There are people, I hear, whose job it is to monitor television programs and who therefore have to watch everything on one station from the beginning of the week to the end. Perhaps they have to watch another station another week. I can’t imagine what that kind of life must be. As one who watches television about two hours a week, I would place watching television steadily under the same heading as proofreading a telephone book.

Another interesting assignment is to read some college newspapers. If you want to know where young people really are and what they are thinking, and if you want to try to foresee the future of this lovely land that we are constantly turning over to these young people, read college newspapers for a sense of horror.

Recently the newspaper of one Mid-western college was very happy to give front-page center to something that had happened at another college. What College A was saying was that College B had put on a play called The Chairs that was scheduled for three performances but was called off by the administration after the first. The whole affair was especially newsworthy because at least one group of college administrators reacted violently to what they thought was filth on the stage, and were not afraid to say so, and were not afraid to endure the wrath of the drama department, the student body, and all those members of the popular press who enjoy so much anything off-color that happens on a college campus.

Apparently the scene that stopped the show was a girl going through all the actions necessary to suggest that she was participating in sexual intercourse. The drama department refused to eliminate this part of the play, and the girl was quite taken aback, according to the newspaper account, that there were still “squares” around who did not appreciate (a) realism and (b) dramatics. Another college in the same area has been carrying on a tussel about whether they can or should produce Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The arguments in favor of such dramas again reduce themselves to the questions of realism and what constitutes drama.

It might be worth our time to reconsider this whole argument about realism. We must admit that almost anything that is portrayed must be somewhere, among some people, realistic. But whether we need to know or have set before us on the stage or described in novels what realism in these matters may mean to some kinds of people is a nice question.

I like to think of it this way. The rose bush in front of our house is just as real as the garbage can at the back. I think it is a sound instinct that the garbage ought to be kept at the back of the house, with a lid on it. I don’t think doing this is narrow-minded, naïve, old-hat, provincial, or square. It is a piece of progress that to my mind makes our century more pleasant and certainly more healthful than previous ones. The streets of our cities were once almost like cesspools, and that was real enough. Now we have learned to clean up the streets, and that is real, too. What I am trying to say is that to argue realism is not quite enough. Something else is at stake here.

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In the movie and the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? we have plenty of realism. The older couple in the play have made a very sad mess out of their lives, and in the course of the play they pull in the younger couple. With plenty of liquor and lots of foul language and one woman who acts like a fishwife and another who can’t keep from falling apart in tears, we get a strong dose of realism—at least what is real in some marriages and some families. Depending upon where we sit ourselves, we are more or less horrified by being allowed to look into something like this.

Perhaps the play has a moral: Don’t drink so much and do your best not to get your marriage into a mess like that. There is, of course, a touching and very dramatic problem in the case of the older couple, and there is a kind of hope at the end that they have found each other and are about to reach out and touch now as persons dealing with their problem. All I can say is three cheers for that.

Whether looking in on a couple as they wash their dirty linen is the kind of catharsis Aristotle had in mind when he talked about the power of great drama is another question. In any case, great literature is not only a reflection of life but also a creator of life. With the inundation of sex that surrounds college students today, they don’t need more of what “Virginia Woolf” gives them. It is not unrealistic to look in on this kind of marriage; but when we hope for better things for college students, wouldn’t it be wise to hold something better before them?

Another problem bothers me. What about the girl who had to act out the part in The Chairs? What about the girl who at the age of twenty plays the part of Martha in “Virginia Woolf”? To play their parts well they had to identify strongly with the characters. If I understand “method” acting (and maybe that is just good acting), you can’t really act a part unless you live it. Shall we use a college girl as a channel for the sort of thing that has to flow through her in a living way in order for her to play this part? What does such a part do to her?

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This leaves the question of dramatic performance. Can we justify anything so long as it is artfully done or done for the sake of art? I pull back from this argument, too. Let your mind run to some of the physical things people have to do in the normal course of a day. We rightly do these behind closed doors. They are absolutely real, but doing them, even doing them well, on the stage would certainly be no argument for their presentation.

I was pleased to see that one of Genet’s plays was stopped in the name of decency. Apparently it was a Peeping Tom approach to homosexuality. Doing such a play well is, it seems, not quite enough. I have often wondered why a college drama department can present on the stage viewpoints and language that would get a man fired if he used them in the classroom. We are all so afraid of being thought unsophisticated that we run for cover at the least scorn of one who is so sure that we must have realism in drama. My observation is that the most sophisticated nations and races by virtue of their sophistication (take the Jews, or the Chinese, or the French, for example) have been most careful to protect their young people from freedoms in sexual matters.

It is amusing but also tragic that in the American culture we are so unsophisticated as to believe that our young people should be allowed everything in the name of freedom. Then we wake up with such naïve surprise because somehow man-woman relationships have gone very sour indeed.

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