Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater Quiara Alegria Hudes was recently asked by American Theater for some brief post-election reflections on “what theater can do.” She kindly gave me permission to share her brief essay here as a guest blog.
My grandmother’s was a food=love home. The meals were modest, sometimes limited in quantity if the grocery budget was tight, but even the way Abuela placed the tin plate on the table revealed a practiced and virtuosic love. Hers was a humility bursting with enterprise: in times of scarcity there ought always be small bowl of food offer to a neighbor.
The danger of food=love came when the meals went beyond nourishment to something more voracious—consumption for consumption’s sake. Abuela left her farm in Puerto Rico in the 50s, trading a familiar agrarian poverty for an unkind Philadelphia poverty. What a wager she took coming here, what a bold move it was.
By the time of my adolescence, her risky bet started to show returns. While some of her progeny remained mired in poverty, my mom bought a new red Volvo with leather seats. We drove to the local sushi restaurant and ordered sashimi a la carte. By my twenties, friends were charging foie-stuffed kobe burgers to corporate law accounts. Abundance had tipped into vampirism.
Reflecting on this election cycle, I wonder if information=truth is the internet-age version of food=love. It is imperative, of course, that we search for, scrutinize, articulate, and share what information we can gather—it is democratic.
But in the months leading up to November 8, my information=truth gauge got off-kilter. I became a sucker for every bit of click-bait, eschewing information for binge-consumed spin. If there were articles engaging substantively with each candidate’s platform, I didn’t find my way to them. Instead I consumed (miserably, growing more sick with each click) mud-slinging op-eds, grotesque tweets, debate spectacles.
The morning after, I felt disgusted, like an addict who looks in the mirror after the binge. I was the fool complicit in my own duping—I had gone right along with the scam. The scam goes something like this: the more lavish the plate of food, the better the meal. The more media consumed per hour, the vaster one’s knowledge.
On November 9, I turned off the news. Even trusted sites, like the New York Times, had to go dark—because it wasn’t just “fake news” that had duped me, it was “real news,” too. I returned to my dog-eared James Baldwin, flashlight in hand, as the kids slept. I underlined new passages, wrote fresh margin notes atop fading ones. My mind made space for a thing called quiet. My habits returned to what Danielle Allen calls “slow reading.”
Fellow artists, let’s reject the rhetoric and infrastructure of “consumer content.” Let’s renounce the toxic suck of the five-minute news cycle. Ours must be a practice of panoramic time. For, we are a past we did not choose but inherited, and we architect the future with each new page we write.
Let us nourish each other.