The Guilt Factor | Letters | Chicago Reader

The Guilt Factor 

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To the editors:

I felt the usual sense of High-Art disorientation when I read your recent theater review [May 25] on the Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD), a performance group that apparently consists of some homeless people and a "performance artist- director" named John Malpede who drags them around the country like the freak tent from a particularly sleazy carnival. This group has taken up a 45-day residency at a homeless shelter to teach us all what it means to be politically correct and morally stupid.

Has anyone suggested to Malpede that he might do better by his charges by taking some non-artistic approach to the problem; say, finding jobs for his troupe? Or for himself? Instead, he is described as sitting in the audience of their performances yelling at the actors when he doesn't like the show. This helps the homeless? This sensitizes the bourgeois in the audience to the plight of street people? Baloney. This is exploitation of a new and surreal sort, like the Sierra Club sponsoring a cockfight or Greenpeace supporting a whale hunt.

People are homeless because they don't have any homes or jobs. Simple, isn't it? All we have to do is get a little cheap housing and some honest work. Malpede, however, along with the rest of the homeless advocacy industry seems to be promoting them as a kind of endangered cultural minority, like the Gullah speakers of the Carolinas or the Tasaday tribes in the Philippines. If the homeless were to disappear tomorrow, there would be a lot of noisy activists on unemployment. Better to have some quasi-artistic cabaret performances than actually take some effective personal action.

The Randolph Street Gallery, a center of this kind of socioeconomic masturbation, always mentions in their announcements that they receive support from the Illinois Arts Council. How do they justify spending money on such liberal minstrel shows instead of doing something direct to help these people? If they are troubled, counsel them. If they are hungry feed them. If they are without a roof, house them. But please, please don't parade their problems in front of an audience of parasitic dilettantes just to fulfill this week's guilt quota.

Michael P. Walsh

N. Sheridan

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More by Michael P. Walsh

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