The gulf oil spill and theater of the absurd
Several years ago, I saw Edward Albee’s wonderfully inventive play “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” It’s about a man who falls in love with a goat, which sounds preposterous, I know, until either you see the play or watch what is happening in Washington. There, from time to time, we get a procession of scapegoats who take their lumps, usually in relative silence, and then go back from whence they came -- the Land of Oil, the Land of Auto, the Land of Finance -- and everyone feels better but almost nothing happens as a direct result. It is not even particularly good theater.
The other day, for example, the House Energy and Commerce Committee did its version of Albee -- without the sex, I must add. It lined up senior executives from four huge oil companies and let them have it. One congressman, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, suggested to Lamar McKay, president of BP, that he kill himself. “During the Samurai days, we’d just give you a knife and ask you to commit harakiri.”
Given that in all likelihood BP's rules and regulation (as amended) would require McKay to submit any plans to disembowel himself to the board (sect. 4b), the suggestion was clearly unhelpful. It was even more so since Cao prefaced his proposal by saying, “In the Asian culture, we do things differently.” Harikari, also known as seppuku, is Japanese in origin. As for Asian culture, there is of course no such thing. There should be no such thing as stupid sound bites, either.
Yet Washington persists. The most serious problems facing this great nation of ours are met with ridiculous, prepared sound bites -- one after another. The results are usually not what the congressmen expect. Not only do they not become instant heroes, but in sophisticated circles, they are deemed to be fools, and ordinary people lose whatever confidence they have left in the competence of congress. I have not met one person who knows anything about finance who was impressed with the grilling given to the chairman of Goldman Sachs by the normally astute Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). And the other day, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) told the aforementioned Mr. McKay that he should resign -- presumably before he kills himself, I would think.
The first literary goat was not Albee’s, but the Bible’s. It was the famous scapegoat, loaded with the sins of the people and driven off into the desert. This was tough on the goat and, in a day or so, did not do much for the people, either. This, of course, is what is happening with congress -- theater of the absurd and a chance for Albee to update his creation. Instead of having busy chief executives come to Washington to be used as fodder for sound bites, why not send one goat? It could sit, chew some paper or tin cans, and let the congressmen have their fun.
I’m in love already.
| June 16, 2010; 11:02 AM ET
Categories: Cohen | Tags: Richard Cohen
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