Recently I had a heated conversation (because it was hot out) with Ido Bornstein and Shlomo Plessner, the dynamic creative duo (and couple) behind TheaterCan’s “biting” comic play called “Dogs.” Its premise is that a young director dreams of creating a musical about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Through auditions for Arabs and Jews he collects a group of men from the street. Without any women around, the rehearsal room becomes a battlefield.
According to Bornstein, the play spotlights a theme which is very present in the Jewish and Arab cultures in Israel, but is rarely talked about – what it means to be a man in a society with conflicting values. “The conflict” is a volatile subject that immediately sets afire any attempt to touch upon it. However, “Dogs” tries to raise something else — the patriarchic reality of our lives, based on relations of power and hierarchy, and the complexity of male identities in a society where two (and many more) strong traditions and cultures collide.
This “all-male, Arab-Israeli Romeo & Juliet Musical” will be part of New York Fringe Festival this summer and promises to give theater-goers plenty of food for thought. In fact, I have not yet seen the play, but after my talk, the buffet already started.
But there’s more than just the Palestinian conflict on the menu — rather the whole mess that machismo and political correctness have made in and of so much in the world.
For example, why is it that men are always behind the most dastardly of deeds, the messiest of mistakes and the most colossal of global cock-ups? What is at work here – a failure of motherhood? Something fundamentally savage and stupid in the male psyche? In the male body?
Maybe men around the world have simply failed to come to grips with the true meaning and misunderstood power of the male erection? In other words, is the erection a pillar of civilization, or the seed of its ultimate destruction?
How did we, the human race, get to this point, in 2012, where all the great female leaders belong to the past? Where’s our Cleopatra? Where’s our Golda Meir? What in the hell happened to Wonderwoman?
Suppressed and politically pummeled by the unremitting heft of all this brainless man meat, women have really gotten the shaft. Homosexuals too; though usually the modern kind are too self-absorbed and sex-obsessed to see just how marginalized they are by the great heterosexual male hordes. Why , for example, is it OK to talk about “gay Tel Aviv” and all its putative honeyed freedoms while it is rather less kosher for Israelis, Palestinians or anyone, to talk about “gay Gaza?” Because like certain Haredim, no one in the Gaza Strip has ever felt a homosexual urge, or because the heterosexual males in charge of various sects and strips have allowed the cloaked violence of the erection to poison any emergence of actual liberty?
How many battles were fought and are born because of underlying and unresolved sexual issues?
Historically, men haven’t understood sex. (Reproduction alone does not equate with comprehension of the act.) Time and time again, mens’ fear of their own erections (think of the Puritans, and also contemporary America, where violence is a fetish and sex is still taboo) has been commuted into a pathologically misguided need to dominate. To dominate a given person, situation, nation. Caught in the crossfire is all sense of decency or reason; let the seeds of love burn, say the men — not though their words, of course, but through their deeds.
Enter the age of digital masturbation, where the fragile male ego finds swift ersatz succor in the dehumanizing digital din, a sea of soulless symphonies-for-one which pairs nicely with the flaccid diplomacy of the times. I think if women were in charge of this planet we could soon close all the embassies and burn all the passports. Paint the Oval Office periwinkle or pink, and instead of greasing up war machines like so many plump tarts in a Pompeian whorehouse, get on with the business of peacemaking.
But before women can really begin to shake things up, men need to ask themselves, and each other, some hard questions about their erections, and where they are pointing them. I don’t think this overdue interrogation will begin in Afghanistan or Iran. Not in the cards. But the Middle East would be a fine place to see more fellows question their swagger, and rise to the occasion.