Recommendations by R.C. Baker
by R.C. Baker
January 15th, 2008
Figures of Speech
Flags surrounding the Washington Monument flutter gently in a video
of a young man standing at a podium, declaring: "The incredible war .
. . has provided the razorthe terrible, sharp cutting edgethat has
finally severed the last vestige of the illusion that morality and
decency are the guiding principles of our foreign policy." He then
quotes a U.S. senator: "The United States may very well be the
greatest threat to peace in the world today." Whoawhich brave
senator is he talking about? A presidential contender? Afraid not.
The young orator is actor Max Bunzel, re-creating a 1965 speech by
Paul Potter, the president of the Students for a Democratic Society.
The war in question is Vietnam; the senator, Oregonian Wayne Morse, a
lonely, early voice excoriating President Johnson's foreign policy.
The piece, We Must Name the System (2007), and other re-enactments of
'60s and '70s political declarations are the brainchild of artist
Mark Tribe, a professor of modern culture at Brown University, who
began these historical simulations to counter the political apathy of
his students. The speeches selected so far for The Port Huron Project
(named after Tom Hayden's 1962 New Left manifesto) reveal sad
parallels between yesteryear's wrongheaded military intervention and
our own Iraq quagmire. (The first three videos are available online;
later this year, Creative Time will sponsor live re- enactments of
historic speeches by Bobby Seale, César Chávez, and Stokely
Carmichael.) In 2006's Until the Last Gun Is Silent, actress Gina
Brown, wearing a somber black dress and a midnight-blue hat, channels
Coretta Scott King's poignant 1968 Central Park address, derived from
notes found in her husband's pocket at the time of his assassination
three weeks earlier. She speaks of his vilification for opposing the
Vietnam War, then moves on to the tension between the haves and
have-nots, noting: "Our Congress passes laws which subsidize
corporation farms, oil companies, airlines, and houses for suburbia,
but when they turn their attention to the poor, they suddenly become
concerned about balancing the budget." Plus ça change. . . . The
production values of these faux time capsules are spare, but the
rhetoric resonates across the decades, hopefully making it easier for
usunlike the generation that trusted no one over 30to heed the
wisdom of our elders.