they didn't want her to stay
I didn't want to be there. They made me go. That is, the clearly perverse creators of the New Yorker Festival made an offer I could not refuse. The New School, storied for most of a century as a refuge for artists and thinkers fleeing prejudice and persecution, was asked to be host today to an obviously rehearsed Q & A session between Jeffrey Goldberg and Paul Wolfowitz. The former is a writer who has served as an important propagandist for the current regime in Washington, and the latter is the chief architect of and spokesman for that regime's policy of diplomacy by military might alone.
We note that this is supposed to be a "cultural fest, celebrating the finest in the arts, music, fiction, poetry, journalism, and humor." I didn't read anything on their site about agents of newspeak or architects of world hegemony, but what do I know about American culture?
It was a miserable three hours, door-to-door-to-door. After arriving we stood patiently in line while security searched each of the 500-some members of the audience individually, even emptying their bags. Somewhat less diverting was the period actually spent sitting through the undistinguished guests' extraordinarily banal exchange of the same words repeated over and over again. Even the opportunity presented by the soliciting of questions from an overwhelmingly unsympathetic audience failed to enliven the afternoon.
Only the drama of many, many extraordinarily angry interruptions from the floor, beginning at the moment the speakers were introduced, managed to raise the day's political theater above the level of insufferable cant.
Those who spoke out during the presentation were summarily removed from the auditorium by a very beefed-up security, sometimes quite physically. My favorite impatient protester was the woman who laid out her sound bite halfway through the program - very effectively - and then announced that she was ready to go. I envied her, but I felt I had to stay.
During the last few minutes of the afternoon, while Goldberg and Wolfowitz were summing up their humbug but had already announced that questions from the floor were ended, I stood up from my seat and held high the folding sign I had improvised earlier in the afternoon and hidden in a small shoulder bag. I said nothing, and no one lifted a hand against me. The hand-printed messages, one on each side, read:
ON TRIAL!It seemed like half an hour passed while I stood there, but actually it was over in a few minutes. In that interval I saw hundreds of camera flashes, and I never turned around. The cameras were ravenous by this time. Later I was told that mine was the only sign in the room, although inside the auditorium we could all hear the whistles and shouts from the protestors outside on 12th Street.
The most profound impression I took away from what should have been an unnecessary experience for almost all of us in Joseph Urban's beautiful room today was how uninteresting, how extraordinaryily incompetent, these two men were. It's not the proximity to arguable wrongheadedness or evil works, greed or the grasping for fame or power, but rather the confrontation with such stupidity in high places that haunts me this evening.