Arts Documentary Video & Rachel Corrie
posted by March 29 at 13:12 PMon
If you haven’t read Brendan’s smart review of My Name is Rachel Corrie at the Rep, do.
Few Seattle theater productions ever become a common point of reference for people outside the theater scene, but I think Rachel Corrie has the potential to do so. And it should. What struck me over and over again about the play was how local Corrie’s writings were. People say that her diaries weren’t written for publication, but I think that’s at least half wrong. Everyone who keeps a private journal has some consciousness of a future audience, whether you’re aiming at your older self or fantasizing a public ravenous for your juvenilia. Corrie didn’t seem to imagine the entire world as her audience, I think—it was more like her friends and neighbors, her insistently local “community.” (And of course, her letters home are aimed at a specific audience, also with common points of reference.)
It’s far easier to understand My Name is Rachel Corrie if you recognize Corrie as a specific type—not a generic patchouli hippie activist, but an Evergreen student, and an Olympia kid. Not a flower child, a flower-bed child. A cultivated specimen. Evergreen as a school for crafty rebels who really just want to camp out forever in their parents’ backyards. A school that emphasizes experiential learning over—yes, at the expense of—critical thinking. (A friend of mine earned at least as many credits welding metal as she did reading books.) As played by Marya Sea Kaminski, Rachel Corrie seems almost identical to another friend I had growing up in North Seattle—who alternately aggravated and stimulated me in the exact same way. Even the declamatory style Kaminski uses (probably overuses) in the first half struck me as powerfully familiar. (That said, Kaminski, native Washingtonians say “too-wer” for tour, not “torr.”)
But what I really want to talk about is the video of Corrie as a 10-year-old kid, speaking clearly and precociously about her goal to end hunger by the year 2000, which closes the play.
I’m here for other children.
I’m here because I care.
I’m here because children everywhere are suffering and because forty thousand people die each day from hunger.
I’m here because these people are mostly children.
We have got to understand that the poor are all around us and we are ignoring them.
We have got to understand that these deaths are preventable.
We have got to understand that people in Third World countries think and care and smile and cry just like us.
We have got to understand that they dream our dreams and we dream theirs.
We have got to understand that they are us. We are them.
My dream is to stop hunger by the year 2000.
My dream is to give the poor a chance.
My dream is to save the forty thousand people who die each day.
My dream can and will come true if we all look into the future and see the light that shines there.
If we ignore hunger, that light will go out.
If we all help and work together, it will burn free with the potential of tomorrow.
It’s a really, really interesting choice, and without it, the play would be far more curt and aggressive—it would look more like the agitprop its detractors describe. The video raises innumerable questions, and I still don’t think I have a handle on all the possible directions it takes the audience.
1) Are we supposed to freeze Corrie in our minds as a 10-year-old kid, her ideology forever immature and fantastical?
2) Further, does this sort of thing contribute to the condescension we enlightened viewers employ when talking about Corrie—a “girl,” not a woman; a fragile blond naďf who let herself be used by those with more sophisticated political agendas; a randomly oriented radical who could just as easily have been protesting the G-8 or chaining herself to redwoods.
3) Why do we teach kids to be so stupid? Corrie obviously didn’t grab that kind of language out the ether—it’s the kind of artless useless optimism we DEMAND from children.
4) Was Corrie in a gifted program? She probably needed to be around smarter kids so she wasn’t constantly talking up to cooing adults.
5) Or alternately, are we supposed to regret the direction her life took? Are we supposed to see this 10-year-old as a pure little potential genie, who just should have been unbottled somewhere on the East Coast, who should have gone on to the Peace Corps or some sexless NGO that really aimed to facilitate food distribution and stop hunger?
But the video just sits there. It’s a little pile of recorded “objectivity” at the end of a play that otherwise ventriloquizes Corrie’s own words and opinions. It argues with her older self, I’m sure. I’m just not certain what point it’s making.