To Know Where You’re Going, It Helps to Know Where You’ve Been

The recently published Presidential Campaign Posters: Two Hundred Years of Election Art highlights the imagery that has helped to shape American political opinion for the past couple hundred years.

1856: James Buchanan (Democrat) v. James Fremont (Republican) v. Millard Fillmore (American)

1864: Abraham Lincoln (Republican) v. George B. McClellan (Democrat)

1872: Ulysses S. Grant (Republican) v. Horace Greeley (Liberal Republican)


1924: Calvin Coolidge (Republican) v. John Davis (Democrat) v. Robert La Follette (Progressive)

1928: Herbert Hoover (Republican) v. Al Smith (Democrat)


1968: Richard M. Nixon (Republican) v. Hubert Humphrey (Democrat) v. George Wallace (Independent)

1972: Richard M. Nixon (Republican) v. George McGovern (Democrat)

1980: Ronald Reagan (Republican) v. Jimmy Carter (Democrat) v. John Anderson (Independent)

2008: Barack Obama (Democrat) v. John McCain (Republican)

NPR media reporter Brooke Gladstone lends her voice to the book’s introduction and offers “Political art is nothing less than an illustration of the skirmishes and stalemates that created and continue to animate the American experiment. As you look at each poster and read about each campaign, it becomes increasingly clear that the tug of war over taxes and trade, the distribution of wealth and power, and the role of government itself, will never end.”

All old will again be made new. And while our war of ideologies may continue to define the American way for the foreseeable future, it does not mean that we should dismiss efforts to make this country better - no matter how many years that endeavor takes. Because growth is a constant process, not one we can absolve ourselves from as we try to stall in neutral.

May we embrace the changes that lay ahead, and may we continue to learn from past stumblings.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery – Too Little, Too Late?

Beautiful, aren’t you?
So glad that we could finally inspire you.

Image Sources: 1, 23, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Ohmy, Did You Hear?

Or, How Ladies’ Gossip Tore Apart the White House

Once upon a time (roughly 1816 or so),  a 17-year old Peggy married a man named John Bowie Timberlake, a 39-year-old former navy purser.  Timberlake tried to open a store, Peggy gave birth to a little boy – but within six months, both ventures were struggling. The store went under and the couple lost their young child.

Two years later, the Timberlakes met the widowed senator John Eaton, and all quickly became good friends. When Timberlake decided he had to return to the navy to work off his debt,  Peggy started helping her father with his tavern, a role she’d spent many of her girlish days filling when the bar needed an extra pair of hands.

And this is the time when Peggy gained her reputation for being “too bold,” which translates to “a woman that speaks her mind.” She openly discussed politics and expressed her opinion frankly, and Andrew Jackson, who often stayed at the tavern when Congress was in session, became quite taken with her.  Always a fan of strong women, he wrote to his wife Rachel about her constantly.

It’s a little known fact that Jackson totally had a thing for brunettes.

Timberlake was only able to return home for short, occasional visits. When he was forced to leave on a four-year sea voyage, he wrote his wife telling her that if anything happened to him, “there is one man to whose hands I should be willing to entrust you, and that is John H. Eaton, the noblest work of God, an honest man.” He died at sea suffering from anxiety and depression, but gossip spread that Timberlake had killed himself while in a drunken stupor, supposedly unable to bear his wife’s infidelity with his friend, John Eaton.

No one is sure whether the rumors were true. Peggy and Eaton had developed feelings for each other, but did not marry after the news of her husband’s death. At least not right away that is. In 1829, less than a year after Timberlake passed, Peggy and John Eaton tied the knot.

And America went berserk. This went against all societal customs, mainly that of women waiting one year before remarrying. But life was short back then – when 30 was “over the hill.”

So the ladies began to shun. It began with Vice President Calhoun’s wife, Floride, who (with nose firmly turned-up) refused to pay the couple a visit after their honeymoon. While men ran the country, the women reigned over societal norms. The Cabinet Wives’ of the 1800s would have put the Real Housewives on Bravo to shame with their cattiness, expert snubbing, and endless gossip.

When Peggy complained to her buddy Andrew Jackson about the incessant gossip, he replied “I had rather have live vermin on my back than the tongue of one of these Washington women on my reputation.”

Jackson had always believed that it was his duty to protect all women, and the years of defending his beloved Rachel had made him intolerant of slanders against any woman. So, fighting man that he was, he set out to make things right. He would literally force her into social circles and demand the other women to be kind to Peggy. Years later, the scandal still followed her. Because of her sullied reputation, her husband was not able to regain his Senate seat. And while they stayed in the political scene for a few more years, the couple ultimately retired in 1840.

When Jackson died five years later, he was buried beside his Rachel at their home the Hermitage. In 1856, John Henry Eaton followed Jackson, leaving Peggy a widow once again.

But even then, her scandals were not at their end. In 1859, a 59-year old Peggy married the 19-year-old dancing master of her grandchildren, Antonio Buchignani. This Italian lover got her ostracized once again, but reporters and writers still came to her for the juicy details about her life. A perfect example of not letting others get in the way of your happiness and perhaps more importantly, that you’re never too old for love.

Still got it.

Image Sources: 123

Wait, What Did You Call Me?

What insult did opponents of Andrew Jackson’s throw his way that backfired when he ended up liking it, and has been associated with his party ever since?

“Jackass.”

That’s right. Jackson was the first Democrat to be associated with the donkey symbol. During the election of 1828, his adversaries tried to label him a “jackass” for his slogan, “Let the people rule,” and his populist agenda. Jackson thought it was hilarious, and started using the “ass” on his campaign posters. By 1870, cartoonist Thomas Nash popularized the already popular unofficial party symbol, thus sealing the Democrats as the donkeys.

And while that word is an insult that we’re still familiar with nowadays, a few other expressions that were floating around in the 1800s have fallen out of use today. Shame – some of these sound like they’d roll off the tongue nicely.

Quockerwodger

A rare nineteenth-century word for a wooden toy which briefly became a political insult.

Buncombe

A word that originated in 1819 to mean a ludicrously false statement. Equivalent of bullshit or nonsense.

Turncoat

One who switches to an opposing side or party; specifically : traitor.

“A rigid, fanatic, ambitious, selfish partisan, and sectional turncoat with too much genius and too little common sense, who will either die a traitor or a madman”
Jackson on John Calhoun

Popinjay

A dated description for politicians; A vain and talkative person who chatters like a parrot.

Unctuous

Characterized by excessive piousness or moralistic fervor, especially in an affected manner; cloyingly smooth, suave or smug.

Image by the Project Twins.

You Havin’ A Laugh: Can a 200 Year Old Joke Still Hold Up Today?

They say a good joke is timeless. Does the adage apply to those clever quips thrown around at Jackson during his chaos-riddled presidency? The bull-headed, quick-to-anger, and strongly opinionated leader was criticized from all angles about his inability to just calm down and follow the rules. But that wasn’t AJ’s style.

The political discourse at the time went a little something like this:

“Let the National Bank alone Jackson!”

Nope, going to challenge it until its a crippled and gutted version of what it once was.

“Stop hiring all of your friends to serve as your Cabinet!”

Haha good one. These positions are simple enough that a “common” man can do it. And if they start screwing up, I’ll throw them out.

“You should probably stop acting like a supreme leader whose word is law. Ever heard of justice?”

If you don’t like how I run things, you can get up and get out. I’ve made this land open to the American people by relocating thousands of others, and this is thanks I get?

Let’s hope that Andrew had some sense of humor about himself and could appreciate the attitudes of those that attempted to laugh at the situation. These old-school political cartoons of Jackson are intrinsically charming. The flood of text presented to help get the joke across? We’re a bit less wordy nowadays. But nonetheless, they give a clear idea of some of the impressions of the president during his reign..I mean, presidential term.

Shows how Jackson’ critics viewed the man’s enthusiasm for using his powers as president. Many sought to limit his influence by pushing for states’ ability to reject federal decisions.

Jackson vs. the National Bank. Andrew Jackson opposed the Second Bank of the U.S. because he believed the bank concentrated too much power in the hands of a few wealthy men in the Northeast.

Jackson, somewhat blinded to the situation (spectacles up over his head), as his Kitchen Cabinet, here depicted as the rats (John H. Eaton, John Branch, Martin Van Buren, and Samuel D. Ingham), abandons him. His foot is planted firmly on the tail of the Van Buren rat. 

Andrew Jackson is roasted over the fires of “Public Opinion” by Justice herself. He was under pressure for the controversy surrounding his removal of federal deposits from the Bank of the United States. Note the pig leg.

Image Source: Library of Congress

Does the Modern Day Soulmate Exist?

How do you define a soulmate? An individual with whom your connection seems to transcend words or typical boundaries of time, someone who seems to fit you like never before, or perhaps a best friend.

For a truly memorable origin story on the notion of soulmates, look no further than Hedwig and the Angry Inch*. Hedwig’s story on the birth of love takes its cue from Plato’s Symposium (385 B.C.), a piece which remarks upon the absurdity of our romantic endeavors. The piece explains why people in love say they feel “whole” when they have found their love partner. It asserts that it is because:

“in primal times, people had doubled bodies, with faces and limbs turned away from one another. There were three sexes: the all male, the all female, and the “androgynous,” who was half male, half female. The creatures tried to scale the heights of heaven. Zeus thought about blasting them to death with thunderbolts, but did not want to deprive himself of their devotions and offerings, so he decided to cripple them by chopping them in half, in effect separating the two bodies.”

This clip’s deceptively simple illustrations speak to the idea of the human desire to find it’s match, no matter what the other half might be. And while you don’t have to buy into the idea that we were all once attached back to back to our ideal partner, I think the visual one is helpful when trying to explain to those who may be against letting certain individuals marry. The topics of soulmates, love and acceptance headlined a number of discussions with friends this weekend (promulgated by the long-awaited yet revelatory announcement from the president in favor of same sex marriage). Love is love, guys. Why keep anyone from the chance of finding and committing themselves to their twin soul.

*the cult favorite from John Cameron Mitchell that follows the heartbreaking life of a transgender musician traveling across East Germany. And because truth is often stranger than fiction, Mitchell was able to infuse a lot of himself into the role of Hedwig. The story draws on Mitchell’s life as the son of a U.S. Army Major General who once commanded the U.S. sector of occupied West Berlin.

Populism, Yea Yea

“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”

- Andrew Jackson

It’s official: our production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson will be hitting the stage this summer. As you guys know, I love it when history is made even more accessible through a good musical, and this show is no exception. Rock heavy and ridiculous, this tongue-in-cheek jaunt through the early 19th century tells the story of the U.S.’s seventh president in an entirely new light.

Why a faux-emo musical about an early American president? Because in case you haven’t heard, this guy was absolutely insane. In perhaps his most ridiculous display of badassery, when a man challenged him to a duel and misfired both of his pistols, Jackson sauntered over and beat the dude senseless with his cane. This valiant display of lunacy earned him the nickname Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson since the (otherwise harmless) cane was carved of hickory.

And because the creatives behind this show aren’t the only ones who understood what a crazy rockstar A.J. was:

Image Sources: Playbill.com and The Smithsonian

Because I Heart Historical Musicals

I’ll admit it…I have a thing for shows that can teach me a little something about American History. Whether it’s 1776, Assassins, or any of the others that illuminate history as they jaunt along through the realms of song and dance, I’m hooked.

That’s why when I heard that Lin-Manuel Miranda was working on the Alexander Hamilton Mixtape, I immediately raced off to find out everything I could about the project. If you haven’t seen any of his work before, please check him out – one of the most creative minds and endearing personalities to come out of the musical theatre scene over the past few years. I love how he uses rap to bring a fresh look to the dusty-old-textbook version of stories we’ve heard hundreds of time.

If You Don’t Like Gay Marriage, Don’t Get Gay Married

“And that’s what we did, we put fear and prejudice on trial.”

-”8″: Dustin Lance Black’s Play about the Fight for Marriage Equality

This weekend marked the premiere of “8,” a play that took a magnifying glass to the infamous Proposition that shook California just a few years ago. The story revolves around the court case to overturn Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry in the state of California. Spolier alert: If you’ve been keeping up with politics, you’ll know how this show concludes. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the time to see George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Lynch, Kevin Bacon and other fantastically talented individuals in action.

It also doesn’t mean that we can stop caring about the issue. A theatrical piece bringing some of the gritty details to life is wonderful, but it still doesn’t change the fact that the U.S. has a long way to go on the issue of marriage equality. The fact that only six states recognize and offer same-sex marriage licenses and that there is no federal recognition of same-sex marriages is a problem tantamount to those issues at the heart of the civil rights movement. It creates a strata of second-class citizens in a nation that purports itself to be the world leader. Leader on plenty of fronts, sure – but not a leader in tolerance.

The fact is, other nations are miles ahead of us on recognizing that allowing gay marriage doesn’t lead to a country’s downfall. Or the apocalypse. Or donkey-human relations. It leads to a culture of  compassion and understanding. Oh, the horror!

Let’s grow up, America. Let’s stop standing idly by as kids get bullied for being gay, stop using the phrase “that’s so gay” as a way to signal something stupid or off-color, and stop making designations between individuals based on who they love.

Love is perhaps the single most important thing that we have to share. It costs nothing, and we as humans are endowed with an unlimited supply.  So let’s give some away, shall we?

Image Source
If you haven’t had the chance to watch the play yet, full show is available here.

World’s A Stage: Spotlight on Russia

What do a bare-chested Vladimir Putin stroking the backside of an Olympic gymnast, a Botox overdose, and a partial brain transplant all have to do with each other? They can all be seen in a sold-out, groundbreaking new staging of a play in Moscow. This is what happens when politics and theatre collide in Russia.

The play, titled “Berlusputin,” premiered ahead of the March 4 polls for presidency (Putin has now won back the presidency). The show draws inspiration from the incendiary internet gossip swirling around the election and breaks almost every remaining taboo about the Russian leader’s personal life. The text is an adaption of “L’anomalo Bicefalo,” a work by an Italian playwright.

A glimpse into this unique and enchanting evening of theatre:

  • This production imagines what might happen if half of former Italian prime minister and Putin buddy Silvio Berlusconi’s brain was transplanted into Putin’s head after an accident.
  • The show performs in the ground-breaking Teatr.doc house, an intense black box space in the middle of Moscow renowned for its hard-hitting political plays
  • The actor playing Putin wears foam muscles strapped to his chest; the actress playing opposite him devoutly dons a headscarf to portray his wife Lyudmila, who got a little too close to her spiritual advisor at a monastery.
  • Putin tries a little too hard not to look his age and the resulting Botox overdose turns Putin into Dobby the house elf from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. (Putin was  reportedly offended by widespread comments on his resemblance to Dobby when the the film depiction came out back in 2003.)

The Internet rumors of Putin’s Botox use, the mucky situtation with his estranged wife, and his hardcore crush on Olympic rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabayeva all were fodder for the play – much to the demise of the state, and much to the delight of almost everyone else in the country. The director has promised that they will continue to do the play as long as Putin is in power.

Image Source

When Brecht Met Streep

Don’t you love when material that is decades old still holds up, and rings as true as the day it was first introduced to the world? This little moment comes from the Delacourte Theater’s production of Mother Courage and Her Children in 2006. Meryl Streep plays Mother Courage in this show, one of nine plays that Brecht wrote in an attempt to counter the rise of Fascism and Nazism.  Mother Courage is considered to be one of the greatest anti-war plays of all time and its message is one that still holds up today.

The song you will hear is Jeanine Tesori’s reworking of Bretcht’s words. She worked with each of the actors and composed for them specifically with their voices and performance styles in mind.

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