What I Saw at the Revolution

I’m pretty sure I had more fun at the Los Angeles satellite event for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear than I would have had at the real thing. It was more low key, more manageable in scale – several hundred people rather than a couple hundred thousand – so there were none of the huge-event problems with transportation, finding parking, getting close enough to see, etc. 

My cousin and I are the kind of people who don’t like to draw attention to ourselves, are a little uncomfortable interacting with people we don’t know, and don’t like to have our pictures taken – but we brought these things upon ourselves by bringing signs and masks. And honestly, we did get a kick out of the positive attention, even as we felt a bit awkward about it. (Sorry I don't have pictures; not generally liking having my picture taken, I forgot to bring my camera.)

Nathan even gave an interview to an alternative media site while wearing his Sarah Palin mask, and acquitted himself quite well, I thought. After he stumbled over a question or two about the 2012 election, the interviewer switched topics to California’s initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use, regarding which Nathan gave his own true opinion on the matter: that we should reject the ballot measure because it doesn’t go far enough and would entrench in law burdensome regulatory system, standing in the way of true and complete pot legalization. He incorrectly stated the number of the proposition in question, and when the reporter corrected him, he replied, “well, I’ve been known to make a few blunders in my time.”

The highlight of the morning was the Colbert-Stewart duet on "Greatest, Strongest Country in the World," both because sing-alongs are always fun, and because apparently the only city in the western United States that easterners can think of is Los Angeles, which gave those of us actually gathered in L.A. several opportunities to raise a cheer and feel like we were involved in what was happening.

The whole thing was more a large-scale outdoor TV watching party than a political rally – which is not a criticism. The Rally was first and foremost an entertainment event, staged by an entertainment company that is in the business of fostering viewer loyalty so that they can sell our eyeballs to advertisers and make a profit. The satellite rallies around the country could be likened to the parties thrown by die-hard fans of television shows with cult followings to communally experience, say, the series finale. We came together to be entertained, and to participate in some small way in the creation of that entertainment, whether through costumes and signs or chanting and singing. It's not the seed of an epic social movement, but it's good clean fun.

I'm sure there's already been plenty of criticism of the rally both for politicizing a comic event and for making a mockery of a political event, as well as criticism of my entire generation and the one after us for being more enthusiastic about a faux event orchestrated by a basic cable channel than we are about activism that might actually make a difference in the world.


People put a lot of money and emotional energy into attending rock concerts or professional sporting events, and the communal experience is an important part of those forms of entertainment. We don't hear this kind of fretting about such events being a wasted opportunity or a confusion of public discourse; we accept them as valued parts of our culture.

Improvisational comedy is likewise a worthwhile part of our culture, a source of entertainment and an art form. The best description of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, including all the grass-roots spin off events across the country that were not sponsored by Comedy Central, is as the largest-scale improv comedy sketch in history. The thousands of people who turned out for the rally were not simply an audience, but players in the drama.

One of the fundamental principles of improv is simply expressed as "yes, and."  "Yes, and" means that you must never reject an idea or an action contributed by your acting partners, no matter how ridiculous it is or how contrary it runs to the direction of the scene as you are imagining it in your own mind. Rather than saying no, you must say "yes, and" -- accept the contribution, and add to it to move the scene forward. To have a successful game, each participant must cede control and work together by practicing radical acceptance.

So if you plan a rally as a form of political satire and also as a venue for a comedy and music performance, and the pundits that provide most of the fodder for your satire interpret it as a cynical plan to "activate the youth," you take that and run with it. If people like Arianna Huffington and Oprah Winfrey and the President of the United States interpret it as a sincere call for a new era of social discourse, you accept that, too. You don't waste your breath trying to tell people that's not what you meant, or that they don't get it, or that they're not welcome at your rally if they don't sign on to your exact vision of what "sanity" (and/or "fear") is -- you say, "yes, and" and welcome it all.

I admit I had a little trouble applying this principle at the L.A. rally when, moments after Stewart issued a stirring and sincere call for civility and tolerance of people whose viewpoints are different from one's own, the local speakers took the stage and launched into a series of diatribes poorly disguised as comedy routines that assumed that the entire audience was completely on board with a progressive political agenda and displayed open hostility to religious faith of any kind. (This was not true of the entire local line-up -- Dylan Brody in particular was a shining exception to the rule -- but it was the character of the majority of the short, live performances that followed the feed from D.C.) It was disheartening to watch so many of the official participants of the event who didn't seem to get its basic premise.

But the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear is big enough to accommodate a range of visions of what constitutes sanity and/or fear. And when I look through the pictures of signs from the various rallys around the country, I feel reassured that the great mass of participants did in fact get it -- even if we "got it" in slightly different ways. Moreover, the fact that the belligerent blowhards don't get the joke is itself part of the joke. I may be exasperated by the way some of the speakers expressed themselves, but it's easier to accept even that when it's wrapped in a context of civility and cooperation.

Books like Sam Wells' Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics or Patricia Ryan Madson's Improv Wisdom (second item in the linked post) articulate how the principles of improv comedy have wisdom and utility beyond the comedy club stage. I believe the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was Important, not because it transcended comedy and became a real political movement, but because Improv is itself a force for good. 


Steve Lansingh said...

I'm so glad you went to the event and could give the inside scoop. You captured something about it that is quietly beautiful.

I love the linking of the improv comedy rules with factors of grace ... I actually have a file on my computer titled "yes, and" with a few thoughts about faith and community, that I never got around to doing anything with. I'm glad someone (or someones) has.

Michael said...

Hey Sis,

Glad to read that you took part. I posted "Is your sanity restored?" on my facebook status minutes after the rally ended but didn't get many (if any) responses. I guess I don't have enough friends who watch the Daily Show. I got to watch some of it over here as comedy central.com did a live stream and had the decency not to block it from expats, and I watch the Daily Show every morning as part of my routine. Enjoyed your blog.

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