Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Athens, America & The Power of Success

One of the most difficult writing assignments I have
ever undertaken was to render Aristophanes' BIRDS
into English for the TUTA Theatre Company and
its visionary director, Zeljko Djukic.  (I also met
Natasha Bogojevich, the divine composer for
whose Bajalica I provided video stream, on this
production.)

I was at first taken aback by the many similarities
between Athens at the time of its war with Sparta
and America at war in Iraq, but the ending of
Aristophanes' portrait of Athens seemed at first
very alien to the contemporary world, because
BIRDS ends with the apotheosis of a new god
in Cloudcukopolis.

I got to thinking about the ending of BIRDS and
the revelation I had about it, because I heard Charles
Ferguson interviewed about his new film INSIDE
JOB over the weekend.  It's a very precise portrait -
Balzacian really - of the world which produced the
Greenspan-Paulson Financial Crisis.

Perhaps Zola would be a better comparison, because
there's a real "J'accuse" feel to it.  Ferguson
has no doubt who is guilty.  I have to agree with
him about the financial players, but more deeply
we have to ask what creates a world in which these
guys can thrive without being questioned:  it's
America's love affair with success.

From Aristophanes' portrait of Athens after Pericles,
we see the same unquestioning bowing and scraping
to success.  This was my revelation about the ending
of BIRDS.  Aristophanes was talking about a love
of success bordering on worship.

The play ends:
All hail bless├ęd success,
Of all the gods the greatest.


It's this unquestioning love of success which leads to
a world in which the successful can basically do what
they want until the success blows up in all our faces,
and our heroes become our villains once it's too late to matter.

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