Tuesday, October 21, 2008

HNN - What Arthur Miller Might Say About this Election

This interesting article from the History News Network looks at an old Arthur Miller essay on politics -- yes THAT Arthur Miller, the playwright.

What Arthur Miller Might Say About this Election

By Derek Alger

Mr. Alger is a freelance writer who is also the managing editor of PIF Magazine, an online literary journal.

Instead of paying attention to political pundits or those self-described Democratic or Republican consultants and their repetitive talking points, perhaps it would be more useful to consider what Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller observed about acting and Presidential politics.

Miller, whose plays include Death of a Salesman, A View from the Bridge, and The Crucible, and was twice awarded the New York Drama Critics Award, was especially aware of the importance of a candidate’s acting ability in an age where every gesture and nuance is magnified through a television lens. In his book, On Politics and the Art of Acting, published in 2001, four years before his death, and shortly after the infamous Florida debacle involving George W. Bush and Al Gore, Miller turns his critical eye toward the symbiotic relationship of acting and politics.

Right off the bat, Miller acknowledges what most know intuitively, whether they admit it or not, that “It is not news that we are moved by our glandular reactions to a leader’s personality, his acting, than by proposals or by his moral character.”

Miller was well aware of style far outweighing substance, and his observations seem to have been further reinforced by so-called experts, meaning political science professors, grading the McCain/Obama debate in Nashville, as if the future of the nation could be determined by a report card. The categories in the New York Post the morning after the debate, in which such experts weighed in, included “Style, Delivered Punches, and "Connection with Viewers," leaving one unsure how each respective candidate might deal with, let’s say, a contemporary Cuban missile crisis, which may not be all that farfetched.

Miller states in On Politics and the Art of Acting that the “television lens becomes a microscope with the world as the eyepiece” and as a result, “the candidate’s self-control, his steadiness under fire, is dangerously magnified and becomes as crucial to his success as it is to the actor facing a thousand critics as he stands alone in a spotlight surrounded by darkness on a stage.”

While Miller quickly points out that we live in an age of entertainment, aware of the consequences of tragedy or farce, whether unintended or otherwise, he states, correctly, it would seem, that “Political leaders recognize in order to govern they must learn to act.”

Read the whole essay.

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