Thursday, March 17, 2011

Talking about "Feeder"

I've known James Carter for a few years and we live in the same neighborhood. Yet it's rare to speak to other artists and writers these days. The premiere of Carter's play "Feeder" gave me the excuse to sit down with him before his show.


I had just run across town from the East Village Tompkin Square library to check-out "Secret History" a biography on Samuel Steward, an intellectual and 'sexual renegade' who chronicled his exploits with other men over several decades. On the L train back across to the West Side, I read the foreword to "Secret History" and the author's fascination with deviants and renegades. Steward fit into that mold as someone who was an artist, tattoo artist, professor, novelist, pornographer, and biographer among other things. In the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, this sort of man would certainly count as a renegade. These days, however, people chronicle their exploits on Facebook and vblogs. The shame of elicit sex and, therefore, much of the secretive thrill has also disappeared from most of my friends. There is no taboo, just human plumbing and wiring. But food is something quite different. I think food is something that garners shame in all cities, in all classes, races, and religions. Maybe that was why I wanted to sit down and talk.

"Feeder" is a great,  possibly even a brilliant, play that makes me uncomfortable. The genius is in the seat squirming. The audience is left to look in on a pair of people engaging in abrnormal levels of consumption. The one question I had in the back of my mind was with all that consumption must come abnormal levels of defecation, sweat, and fluids. I didn't ask that, though, because the bigger issue was about whether these people, these feeders, are renegades of sort.

 Carter said he definitely thought they could be considered outside the norm and, therefore, renegade in rejecting certain things about how we eat, think, and feel about our bodies. Then he said that the level of eating that goes into making someone gain 500-700 lbs is probably unhealthy. But isn't that what a renegade is, I asked? Sexual renegades like Steward engaged in sex at a probably unhealthy freakish amount that endangered their body and mind. Drug renegades like William Burroughs most certainly blasted their minds into pieces with abnromal use. In an age where the personal is political, isn't that a renegade? Is there such thing as a sensible revolutionary who goes to bed at 9:30 pm, eats healthy portions, maintains monogamy, and jogs 3 miles a day? Isn't that what's safe, normal, conservative? To be in the the arts or social politics and to engage in life at an extreme level probably means something mentally and physically is breaking down in search for a higher quest.

I'm fascinated by renegades because I am not one. It's better to watch. I don't smoke or use drugs, have no desire for drinking, prefer early bed times, and find the only thing more mundane than 'being naughty'  is reporting on it. Yet there is a circus aspect to watching people who possess discomforting features and traits. Somewhere in my deep subconscious is a 3-ring tent of bearded ladies, manic clowns, midget twins, fire breathers, strippers, sword swallowers, and fat women. I have no doubt about this because the circus scares me. Much like "Feeder" did, the circus makes me squirm in my seat and I know that the discomfort has to do mostly with being uncomfortable with who I think I am vs. who I might actually be.

Who I think I am is a poet, writer, philosopher, and dharma student. I think I'm a potential teacher of the dharma, an inspiration, a virtuoso. I would like to believe that I am horribly disfigured from my uniqueness and that this unicorn is so special no one could understand its true beauty.  Who I might actually be is just another circus gawker, a lover of tragedy and horror, another buck-toothed, horse-face country rube who slaps his knee when he laughs because he gets a kick out of the freaks because I am too scared to 'BE.' I squirm because I might not be so different from those that watch reality TV and the dirty old men who can still recall the days of peep shows.

Carter said that there is no need to go to the circus any more because we can get it streamed into our homes. And there in lies a deeper question about theatre and social spaces that are becoming extinct. There is a strange alienation which causes people to enact the circus at home and be very passive in public, almost diametrically opposed in amount to each other.  Vblogging the process of gaining 300 lbs is not something that the average person would tune into. And yet there are many blogs and videos online about feeders and the lovers of the 'incredibly well-fed.' The peep show is in our living rooms and in front of the computer. Exposure in private means less risk in public. The thrill is not in the experiencing, but getting home and reporting about it online, having a debate in a chat room, interacting with comfort and distance with the world. The vicious cycle leads to more isolation and then more privately-controlled exposure to counteract alienation. How can the circus or even theatre really exist in this type of world?

I went to a concert on Tuesday and found that I was one of the few people in the audience who was not joining the band on stage to play an instrument. My friends and I were actually there to hear the music. We had made a spontaneous decision and didn't consult with critics or guides. We saw a club and went inside. The food was excellent, the music was catchy blend of French neo-soul and hip hop bouncing back in forth between Brooklyn and Paris, the band was tight and smooth. The experience existed and I felt no desire to post about it on my Facebook page or take pictures of the food and band to prove 'what a good time' I was having. It was self-evident and wholly satisfying evening of adulthood in New York City. Therefore there was no need for public validation at what a great person I was or what a crazy adventure I had in Tribeca. In order to truly have a good time in public spaces one needs inner validation. Inner validation is achieved through watching oneself interact with the world on a daily basis outside of work and getting to and from the office.

If less and less people are unable to interact with real-time life without the crutches of Twitter and text, how can they stay still for 2 hours to watch theatre, go to a museum by themselves, check out the botanical garden? If we are less able to function in the world, then how can we have a citizen-based democracy or use the 4th estate of media and opinion to keep our government in check? If the silent majority have checked out, then who is left in the public space except deviants, exhibitionists, and theatre majors (overlapping categories, no doubt)? And if the exhibitionist is the only one left, then is there really any thrill in it? People don't expose themselves to trees, recite poetry to dirt, or stage plays for the clouds. They do it to create a space-time unity with others. Come see my play, go to my website, check out my vblog where I eat an entire turkey in one sitting, watch me cut myself, ingest bodily fluids, burn myself, cannibalize myself. Please eat me up!

The aspect of people exposing themselves for free to get validation is the very concept of writing. In writing, however, there is a refinement of this desire into order and viewpoints. From that seed sprouts theories, beliefs, philosophies, religion, art, history, mankind. It is in the refinement of that pleading desire for attention that takes something very basic and elevates it. And so public spaces were created to share in a common energy of a quiet library or a hip hop club blasting French neo-soul.

If there were no vblogs and chat rooms, would 'feeding' exist as a fetish or would we just say they're food addicts? Certainly I have the tendency to look at anything abnormal or deviant and want to slap a psychological disorder on it and send in the doctors. But the very aspect of being watched, changes both the actor and the audience. If there is no one watching, is theatre just refined exhibitionism among a dwindling group of friends?

I was all over the place in our conversation and I think that was right. I feel all over the place with the issues brought up by "Feeder." We were all over the place in our conversation but I don't think we needed to be organized. There was a freedom to kicking around these ideas. There is a lightness to challenging big thoughts and to making mountains out of questions. Some times there are no answers. Just conversations with friends, observations on life, and the thrill of being.

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