Friday, March 04, 2005

The Crucible

Film and lecture activities surrounding the upcoming performance of Indianapolis Opera's The Crucible have had me thinking lately about fascism. Not so much fascism itself, but more the mass hysteria that can infect a society and carry it in a wave of righteousness. A week or two ago, I finished Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, and I can't stop coming back to an overwhelming image from the book – not of a Lindberg presidency or an isolationist America, but of the hysteria that swept up whole families in its power and carried them along, powerless.

I don't have anything terribly profound to say, except that whether you look at the Salem witch trials, McCarthyism (on which Miller based the play), or WWII, there's a lesson for us in today's world. There are multiple lessons, in fact. We hear so many opinions, see so many divisions, but don't recognize the right or wrong path. Certainly people in Roth's world thought staying out of WWII was the right answer – no matter the cost. And certainly many in Salem thought they were doing the right thing – listening to a group of teenagers instead of making their own choices. And in either scenario, the belief of the people, upon which everything turned, was guided by leaders who may or may not have had questionable motives. (Roth's Lindberg certainly thought he was doing the right thing by keeping the US out of the war. Reports and speculation about Salem show that some church leaders and judicial officials may or may not have had the purist motives.)

I hesitate to draw the obvious parallels to today's world – yet. Perhaps I'm blinded by looking forward. Maybe I haven't convinced myself completely of the questionable motives by leadership. Or I could just think it's somewhat of a different situation. But I'm thinking about it, which is what I'd hope anyone would do who sees the upcoming performances. I'm a big believer that art should provoke thought. And so I go to tonight's performance with my mind ready to add a new layer to a foundation of understanding. Ready to open my mind and see something new, something I didn't see before. It's the least we could ask of anyone. In Roth's world, in Salem, and even in the 1950s, those who stopped thinking for themselves -- and who stopped looking for new perspectives -- became the power behind the hysteria. Regardless of how we feel about politics, religion, or any number of divisive ideals, we all have to keep opening ourselves to new ideas -- not just confirmations of what we already believe.


At Fri Mar 04, 05:01:00 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Be cautious of anyone who is absolutely certain of his or her righteousness. Be cautious of any party or group that suppresses dissent. And be cautious of any movement that appeals to one's emotions rather than to one's intellect. Obviously, you have to use your own judgment as to when these apply. At the end of the day, the only thing any of has is our own judgment.


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