Friday, July 8, 2011

Butoh Butoh Golly

In the past two months my duties as NPR's Anchor and Managing Editor of Spanish-Speaking Latinos (which is quite an accomplishment considering I am neither Latino or Spanish-speaking) has taken me to a handful of countries, a fistful of states, and a fingerpick of cities.
     The travel was not joyful, although the food was excellent in the 5-star hotels I insisted on staying at.  It never ceases to amaze me how good the food can be in countries where people are starving.
     I was working on a documentary about America's sordid underbelly.  I briefly considered doing a documentary on ruthless Mexican Drug Lords or fanatical Muslim Terrorists, but decided that I enjoyed living too much.  When you criticize America, white America, or Christian America you don't end up dismembered, decapitated, or riddled with bullets.
     Viciously murdered is not a good look for me.
     So when I ended up in Downtown El Paso imagine my joy when I came across a free show of the ancient Japanese art of Butoh:  the art of nothing.  It consists of the artist lying on the ground and moving so slowly that his movements are undetectable thus making them poetic.This particular artist happened to be white and male, and yet I had no desire to judge him or hold him in contempt.  Perhaps this was because I felt he was making a statement of how the white man has dominated our world.
     He was dressed like a homeless person.  What dedication this artist had to his art.  He even smelled homeless.  I believe this was to stress our bad economy.  People losing their jobs.  Their homes.  Their families.  His Tupac Lives! t-shirt was obviously a reference to how the white man "puts on" the black man's culture.  His achievements.  And his music.
     He tightly clutched a bottle of cheap booze hidden in a brown paper bag.  Clearly an indictment of our overly-medicated society.
     As he laid there I couldn't help but notice the authenticity of the holes on the bottom of his shoes.  Could this be a continuation of his "homeless" message?  A reference to the old Native American wisdom of walking a mile in another man's moccasins?  More likely, it showed how the white man has stepped on the tired.  The poor.  The huddled masses yearing to be free.  Mexicans, too.
     I stood and watched for hours.  Fascinated.  His lack of movement was so fine, so delicate.  Finally, there was a release of gas.  From which orifice, I don't know.  Maybe all of them.  I wondered what that might have meant.  Like any great art, it left me with something to ponder.  To consider.  To digest.
     Finally, the Butoh artist got up.  He began to walk away.  I just had to express my appreciation. 
     "Great show, Mayor Cook," I said, and he stumbled off.
American Chimpanzee

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