Issue Home

Postmodern Parody as Political Intervention
by Kavita Kulkarni

Desobediencia Simbólica
by Victor Vich

The U.S. Voting Machine Debacle and the Machinery of Democracy
by Nina Mankin

Venezuelan Elections
by Fernando Calzadilla

Radical Cheerleading and Feminist Performance
by Jeanne Vaccaro

Multimedia Presentation: Billionaires for Bush

Multimedia Presentation: Superbarrio for President

Roundtable Discussion

Student Panel

In Every Issue:

Humor / Humor / Humor

e-Gallery / e-Galería / e-Galeria

Reviews / Reseñas / Resenhas

News and Events / Noticias y Eventos / Notícias e Eventos

Activism / Activismo / Ativismo

Editorial Remarks:
The New Radical Performance Artists: Staging Democracy in the Americas
by Diana Taylor

Picture this: A well-rehearsed politician stands elevated on an elaborately crafted stage in a huge auditorium, delivering an impassioned speech to delegates and supporters. The adoring wife and children look on. Many eyes are on the politician. The women and men in the room, photographers, television cameras, surveillance cameras direct their look forward, though at times they look at themselves being looked at looking. Those present as 'live,' embodied spectators see most of the proceedings on huge monitors. They clap or wave placards on cue, prompted by one of the many stage hands disguised as 'normal' spectators. At times a heckler, also passing as a 'normal' spectator, causes a commotion. Outside the auditorium, resistant spectators protest the event and offer their own competing spectacle. For distant spectators who watch the proceedings on television, the delegates, stage hands, and hecklers inside, and protestors outside, become performers, a part of the show they see. For them, the event is further mediated by professional spectators, those expert commentators who evaluate the efficacy of the performance. Does it motivate and persuade spectators? What about the feel and tone? Does the candidate come across as strong, comfortable, convincing? At the bottom of the screen, an information loop encourages viewers to participate actively by emailing their reactions to the designated website. Ratings evaluate the reach of the coverage and polls follow the short and long term effects of the performance. A successful performance turns spectators into voters and donors, whether those spectators are embodied (live), or the product of the 'live' transmission that creates spectators everywhere.

So why do we care about performance? Because our political leaders do. They are ever more radical performers. Often, they leave artists speechless. As Miguel Rubio of Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani from Peru once said, "nothing that you create onstage can compare to what is happening in this country." The same, unfortunately, can be said of all our countries in the Americas. So artists and scholars try to interrupt, disrupt, upstage, and talk back to power.

This first issue of the Hemispheric Institute's e-misferica, launched just before the U.S. presidential elections, explores the performance of democracy. The essays in this issue, by Victor Vich, Kavita Kulkarni, Fernando Calzadilla, Nina Mankin, and Jeanne Vaccaro, the multimedia presentation, the round table discussion, and the student panel discuss the many ways in which politics have become increasingly performatic and mediated. Politicians have always performed, as we see in Fernando Calzadilla's essay. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a master political performer, appears to his crowds in an array of poses: baseball player, revolutionary à la Ché Guevara, and Commander-in-Chief. He capitalizes on the performance quality of the political office itself, as cameras zoom in on flags, military attire, national colors, presidential sashes and seals. He appears on television, framed against the backdrop of Bolivar, holding the tiny, hand-held version of the new constitution and a crucifix. This performance as politics has prompted impassioned counter-performances by his fans and foes throughout the Americas, from Caracas to Washington D.C., escalating the physical and political clashes that, in turn, prompt more governmental displays of power. Berta Jottar, however, also points to political performance as performance through the figure of SuperBarrio, the Mexican activist who has long been associated with the leftist PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democrático). Dressed as a traditional masked wrestler, SuperBarrio enters the political ring in a bid for the Presidency of the United States. If what happens in the U.S. so directly affects the rest of the Americas, he posits in his platform, the rest of the Americas should be able to vote in the elections and even run for President. The student panel, made up of Performance Studies students in Professor Kay Turner's class "Social Movements and Performance" focuses on the Republican Convention and U.S. electoral politics today, illustrating the degree to which embodied action, such as style, gesture, tone, and affect, works on a non-discursive level to achieve its very 'real' political objectives. The warmth and friendliness of a charismatic speaker, for example, might easily occlude a devastating political agenda.

Spectacles contesting political events are also common. Victor Vich's essay looks at the stunning effective performance protest—the public washing of the Peruvian flag. In 2000, women brought their wash tubs and flags to the Plaza San Martin, in Lima's very center of power, and washed them, trying to rid them of the stains of corruption and dirty politics that had soiled the country's honor. This performance has had an important after-life, as other groups of Peruvians living abroad have replicated this act in their own public places, including New York's Central Park.

In the United States, spectacles of contestation are taking place constantly in advance of the elections. Billionaires for Bush, discussed by Kavita Kulkarni, draw on the political force of parody. Through the exaggerated use of costumes, evening gowns, and fake tiaras, Billionaires make visible a widespread conviction: The Bush Administration is orchestrating the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich ever seen in the U.S. "Leave no billionaire behind" becomes a play on Bush's "Leave no child behind" initiative. "Radical Cheerleaders," introduced by Jeanne Vaccaro, calls attention to the ways in which marginalized groups—in this case women and lesbians—claim radical performance for themselves. They use the deprecated genre of cheerleaders to bring their critique center stage. They demonstrate how positions classified as peripheral and decorative (cheerleading) can be transformed into powerful political performance.

The round table features short interventions by major thinkers in the Americas—Tomás Eloy Martínez, Jean Franco, Vivian Martinez Tabares, and Alejandro Horowicz --on the upcoming U.S. elections. And the new e-gallery, linked to e-misferica offers scathing political images by Mexico's artist, JABAZ. Enjoy! And please, write back!!

Diana Taylor
New York University

Diana Taylor is Professor of Performance Studies and Spanish and Portuguese at NYU. She is the author of Theatre of Crisis: Drama and Politics in Latin America (University Press of Kentucky, 1991), Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina's 'Dirty War', Duke University Press, 1997, and The archive and the repertoire: performing cultural memory in the Americas (Duke University Press, 2003). She co-edited Holy Terrors: Latin American Women Perform (Women and Performance, 2001, and Duke University Press, 2003), Defiant Acts: Four Plays by Diana Raznovich (Bucknell, 2001), Negotiating Performance in Latin/o America: Gender, Sexuality and Theatricality (Duke University Press, 1994), and The Politics of Motherhood: Activists from Left to Right (University Press of New England, 1997). She has edited three other volumes of critical essays on Latin American, Latino, and Spanish playwrights. Her articles on Latin American and Latino performance have appeared in The Drama Review, Theatre Journal, Performing Arts Journal, Latin American Theatre Review, Estreno, Gestos, MLQ and other scholarly journals. She is a contributing editor of TDR, Theatre Journal, and Theatre Research International. Diana Taylor is founding Director of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, funded by the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.