The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism

By Elinor Fuchs | Go to book overview

7
Theater as Shopping

Shopping … [has] become the chief cultural activity of America.

—William Kowinski, The Mailing of America1

In postmodernism … everyone has learned to consume
culture…. You are no longer aware of consuming it. Everything
is culture, the culture of the commodity … which accounts for
the disappearance … of what we used to call aesthetics….

—Fredric Jameson, Universal Abandon?

LEAVING THE Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., a friend of mine is approached by two young women from out of town, “Excuse me,” they ask, “Do you know where we can find the Mall?” “You’re on it,” says my friend, waving behind her along Constitution Avenue to the White House. “Oh!” they chorus in disappointment, “We thought it was a shopping mall!”

I must be very old, for I remember, or think that I remember, an illud tempus, a culture that existed before the shopping culture invaded every cell of middle-class American life. As I grew up, shopping spread like an oil slick down suburban roads, collected into little eddies called shopping centers, and later congealed into huge shopping worlds: the malls. Later still came the invasion of the shopping catalogues, and presently whole television channels were reserved for shopping. By the 1980s, no institution was too conservative to pass up shopping. (The U.S. Postal Service opens retail stores that sell mugs and T-shirts. A visa card from a bank makes me a member of a “shopping club.”) Few institutions were too progressive to pass up shopping. (I join a co-op dedicated to an alternative economy. Soon I receive a Christmas catalogue advertising Guatemalan shoulder bags and scores of other embarrassing third world trinkets.)

Most important, perhaps, no institution was too “cultured” to resist shopping. The ballet, the opera, even Carnegie Hall, have succumbed to the shop. In the 1980s, the Metropolitan Museum became a leviathan of shopping, with more than fifteen stores across the country, six in Japan, a Bridal Registry, and a 24-hour 800 number. In the illud tempus, we children knew, or thought we knew, that culture was “culture” precisely because it was not the marketplace.

-128-

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The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Drama and Performance Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- Modern after Modernism 19
  • 1- The Rise and Fall of the Character Named Character 21
  • 2- Pattern over Character the Modern Mysterium 36
  • 3- Counter-Stagings Ibsen against the Grain 52
  • Part II- Theater after Modernism 67
  • 4- Signaling through the Signs 69
  • 5- Another Version of Pastoral 92
  • 6- When Bad Girls Play Good Theaters 108
  • 7- Theater as Shopping 128
  • 8- Postmodernism and the Scene of Theater 144
  • Reviews and Articles 1979-1993 Reports from an Emerging Culture 159
  • Notes 199
  • Index 218
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