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WRITING FOR A POLITICAL THEATRE Eric Bentley Did that play of mine send out Certain men the English shot? Clearly the bone of contention is propaganda, and since people usually disagree on the subject, let me set out from a proposition we can all agree to: bad propaganda is a bad thing. But here our difficulties start because the word "bad" in this context has two entirely different meanings which, however, are often jumbled up together. There is (a) "bad" in the sense of "poor" propaganda possibly for something good and (b) there is propaganda , poor or otherwise, for something bad. There is no scientific way of measuring either kind of badness, but it is clear that one kind concerns the means, and the other, the end. The means, here, signifies the form and the end signifies the content. Commonly, the ends and contents are settled in advance by a given audience . Thus a play founded on, and dedicated to, Catholic theology has good ends and good contents for performance in a Catholic church or in the city square of a Catholic city. Provisionally, my phrase "propaganda for something good" only means propaganda for something its audience can respect. I say "can" because it may be something the audience already respects or it may be something they can be persuaded to respect. As well as preaching to the coverted, there is preaching to the heathen, and the latter takes precedence since originally there are no coverted as yet. First, a faith; second, conversion to it. The word propaganda itself, as we use it, 45 derives from its use, in the original Latin, on behalf of the Counter Reformation . Propaganda was the propagation of the Catholic Faith which in turn was my reason for using Catholicism as the first example of a cause that can be propagandized for. Most communities are hostile to propaganda for various causes, but none are hostile to propaganda for all causes, since each community-or the regime that dominates it-wishes to propagate what it sees as its own cause. All communities are in fact saturated with propaganda. All, one could say, are being sold a bill of goods, day in and day out. The job is done by television, radio, newspapers, billboards, by churches if any, but above all by schools and parents. The purpose of parenthood, within the nuclear family as we know it, is to drum into the resistant heads of infancy the received ideas (prejudices, assumptions, habits, etc.) of the larger group the family is part of, notably a class. Even generational revolt is not to be interpreted as rejection of what the parents have taught. Rather, it is an accusation , in the name of the values implanted in childhood, that the parents have betrayed those values. Let me put a question: if propaganda is in fact taken for granted by all, and quite ubiquitous, how is it so many people think they are against it and shudder at the very mention of the word? The main reason would seem to be that they don't regard their own propaganda as propaganda. It's just the truth. Propaganda is what "the others" preach. Thus, in America, what Communists say is propaganda, but what the National Association of Manufacturers says, or what the Heritage Foundation says, is not propaganda , it's research, it's truth. There is a widespread feeling that propaganda should be kept in its proper place. What its proper place is, however, has not been agreed on. It could be the convention hall, the parliament, the church, or the Union Square, the Hyde Park of a given city. But there has been a strong feeling that its proper place is not in the arts, and there has been an especially strong feeling that its proper place is not in the theatrical arts, a term we must use today to include dramatic art in motion pictures and television. This strong feeling comes through to us in two quite distinct currents of thinking. One is that of the politicians. An extreme case would be a politician like Ronald Reagan whose background is in the entertainment business. The politicians assume that entertainment should...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 45-58
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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