I Am Jack’s Smirking Revenge – BLAM! and the "Plight" of the White Male
My generation has witnessed an undeniable uptick in oppression narratives, and this is a good thing. Who can say why this has happened so rapidly? Cheaper technologies? Unprecedented access to crowd-sourcing? Youtube? Who cares? All that matters is this: in a very mainstream way, Americans my age have been allowed to experience vantage points of traditionally oppressed peoples like never before, if only in the fleeting moment between when the lights go down and the lights come up.
But a curious trend has accompanied this rise in oppressed narratives. Stories of seemingly unhampered white men sharing a similar kind of tale, displaying a similar kind of sentiment, have begun to seep through the cracks. The dirty little secret of our times might just be that everyone feels oppressed, even the oppressors themselves.
Now, those who enjoy the ill-gotten gains of hegemony may not have earned the right to feel this way; no one could say they are entitled to the feeling, and surely they do not deserve it. But as the old saying goes, deserves ain’t got nothing to do with it. People feel the way they feel, and art will always be made of it.
Not to be confused with the onslaught of testosterone bombarding us since Arnold first pumped iron, narratives of white male oppression have a decidedly curve-ball feel to them, from the anarchist vantage point of Fight Club (“We’re a generation of men raised by women, I don’t know if another woman’s what we need”) to the insidiously right wing ethos of Falling Down (“I helped build missiles. I helped protect this country. You should be rewarded for that, but instead they give it to the plastic surgeons.”). Such narratives might be distasteful, they might even be dangerous, but they now exist in every genre and within every forum, from the multiplexes to the literary world, from the stages of Broadway to the multicultural platforms of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
This past summer, one of the most popular events at Edinburgh’s famed theater-gasm was a four man display of physical prowess entitled BLAM! I saw the show, I was part of its sold out audience; apparently, it would be sold out for weeks to come. The press release promised a family friendly romp that transmuted the mundane into the spectacular, and the production certainly scored on that front. But wittingly or unwittingly, the play delivered more than this—certainly more than I had bargained for. What they presented to us was, in a very crafty way, a narrative of white male oppression cloaked in the subliminal guise of a dance piece.
Like its closest predecessors—Stomp and De La Guarda—nobody speaks in BLAM! Anything resembling chatter is reminiscent only of the trombones in a Charlie Brown Christmas meant to connote adult speech. One imagines this was an attempt by the production to maintain a kind of childlike universality. But the piece most certainly was not universal.
The cast, for starters, consisted of four meticulously put-together Scandinavian men; quintessential Scandinavians at that: tall, Teutonic, moving with that buoyancy and elegance I have only seen in Northern Europeans. To be sure, one of the performers was from a different region. A token Frenchman, if you will. Aside from this one statistical aberration, the cast and creative team all hailed from relatively stable regions in relatively stable parts of he world.
The plot of BLAM!, if you could call it a plot, is easy enough to comprehend: three guys work at an office, their boss is a jerk, and when the boss is away, the employees will play. The meat of the piece consists in how, exactly, they play.
It begins subtly at first. When the boss takes a phone call, the employees engage in a game of rubbish basketball, sinking impressive trick-shots across a vast series of cubicles. When the boss uses the bathroom, trash bins become helmets, hole punchers become machine guns, and something decidedly unsubtle happens: the lighting changes—glowing bright and green—and loud speakers smack you in the sternum with robotic blasts and metallic squeals. Dubstep as sound design. We have left reality and entered the mind of the stunted, thwarted, mid-levelly managed white man.
And what’s in that mind? Die Hard. Jackie Chan. Deerhunter. Iron Man. X Men. Cops and robbers. Aliens. You know, the usual. The fantasies become ever more active, and soon the employees are sweating through their shirts, beating each other to smithereens, and literally swinging off fluorescent chandeliers.
By the end of the show, the track lighting has been ripped from the ceiling and thrown across the stage. The cubicles are demolished, because that’s what happens when you keep throwing people through them. In a final upset, the Hulk-like antics of one employee cause the stage to tilt forward at a ninety degree angle. The floor becomes the wall, that which is not bolted down falls into an abyss, and the dull workplace goes topsy-turvy. I quickly realized this was not an ending—it was a rebellion. "The revolution will not be departmentalized."
I sincerely doubt that the creators of BLAM! intended to stir up feelings more complex than some well-managed awe. In their press release, they described the show as “an imaginary game where ordinary life is put through the shredder”. But intentional or not, that’s an oversimplification of what’s happening here—as pat as saying “boys will be boys”—because a physical, wordless piece like this allows you to judge only what you can see. And when the tableaus display such relentless violence against physical constructs, or such misplaced sexual aggression directed towards the water cooler, or such blatant attempts to scapegoat a one rotating other, and all of it perpetrated by white men, the image burnt onto the retinas is not so easy to blink away. You leave questioning the sense of a world that puts such affluent men in such a neutered position, and that’s a twisted thing to do to an audience.
So take your children to see BLAM! when it comes around. I am sure they will have a good time. But know that you will expose them to more than a goofy dance piece. You will introduce them to a paradox they cannot begin to understand.