Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Aida (ahh! eee! duh!): Casting Stones And Common Sense On The College Stage

In Adam McKay's epic motion picture, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the members of the Channel 4 News Team vociferously protest to their news director the hiring of female reporter Veronica Corningstone. Weatherman Brick Tamland, whom we find out later will be told he has an IQ of 46, pounds his fist and screams, "Loud noises!"

I can relate to Brick - and not just in IQ - in the wake of the recent and incendiary developments at two Christian universities: Abilene Christian's scrapping of its much-anticipated production of the Elton John/Tim Rice version of Aida (see headline for pronunciation) and Harding's announcement that Ann Coulter will be a featured speaker in this school year's Distinguished Lecture Series. Somewhere, Brick is pounding his fists again and screaming. There are a lot of loud noises coming from seemingly every side.

ACU (my alma mater, for the record) pulled Aida because of pressure from minority groups and individuals who essentially branded the university and (implicitly) the leaders within the theater department as racists for casting a white student, Lara Seibert, in the titular role, one often played worldwide by a woman of color. The only black student who auditioned for the role, Jessica Owens, was one of those casting stones. Owens acknowledged she wasn't as good a singer as Seibert but was quoted in the Abilene Reporter-News as saying, "I don't think the ACU theater department is at a place where it can do colorblind casting on black shows. They need to recognize the problem." Apparently, the department has no problem being colorblind in casting white shows. Owens herself played the role (magnificently, I might add) of Julius Caesar's Caucasian wife, Calpurnia, in ACU's summer Shakespeare festival. Concerned that the cast and crew would be put in an unfair position, however, the theater department ditched Aida in favor of a musical based on the works of Dr. Seuss. Any full-blooded Zizzer Zazzer Zuzz is asked to contact the department immediately to audition.

(A final thought on the talented Ms. Owens: history doesn't typically identify heroes in any movement as those who demand double standards and preferential treatment but rather ones who endure hardship to gain equality. Rosa Parks didn't ask to ride the bus for free.)

Meanwhile, Harding University is taking some heat for its decision to bring Coulter to campus next March. The ubiquitous author and pundit is ultra-conservative in her politics but ultra-liberal in dispensing vitriol. Most disturbing to me is not Coulter's presence but rather the absence of anyone on the Distinguished Lecture Series who might approach politics from a different angle. If Molly Ivins or Michael Moore were brought in for the same series, for example, the university would have an opportunity to put divergent opinions under the microscope of Christ and see if there's a molecule of truth in either. Instead, Harding's definition of divergent is Zell Miller, the erstwhile Democrat last seen roasting his former party members over an open spit at the Republican National Cookout, who'll follow Coulter next spring. (Perhaps now that he's publicly called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Pat Robertson will be forgiven for promoting instrumental worship and cleared to kick off next year's series.)

Two decisions. Two schools.

ACU. Harding.

One correct answer in my book. (Hint: It's not the one on the Right.)

Many good things have happened at Harding. (Some of my best friends are Bison.) And ACU, like any of us individually, has botched its share of situations through the years. This is more about the choices of the individual decision makers at each place than one institution being greater than the other.

ACU could have, with a squeaky clean conscience and a preponderence of evidence proving its casting impartiality, proceeded with Aida; Harding was and remains free to bring to campus whomever it so chooses. But the way of Christ seems to point us away from demanding our rights and toward the service of our enemies, even political ones.

Do you know your ABCs?
Do you, do you? Tell me please!
Start with A and end with Z!
Tickets are, for both nights, free!

Listen first to Ann, then Zell!
That's the way to sidestep Hell!
Which starts with H like Heaven, you C?
There's a party up there, and it's G-O-P!

A-C-U and H-U, each
Big decisions did they reach!
A-C chose, not Elton, Seuss;
H plucked two from off Fox News!

There's no I in Green Eggs and Ham.
Nor should there when we serve the Lamb.
So when God, speech, and arts collide,
Seuss or Fox News? U decide!


Sarah said...

First, THANK YOU for the pronunciation guide for 'Aida' -- I'm weary of people talking about 'Aye-duh'!! And I had no idea you had taken over ghost writing for Dr. Seuss at his death. Brilliant. I can add no more.

Stephen Bailey said...

I've always thought college should prepare you for the real world. I guess both ACU and HU are doing that. In the real world money talks, political candidates act in the best interest of their biggest monetary supporters and private schools are pawns for big donors. In the real world, if you don't like something or you don't get your way you bring in an organization that will cause a stink for you or you file a lawsuit. I see it every night on the news when they show a Dallas City Council or School Board meeting. That's right kids, looks like these two institutions are acting just like the real world!

Mike said...

Sometimes your mind scares me. And delights me at the same time. Brilliant.

Keith Brenton said...

Easily the best (and most poetic!) of the commentaries on these subjects I have read so far.

So I think I'll just quit reading them here.

Brandon Scott Thomas said...

LOVE IT!!!! The funniest thing to me is the irony in the show choice by ACU. Seuss?? Is there any character in Seuss that is obviously white, black or brown? Aren't they mostly blue, purple and orange?? LOVE that irony. Love Adam Hester.

Harding, bless em. They're still forcing students to go underground if they want to sing ZOE songs. Now that ZOE...wow, they are real rebels. And that's not coming from a bloated ego.

Kendra said...

Two consecutive posts with no golf content?!

Grant Boone said...

And three since I've mentioned you, Kendra.