Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reality Bites

What if someone took David Shields's Reality Hunger, a nonfiction screed about appropriation made up entirely of other authors’ sentences, and simply appropriated it? But doesn’t reality sometimes trump the best fictional offerings? For instance, Saturday’s Times reported the case of a 16-year-old New Jersey boy who was arrested for "activating a public-address system in a Wal-Mart store … and ordering 'all black people' to leave.” What is one to do with a piece of news like this? Is it a failure of education, a litmus test about in-grown racism and prejudice in our society, or does the incident merely illustrate the weaknesses of the store’s intercom, as some Wal-Mart executives apparently believe? “The store’s parent company … issued a statement saying it had modified its intercom system at the store to prevent such breaches,” the Times piece said. 

On Tuesday, the Times reported on the death of Wolfgang Wagner, the longtime director of the Bayreuth Festival. Katharina Wagner was Wolfgang’s daughter by his second wife, Gudrun. She had produced a partially nude Meistersinger at Bayreuth, which was booed by audiences. Along with half-sister Eva—the Times reported the two as not having "spoken to each other in many years”—Katharina was appointed to run the festival in 2008. The festival has long bent over backwards to distance itself from implications of Nazi leanings, due to Hitler’s renowned love for Wagner. (The Times reported in the same obit that Wolfgang's mother Winifred Wagner, “an ardent anti-Semite,” gave Hitler “the writing paper on which he composed ‘Mein Kampf.’”) Maybe Katharina should produce an opera at Bayreuth based on a genocidal 16-year-old let loose in an American discount store. After all, we’ve already had an opera about Jerry Springer, and a forthcoming opera about Enron is in the works. What better way for Bayreuth to finally expiate the sins of the past!

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