous funeral scene arrives, and Marc Antony exposes not just Caesar's sliced-up garment, as Shakespeare indicates, but also his bare, wound-ripped flesh, even theatergoers who loathe Mr. Trump may begin to wonder whether the production has a Kathy Griffin problem on its hands."
This reference is to the yet worse bad taste of Griffen's vile comedic turn holding up a bloody simulacrum of Trump's severed head. Such tasteless, incarnadine pageants are intended to sate an unpleasant lust that accompanies the Left's madness over Trump's election victory and its own repudiation. The Public Theater knows its audience. And like the convenors of gladiatorial games, it knows what the paying, baying crowds most desire. A spectacle of blood.
But neither the theater nor the audience can justifiably cry havoc when other people reject their theatrics, their ideological signaling and their bad taste.
Protection of free speech is one of the great beauties of our republic. It's a guarantee with a purpose. As Chief Justice Roberts noted in 2011, the Constitution is designed "to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
A theater has the right to make a hurtful production. But those who feel hurt by it have the right to criticize and decline to finance it. Artists are not a special class. They have the same protections as other citizens.
As Cinna the poet found in "Julius Caesar," the artist must accept the crowd's judgment. Sometimes the crowd will be kind, but sometimes they will "tear him for his bad verses."