August 11, 2013KR BlogBlog

What Sort of ‘Politics’ Should Go Into a Review?

In a recent controversy over Hedy Weiss’s Chicago Sun-Times review of Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s “Invasion!,” the discussion boiled down to this: Should Weiss insert her personal “politics” into a review of a theatrical production? Or should reviews be “politics-free”?

Those who support politics-free reviewing won — at least in the sense that the most obviously “political” line was removed from the Sun-Times online. The review was redacted so that the line that indicates Weiss supports “profiling” is no more. (“But despite Khemiri’s passion, those still thinking of the horrific terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon might well be tempted to ask: What practical alternative to profiling would you suggest?”)

The above is not the only line in the review that centers on current political events. Indeed, politics walks in the door right at the lede: “The global terror alerts dominating the news in recent days certainly do not help the arguments being made by Jonas Hassen Khemiri in his play, ‘Invasion!,’ now in its Midwest debut by Silk Road Rising.”

Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader defends not Weiss’s particular politics, but her choice to have them straight up in the review. Miner quotes Roger Ebert, who said: “Movies are often about politics, sometimes when they least seem to be, and the critic must be honest enough to reveal his own beliefs in reviewing them, instead of hiding behind a mask of false objectivity.” One thinks here of World War Z — a review of this movie doesn’t make sense without deconstructing its politics. Of what use is a reviewer who doesn’t grapple with the essence of a work and help reveal it to a reader/observer?

But is Weiss using “politics” to deconstruct and examine Khemiri’s vision? Or is she just — unwittingly, I believe — revealing her bias?

Perhaps Miner is right; reviewers should be encouraged to reveal their biases in all their wormy glory. But what is obscured in the end is that Khemiri’s play is a play, is a creative work, and whatever Weiss has been seeing on the news, a creative work still needs to be grappled with as such, and not as an editorial. Simply arguing “against” the play is not politics, it’s just lazy.