Our role as outsiders allows us to say whatever we choose to say. In exchange for that freedom, art remains on the periphery of mainstream culture. In an urbane environment, it is allowed to parody, provoke, and present unpopular opinions. - Laura Axelrod
Watching Mike Daisey weave his spell on the Athenaeum audience Saturday night, spinning his tale and perspective on the Rise and Fall of Trump, the notion that it takes an outsider artist to be able to see the things we take for granted set in. Daisey presents an alternative to what we wanted. Instead of a straight up hit piece on the man, he takes aim at those of us in the theater - mostly white, mostly comfortable, mostly anti-Trump - and tells us some unflattering things about who we are and how smug we happen to be. He pokes at us and we pay him to do it gladly.
It takes a certain kind of brilliant arrogance and intentional invincibility to take a stage and be completely honest about the hypocrisy of the audience without flinching or pandering. It takes the the indefatigable cloak of the Artist and all the pretension that comes with it to be able to pull it off.
"Here is my take on things and I have no apologies for saying it."
Scrolling through the Facebook wall and the Twitter feed and the Tumblr screens, a second notion takes form. I see hundreds of unapologetic, arrogant, unflattering ideas presented over and over in a never-ending flow of unrepentant criticisms of everyone else. Some, like Patton Oswalt, do it artfully and with a sense of craft. Most (and I mean the overwhelming majority) wield the tiny megaphone like a blunt instrument or simply as a quick agreement and trumpeting of other ideas done with a bit more artistic flair.
We are all starting to feel like we are outsiders. We all are craving that platform to hurl our invective. We all are becoming solo performance artists on a stage that requires no effort to ascend.
If there is anything that most performance artists have in common it is the inability to see themselves with a sense of humor. Go to any basement performance of lesbian breakup poetry or avant garde dance piece and you are confronted with a strident sense that "My Voice MATTERS" without any sign of humility in the disclosure.
I imagine a huge apartment complex and every room in every apartment is a self contained performance space. No one is bothering to experience any one else's performance because they are so focused on presenting their own unique (but so often completely typical) point of view. In the dining room area of Apt. 307 is the Angry MRA Guy spouting about how unfair and awful it is to be singled out as a white male through badly written German arthouse sprechtsinge. Directly below him, in Apt. 207, sits the Furious Anti-Gentrification Woman of Color painting images of her own marginalization and moments of micro-aggression with a palette of menstrual blood.
As with most performance art, their are few actual spectators aside from parents and friends who were begged to come. Each room effectively its own minuscule echo chamber of aggrieved anguish and brittle expression. And everyone is so hellbent on presenting themselves in their tiny rooms, they all collectively fail to see that the foundation of the building is crumbling and the landlord is a slumlord.
Daisey makes a lot of salient points in his "The Trump Card" but the stickiest for me is that Trump is not a politician but an expert performer. He has no accomplishments to stand upon, he has no ideas to spread. He has millions of Twitter followers and is performing for them almost 24 hours a day.
In a society where everyone is a solo performance artist, an outsider with an axe to grind, the King is He with the Largest Audience.