Big money is a big issue in this election. Since the U.S. Supreme Court made its decision in the Citizens United case, an unlimited amount of corporate money is flowing into the so-called “Super PACs” that support political candidates.
Even though the Supreme Court deemed this constitutional, some believe that unlimited influence of money in politics is undermining democracy in the U.S. The San Francisco Mime Troupe is among the most vocal of such critics. The troupe is in its 53rd season, and its current show is called “For The Greater Good or The Last Election.” The Mime Troupe is using satire and farce to address the role of money in politics, greedy bankers, jobless recovery, and the Occupy movement, just to name a few. It's practically a city institution, known for its outspoken political commentary, performed for the public in open spaces and always for free.
At the center of this story is a wealthy banker who claims to have done everything in his life for the common good, including stealing money. The author and director of this melodrama is Michael Gene Sullivan. He believes that theatre – satire, in particular – is a strong way to raise awareness around political issues of the day.
“What we decided to do, is to push it to its extreme,” says Sullivan. “To show – okay, this is what you are being shown every day that these people are the makers of America, they are the heroes.” And by “these people” Sullivan means the infamous one percent of wealthy Americans. “And that Occupy and revolutionaries and all these people are villains. So let's just do it completely that way and make it as ironic as possible to show the contradictions and hypocrisy,” Sullivan continues.
The title of the show includes the words “Last Election” because Sullivan fears corporate money will forever change what it means to run for office. “Unlimited donations mean... when is the next time that we are going to have somebody who is just a person? There's just going to be like it's said: ‘The best patriots money can buy,’” he adds.
The latest campaign data shows that in July, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney raised just over $100 million. That's about five times more than John McCain raised around this time last election.
President Barack Obama and his supporters have also raised more – $23 million more than they did in June of 2008. And this is just one month.
Political strategists agree that if a candidate can substantially outspend his or her opponent, victory is almost certain. Obama outspent McCain in 2008. George Bush outspent John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000.
Sullivan believes that a couple of years ago, right at the beginning of the recession, there was momentum building toward changing the system: “The first impulse of the country was, of course, ‘Those bastard capitalists and bankers and investment bankers and hedge fund managers! They've ruined this country! They've driven our economy to a ditch!’”
But then the anger started to shift towards so-called big government. “And this idea has re-emerged, this Ayn Rand-ian idea has re-emerged of ‘We have to take care of the best because they take care of us,’” says Sullivan. This is why the Mime Troupe tells its audience: If you don't like the world depicted on stage, go out and change it.
Jeff Myers is a member of the audience who has seen the troupe many times. After the show he says that this “is the most honest discussion of the values and principles our society needs to live by you can find anywhere. I can think of no theatrical group or broadcast media that does nearly as good job to recognize where our issues truly lie.”
Marcy Rose from Los Angeles is also a fan. “I agree with their politics. I think things definitely need to be changed. We need to hold them responsible for what's happened and we haven't done it yet. And this is as good way to communicate it as any I've seen. It's using humor, it's using consciousness, it's using sanity,” says Rose.
It's no surprise that many audience members are supporters of the troupe's message. But are they ready for revolution?
“Revolution has been possible before, so in principle it's always possible, but I don't know whether we have one around the corner,” thinks Oliver Hoeller.
Darril Tighe is also sceptical: “Not many people are in favor of a revolution. I mean, there are a lot of progressives and I know a lot of progressives. But I don't think that progressives believe in a revolution.”
Harry Pariser thinks the Mime Troupe is preaching to the converted: “The people who would need to see this play aren't gonna see this play. That's one of the biggest problems. And if they did get to see the play, they would start get angry and walk away.”
Asked about this problem, Sullivan replies that audience is self-selecting. “We can't go into their homes, break into their houses, tie them to chairs, and do the show for them. Theatre is always a self-selecting crowd.”
Sullivan claims that the group's popularity and prestigious Tony Award brings more diverse crowds – and not all of them necessarily agree with the Mime Troupe. “We were in Ann Arbor, Michigan in this huge theatre, and one whole row of people got up and walked out,” he remembers. “And we'd found out later that it was a teacher who had brought her students because she thought we did silent mime. And when she found out how political the show was, she worried she was going to be fired. So she had to take her students out of the theatre.”
In San Francisco’s Dolores Park no one seems to have left during the show. But the question remains: is this going to inspire real change or is just thoughtful entertainment?