As Jazz wrote yesterday, a New York theater company is staging a free production of Julius Caesar in which the play has been updated to the present day. Caesar, who as we all know dies violently in the play, has been re-imagined as a Trump-like leader complete with a wife who speaks with a heavy accent (though the text of the play is unchanged). For the record, no one disputes that the intent of the production was to focus on Trump as Caesar.
As word of the production circulated, not everyone was thrilled with the idea of having a presidential assassination staged in the park. Breitbart and Fox News wrote stories about it and a couple of corporate sponsors, Delta Airlines and Bank of America, decided it was too much for them to handle. From NPR:
“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of Julius Caesar at this summer’s Free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” Delta said in a statement to Deadline Hollywood.
“Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste. We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of The Public Theater effective immediately.”
Bank of America also terminated support for the production, though it will continue its relationship with the theater. “The Public Theater chose to present Julius Caesar in a way that was intended to provoke and offend,” the bank said in a statement to Deadline. “Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it.”
The response on the left has been outrage at the right for provoking this backlash. Various pieces attack Fox News and Breitbart for a) failing to point out the play itself is not pro-assassination and for b) partisan hypocrisy, i.e. no one cared when a similar production featured an Obama-like Caesar back in 2012. These are reasonable points to make but it’s clear the outrage goes beyond them or perhaps pre-exists them. The left is angry and these are handy ways to call the people they are angry with dumb hypocrites. You can see that dynamic in the response by the theater company, which wrote a defense of the staging of the play:
We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors, and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions. Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy.
Our production of ‘Julius Caesar’ in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare’s play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.
So there you have it. Like Mark Antony in his funeral oration, the company is praising the honorable men, including sponsors, who have expressed “varying viewpoints and opinions.” It almost sounds as if they are fine with losing some support so long as a discussion was provoked. And yet, on opening night, the director was a bit less guarded about how he felt about varying viewpoints. Variety reports that in an interview after the show the director said, “The event here is not my show. The event here is the right-wing hate machine.”
The real hypocrisy here is the hypocrisy of the left which has spent months on campaigns designed to silence people on the right through targeting sponsors. They did it to Fox News, to Bill O’Reilly, to Sean Hannity and to Breitbart. Just yesterday, even as they were writing outraged pieces about sponsors abandoning Shakespeare in the park, the left was working itself up for a new boycott against Megyn Kelly over an interview none of them have even seen. JP Morgan Chase has already pulled ads from the show in response.
Will the left object to this? Will Vox offer 3,000 words on the long history of political conspiracy theories for context? Will they ask readers to carefully observe the totality of the show before forming an opinion about whether it was pro-Alex Jones or not? Or will they jump on the outrage bandwagon? If you guessed outrage bandwagon, you’re right.
I’m really not a fan of attempts to boycott everything one disagrees with, but this has become the left’s default response. As we saw yesterday, even in the midst of denouncing the right for promoting a response that leads sponsors to withdraw, they are mounting a new campaign to target sponsors of something they think they won’t like. I’d like to see all of this end but for it to end the left will first have to decide it has embraced a bad idea with these partisan sponsor boycotts. That doesn’t seem anywhere close to happening at this point.