Something Gripping: That's Democracy [Bumped and Updated with a comment from Jonathan Mitchell, the Director]

Entertaining and interesting. However, the "truth" the author was getting at in the piece remains unclear.

Posted by B Lewis at November 27, 2012 12:42 PM

to B Lewis:
"The Truth" is the name of the podcast series, which presents a new fictional short story every two weeks. The name of this particular story is "That's Democracy." The Truth podcast is so named because it presents fiction -- the name comes from a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that goes, "fiction reveals truth that reality obscures."

Posted by Jonathan Mitchell at November 27, 2012 1:24 PM

Thanks Jonathan for clearing that up.

Posted by vanderleun at November 27, 2012 1:32 PM

What I meant was that the point of the story remains unclear. What was the author's intended message? Democracy bad? Guns bad? Kids today are retards? Harvard sucks? What?

I can only assume that my sub-NPR-level intellect is insufficient to grasp the nettle of this deep, penetrating look at... something. Whatever it was.

Posted by B Lewis at November 27, 2012 2:45 PM

The conceit the vignette inhabits, I think, is one where democracy is already lost. The only one in that class who understood it - the teacher - was also suicidal and potentially homicidal, and the only thing the student took away from the experience - that he valued, anyway - was a paragraph or two that helped him get into college (where we may assume any chance he'd otherwise have had to learn the crazy teacher's lesson would certainly be snuffed out for good).

This is a dark, dark piece.

Posted by Cameron at November 27, 2012 10:06 PM

The lesson is that all these sorry excuses for high-school students would have been far better educated in 18th century America through six or eight years of school honed by the continual experience of work.

The writer of this story has a level of understanding of democracy which is a recommendation against it. This is not a thing which can be fixed because they mean to do this to us.

Posted by james wilson at November 27, 2012 11:14 PM

I didn't write the story, it came form an outline by Louis Kornfeld, which we developed collaboratively through brainstorming and improvisation. I directed and produced the story, so I'm the author of it in the way a film director is the author of a film.

The idea was to make a horror story that was set in the world of electoral politics. We wanted to create a situation in which there was a monster threatening a group of people, and the people has to use democracy to solve their problem. We thought it was an interesting twist to set it in a classroom, and make the teacher the monster.

What interests me most is putting characters in compelling situations, and learning about who those characters are through how they react to the situation. I like it best when stories can have many layers of meaning, and when the meaning is a bit abstract and dependent on each audience member's perspective. So really, whatever meaning you get from it as an individual is fine with me.

Having said that, I don't feel that this is a recommendation against democracy. In the story, I'd argue that democracy worked, in that the students were all saved. Also, it's worth pointing out that the students were given the option of voting for a pacifist approach, which would've required much more bravery and faith in that position. What would've happened had Margaret been chosen? Would the teacher really have killed them all? Or would he have stuck to his word (as he did by killing himself) and let the representative decide the fate of the class? Pacifism takes faith, and faith does not come easy. And I think the perspective of this story is that pacifism would've been the best approach, but it's often not chosen out of fear that it won't work.

I think of the speech at the end as a postscript -- this character went on to use the situation to his advantage, to get into a good college. This is a cynical comment on how politicians often use their positions for personal gain. For me, this is not the main point of the story, but a twisting of the knife. It's meant to be a horror story, after all.

Posted by Jonathan Mitchell at November 28, 2012 5:51 AM

I think this project has potential. I like the format, and the production was excellent. That being said, I submit that any story that needs a five-graf postmortem explanation by the author is a failure.

I like the idea of audio drama, but I found myself at about the halfway pont hoping that the teacher's gun was a belt-fed weapon. That way he could kill all the students, of whom not one was sympathetic in any way. Now that would have been a truly dramatic ending.

Final verdict: a fine idea, but attempt at profundity falls flat.

Posted by Robert Oculus III at November 28, 2012 6:40 AM

I don't think this story needs a postmortem in any way whatsoever, I'm perfectly happy leaving people to draw their own conclusions. I was just being generous with my time -- I noticed people were asking questions, and I thought they might be interested in my perspective. Lots of people have heard this, and all have had very different reactions. So, in the end your opinion is simply one of many.

Posted by Jonathan Mitchell at November 28, 2012 7:22 AM

Jonathan is correct that he is being generous and he is right to be proud of this production. I think Robert is wrong in this criticism. The story does not "need" a postmortem. That is a gift. It stands perfectly well on its own as a piece of radio drama.

Having worked in radio drama many years ago I well remember how difficult the form is. In this case the project is a success.

Posted by vanderleun at November 28, 2012 7:57 AM

Stories are best told on the radio, and best heard at night.

Posted by Jewel at November 28, 2012 8:30 AM

Sometimes there isn't a hero, or a happy ending, or a profound moral lesson. There's a developing story here in Minnesota. On Thanksgiving day, a 17-year old boy, and an 17-year old girl were shot to death in the basement of a home owned by a retired civil servant.

The kids were cousins. There is some indication at least the female had a drug problem. The kids did break into the home, presumably with the intent to steal.

The homeowner had suffered several break-ins in the past year. He retreated to the basement, where he sat with a rifle. When the boy came down the stairs, the homeowner shot him, then shot again. The boy died. The homeowner sat down in his chair and waited.

Some moments later the girl came down the basement stairs. The homeowner shot her more than once. When he discovered that the girl was still breathing, he shot her under the chin. She died.

The homeowner did not report the incident. When the two kids went missing, neighbors reported that there had been something happening at the house, and police investigated. The homeowner showed them the bodies. After some investigation, he is being charged with second-degree murder.

There is evidence that at least the male teen was involved in another burglary at a rural home earlier in the day on Thanksgiving.

Gerard, this is one to which you could do justice, I think.

Posted by Gordon at November 28, 2012 8:41 AM

If it's meant strictly for entertainment, to each his own.

Whatever the story is to anybody, it is not about representative government. It's attachment to that device is thin. The only democratic dynamic that is going to develop within an enclosed terror act is Stockholm Syndrome.

Posted by james wilson at November 28, 2012 9:39 AM

We played this same stupid game in 11th grade AP English (I know, I know). It was "Lifeboat" then. Granted, this is more engaging and very well done.

I hated that game then, and I am less fond of it now. I got in trouble with the principal back then for leading a vocal and heartfelt rebellion against having to submit to such crap. It wasn't just "Lifeboat," it was the whole of the indoctrination, the deconstruction that the Alinskyites were foisting on us. I didn't know from existentialism or deconstruction, but my very innermost being found it repellent. Oh, we were supposed to be challenged to "think" but the cheat was that they gave you unthinkable horrors to contemplate: nihilism. And they never let you explore WHY it was repulsive, only that you must learn that there is no solution, no absolutes, no morality, only expediency.

I utterly reject it, even now.

Posted by Joan of Argghh! at November 28, 2012 6:51 PM

Oh I don't know. Introducing a gun gives it an added dimension, don't you think? An interesting "what if."

Posted by vanderleun at November 28, 2012 8:12 PM

On the surface of it, yes, it's an interesting twist. I do not denigrate the talent of it.

Again, it's very well done to make the students an actual part of the game. And don't mistake me, I can "go there" with the best of them, only that I knew where it was going from the first. So, not only have I seen this "movie," but no amount of script re-write will make me appreciate the spirit behind it. It will forever be, for me at least, the first taste of deadness. Not corporeal death, but spiritual. No amount of "interesting" overcomes the revulsion.

But that's just my mileage.

Posted by Joan of Argghh at November 28, 2012 8:36 PM

Morning light, mood is lighter, and lest you think I have no imagination for the drama, I proffer a devilish big of a plot twist:

Instead of pulling out of the scene and ending with the standard "too horrible-to-contemplate so let's shift the mood", what you can have is one student who is silently turning over in his mind the haunting knowledge that he peeked during the voting process and saw that the teacher had not honored the true vote.

Posted by Joan of Argghh at November 29, 2012 4:26 AM

Morning light, mood is lighter, and lest you think I have no imagination for the drama, I proffer a devilish big of a plot twist:

Instead of pulling out of the scene and ending with the standard "too horrible-to-contemplate so let's shift the mood", what you can have is one student who is silently turning over in his mind the haunting knowledge that he peeked during the voting process and saw that the teacher had not honored the true vote.

Posted by Joan of Argghh at November 29, 2012 4:35 AM

I'd prefer a scene where one of the students pulls his or her own gun and shoots the teacher. "What have we learned today? That pointing a gun at an armed man is a bad idea. Class dismissed."

Posted by B Lewis at November 29, 2012 7:49 AM

What is lacking from this gedankenspiel is morality. Thank God for the example he set in that greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. We are grateful for so many men and women who volunteer for the ramparts on our behalf. For this we are blessed nation. Our frustration is with the fools who lead us at this juncture of history.

That said, I think Brecht would apprciate this vignette.

Posted by edaddy at November 29, 2012 10:36 AM