Complex and Sometimes Contradictory

I think Kushner does a good job of presenting many of his characters as human, that is to say complex and sometimes contradictory. In a play that is predicated in many ways on the clash between conservatism and progressiveness, we see a lot of compromise between the characters. For example, Hannah is a devout Mormon who is uncomfortable with homosexuality but helps and cares for Prior as a human being and begins to critically assess her own beliefs which prevents her from being easily categorized in a neat little box. Much to Prior’s frustration who exclaims ‘ I wish you would be more like your demographic profile’ (p.240).

A large part of modern political discourse can be characterized by a refusal to view people of the other side of the spectrum as complex which leads to greater polarization. There is a tendency to categorize ideas into an absolute right or absolute wrong and when we view the people who espouse those beliefs as simple manifestation of the most basic elements of these principles, we begin to categorize individuals in absolutes: people who are innately evil and those who are innately good.

Kushner challenges that notion with characters like Roy Cohn who is often repulsive but also sympathetic. Thus, even Cohn, with his lack of regard for other human beings, motivated by his greed and personal ambition at the expense of everyone else, evades a simple good and bad categorization. However, where do we draw the line? Can we and should we really disassociate individuals from their beliefs and principles, especially when we find those beliefs to be harmful and abhorrent?

In the video above, Hank Green (one half of the vlogbrothers) explains how maybe we can learn from the example of the sitcom Parks and Rec. Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope are two characters who agree on little about politics, government and pretty much everything else, but manage to cultivate a meaningful friendship. I haven’t actually seen the show but if it can offer some insight into how to navigate an increasingly politically polarized world in the age of Twitter, maybe it’s worth a shot.

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