On Eve Ensler's OPC (Obsessive Political Correctness)

Eve Ensler, co-director of the short film "One Billion Rising," poses for a portrait during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival,
Eve Ensler, co-director of the short film "One Billion Rising," poses for a portrait during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

I traveled to Boston to see Eve Ensler's new play performed at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard. I like her big ideas and her love of words. She did not disappoint. We were asked to think deeply about the present dilemma that the world faces: that we live in a country that is both too rich and too poor.

First let me do the title: Obsessive Political Correctness (OPC). Political correctness is a hostile phrase. It is used as a dismissal of those who criticize the systems of power. The phrase is used to squash and indict those who question and criticize. They are pigeonholed as being too pure, too uncompromising, too demanding, too narrow. Ensler takes the phrase and ups the ante to an obsession. She turns the tables and fuses them inside out: OPC becomes the diagnosis for those who care too much. And who says so? Who makes this diagnosis? The invisible one per cent protecting the insanity of the present regime makes this diagnosis. Mental illness, as OPC, defines those who long for a different world.

And for the story: Romi Weil, the 25 year old dumpster picking squatter, is tortured by the relentless consuming and disposing of too much in this world. The obsession with wealth and power that her mother craves pushes her to drop out of the unrelenting race to the top, and engage the world differently. She refuses to be tyrannized by the status of the "new"; after all the "new" becomes old the moment it is no longer "new". One moves on quickly to the next, and then the next. Life gets hurried and emptied. And everything is in process of being thrown away, seen as disposable, as "soon to be garbage". The throw away society invades everything: our sense of time, and space, and worth.

And yet, even with all her anti-consumer commitment Romi becomes enslaved too, and to a pair of Prada boots. Prada boots stand in for the way we come to love our things, our I-Phones and such, no matter that workers are treated like garbage in the factories in China that make them. Steve Jobs brilliance is that he made sure that we would love his stuff, and be loyal to it. And the loyalty requires everything of us.

The story line exposes how excessive consumption destroys the ability to discern humanity from inhumane practices. I like that the story is told through a mom and her two daughters. The dad is present and caring but the struggle is not with him. I like the honesty that the mother, Smith Weil wants a lot for herself. She is a former District Attorney who is running to become a Senator and she succeeds, and she also doesn't. Of course, we might wonder why any one would believe that being Senator could matter enough. After all, what kind of power is gained here? And what kind is lost?

Smith Weil is a power-house of determination, though the "liberal" kind. Both her daughters--Romi and Kansas adore her even though Romi is exasperated by her. The complexity is compelling--there is a lot of pull and push and tugging with each other, but little meanness or anger. They struggle to meet each other needs, while not being able to do so most of the time.

The two or three or four things that each of us crave makes life interesting and worth it. There is little balance in all this but rather constant engagement and revision. So we need to push back against too much of everything, and still make life meaningful in new ways.

The energy of OPC asks us to look at ourselves and our surrounds, who-ever we are and stand against the overconsumption, the over-drive, the over the top everything that defines each and every moment. Overconsumption crosses class lines, though differently, so no one is fully exempt, especially here, in the heart of empire.

What exactly is garbage anyway? How does perfectly usable food get thrown away when people are hungry and many are starving? Every year consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food--22 million tons--as the entire net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa. The US spends 1 billion dollars a year to dispose of food waste. One need not be a Freegan, as Romi is, to see the absurdity and inhumanity of this.

The set of OPD uses every bit of space to bring us close to this crisis of humanity. The set is made of recycled materials--there were no paper handbills or programs. Recycled candy wrappers and plastic bottles set the frame, dresses were made of fruit. Colors were strident and energizing.

Trash art and art from trash was used to tell the tale. Trying to always win is not acceptable. Trying to always be right is not either. So go forth and be in this world the best way you can. Make art out of trash. Make politics out of whatever you can. Ensler says to forget the neat divides of reform or revolution; forget liberal vs. radical; forget power vs. the powerless. Instead, create new possibilities with the old. Enter the messy in between spaces that we each inhabit. Liberal reform politics might be useful, and even subversive, but it is never enough. Push beyond our own entrapment in the seduction of the market.

I saw the play shortly after the Eric Garner grand jury decision exonerating the white police officer that held him in a chokehold till he suffocated. This is on top of a long line of decisions allowing an excessive police state with obsessive racism and racial inequality. Ensler offers us a sight/site from which new critique can connect struggles against overconsumption to struggles against racist excess.

The recent Climate March in New York City brought people of every color, race, sex, gender, nation, religion, together to save the planet. OPC stands amidst this huge mobilization nudging towards a different game plan. The excessive systems of punishing power and greed will kill the planet and all of us with it.

Today was gender day at the Climate Talks in Lima, Peru. Indigenous women's groups from everywhere speak on behalf of the earth and its needs. I love that I went to the theatre this past weekend and was invited to think about the need for revolutionary change.

What to do? Use anything, especially--even--what is thought to be garbage and make something new. Redirect it. Save it. Use it. Reinvent it.

Instead of re-cycle--re-volt. What a fabulous night at the theatre.