In this review, J. Kelly Nestruck in the Globe and Mail argues that Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” is outdated and irrelevant. It is a bad play now that the communist “witch hunts” of the 1950′s are stale memories.
Tennessee Williams is all right. He is relevant and vital because he cares more about gay characters:
But while Williams’s focus on gay and female characters had become increasingly valued, Miller had begun to feel like a dated moralist, stuck in a postwar sensibility, focusing on white, heteronormative nuclear families and obsessive about the paterfamilias.
This, the compliment to Williams, about a dramatist most famous for a play about a pathetic young woman who invests everything– all of her emotions, her hopes, her dreams– into an inept courtship of an ineligible young man, and is shattered when he doesn’t deliver and make her life meaningful. That is more modern?
It gets worse. You see “The Crucible”, according to Nestruck, made it seem as if the young girls who accused various citizens of Salem, Massachusetts of being witches were wrong in some way. It made it appear as though they coordinated their stories. It made it appear as if they were actually suffering physical symptoms from the witchcraft they alleged. So, given a more modern sensibility, we need to admit that they were actually right. That damn John Procter: he blamed the victims.
I don’t casually use the word “chilling” to describe commentary on social issues, but this one deserves it. Nestruck clearly implies that the girls in “The Crucible” should have been believed. Because girls never lie? She makes reference to Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, as if Ghomeshi’s trial had not revealed that, yes, after all, women do sometimes lie. They lied to the police and they lied to the Crown Attorney and they lied in court to the judge. Did none of this matter to Newstruck? Does she believe that facts and proof must give way to emotional belief? Was it all, perhaps, witchcraft? In the context of “The Crucible”, she suggests that the core of the accusations of witchcraft might have been true. That is insane. It is contrary to everything rational we know about the world, to science, and reason, and principles of justice.
The most remarkable thing about “The Crucible” is what Nestruck hates the most about it: it reveals precisely the narcissistic root of the kind of lies the girls tell, the embrace of victimization because of the sudden power it gives you over individuals who would never otherwise defer to your status, and the insanity of blindly believing “victims” because to question or challenge them is “re-victimization”, one of the most pernicious ideas I have ever heard because it insists that everything an accuser says is automatically to be believed. It is absolutely “guilty unless proven innocent”. Well, not it’s not. It’s “guilty no matter what you say”.
Nestruck suggests that “The Crucible” is less relevant today because, after all, it was really about the McCarthy Communist witch hunt, not about Salem. But that is exactly wrong: “The Crucible” is powerful precisely because it is not just about McCarthy or Salem; it is about fear and hysteria and delusion, and the consequences to society when it buys in to the delusion. It is just as relevant today as it was in the 1950′s, if not more so, and it was powerfully relevant in the 1980′s with the Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria where, once again, the system was asked to look the other way when accusations made no sense, contradicted themselves, or spread like a virus among impressionable children.