• David X Novak

    A. Rey Pamatmat says, “I am more American than the person you picture when I say ‘all American.’ Unlike that mythic Aryan hayseed, I could only exist in America—a country birthed from immigrant dissidence and revolution. I am an American, and President Trump is a direct threat to my life because he is a direct threat to everything that America makes possible.” This is right, at least in the sense Facebook could only have come of age in America; he might equally exist (and be able to thrive) elsewhere, but it would be differently. And the forces behind Trump threaten more than one man’s life.

    The speech is refreshingly honest, though I quibble with the headline writer who writes, “If you can find a calling that gives you peace, you owe it to yourself to follow it, no matter what stands in your way.” To the extent that is the theme of the speech, it is wrong. A “calling” in theater will not bring peace; Pamatmat tacitly admits this in the Q&A when he says, “Writing is a bit of a compulsion for me and so it’s easier to keep writing than it is to stop”. Compulsion is not peace.

    He asks: “The question, of course, is why do it? Why stay in your profession, in a world that hates your profession?” This is histrionic—who would expect that of a dramatist?—but points to the fact that “the world” but rarely stands supportive of the artist. (Even Michelangelo “blame[d] the times, which are so unfavorable to our art.”) And his answer is a good one: quit. It’s how I have dealt with the present climate, and would never urge any would-be playwright to “tough it out.” I don’t say, with the Brecht song, that “a man is better off without” the artistic impulse—our society is certainly the better off for the presence of A. Rey Pamatmat in it—but it seems frivolous (and possibly cruel) to advocate for planting on salted ground, and the intellectual substratum of America appears to have been deliberately sabotaged.

    If the times are never favorable, today they feel positively dangerous. “[D]o I look battered?” Pamatmat asks, rhetorically. The challenge will be, how to weather a battering, and still retain peace of mind. The “mythic Aryan hayseed” of superior birtherism may be in for a reckoning, but a spurious self-identity based on lies helps no one out. It is hard to endorse the optimism Pamatmat preaches to neophytes and novices, but he is the face of America, at least insofar as decency and dignity are allowed to reign.