27
Mon, May

Unmet Needs

ERIC PREVEN'S NOTEBOOK

ERIC PREVEN’S NOTEBOOK - “Our mission remains unchanged [at LAist.]” I read in an internal letter posted on X about a buyout currently being offered to close an unfortunate expense versus revenue gap. Ouch. “We will fight to continue to hold those in power to account; to bring you the fact-based journalism that you rely on; and tell the stories coming directly out of your community. Our staff is working tirelessly to find new streams of revenue while consistently delivering the kind of local news you can only get at LAist.”

Marilyn Monroe.

 

New streams of revenue are zeitgeisty. 

At a very good play that I saw in New York recently, they ran a take-a-shot on-stage, promotion during intermission.  If you bought something from the bar on entry and got your hand stamped, at the brief “pause” , you could walk up on stage and receive a shot or two of Aquavit.   

This was of course courtesy of a very nice liquor company pushing their very nice Aquavit. Voila, more revenue, more fun.  Aquavit is like vodka with a caraway component of some kind. Disclosure:  I’ve been smashed on it before, in the Swedish Archipelago.  

The cocktail intermezzo of the performance ends when the characters return and are suddenly at a town meeting. The house lights remain up.  

Dr. Stockmann, the lead played by Jeremy Strong, is trying to deliver an important public comment, and the town mayor played by Michael Imperioli, working with the powerful residents association president and local publisher, Aslaksen, played brilliantly by Thomas Jay Ryan, shut the doctor down through a combination of guile and parliamentary tricks. 

It is not the LAPD that ultimately drags Dr. Stockmann down and buries him in the remaining promotional ice from the free aquavit, but the community. 

I glanced at the City Council meeting on Wednesday to see if I would be missing anything.

When I tuned in, Paul Krekorian was clearing the room of a disruption, “Everybody who is disrupting the meeting after my order. Sergeants, please remove them from this council chamber. Sit down immediately. “  

It was reminiscent of Henrik Ibsen's Enemy of The People about a whistleblowing physician in a vacation town whose primary draw is a public bath.  

The doctor discovers that the water is contaminated by the local tannery. He expects to be embraced for saving the town from the nightmare of infecting visitors with the disease, but instead, when he gives his public comment he is declared an 'enemy of the people' by the locals, who band against him and bury him in ice. [By analogy: Are the Olympics a good top priority? Get him out of here.] 

The Krekorianesque leadership in the play, trying to edit what the doctor says, and restricting the items that he can raise with the community is  precisely what resonated for me. 

Stockmann is forced to agree to their absurd ground rules and promises not to bring up the water contamination or the local bath project that he specifically came to speak about. Instead, he tries to speak directly to the people and, as it does at City Council, it devolves quickly. 

The play ends with the complete ostracism of the good doctor. 

There is another sequence in the play that I fully enjoyed and hope can be force-fed to LAist and LA Times editors and writers alike. It’s the scene where Dr. Stockmann tells the editor of the community newspaper to print the article about the contamination of the groundwater, but they begin questioning how valuable it is to expose the government in this way, concluding that printing the article will do more harm than good, because of its likely effect on the town's economy.   

Sound familiar? In Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti was and maybe is "a little” off-limits. He's such a nice boy and he's done so much to bring big expensive sporting events to town.   

And stories, like The Complete Abolition of Public Comment during the LA City budget hearings 2024…are not stories... "we need revenue stories, silly."   

Without being fresh, maybe we can conceive some promotional opportunities at the few public meetings remaining, similar to the Free Aquavit at intermission program.  

This is certainly one way to address the unmet needs.   

Or how about a sponsor to restore virtual public testimony at committee meetings?  

Yes.

One wonders what the playwright Ibsen would have thought about Aquavit shots at intermission!  Henrik Ibsen, who lived to be 78 and died in 1906, was not necessarily beloved by all, but is widely regarded as the most important playwright since Shakespeare. 

One of the Cudrio sisters from a neighboring farm in Norway, who knew Henrik Ibsen in childhood, said, "he was immensely cunning and malicious, and he even beat us. But when he grew up, he became incredibly handsome, yet no one liked him because he was so malicious. No one wanted to be with him.” 

The strongest one is the one who stands alone. 

 

 

All Around The World: 

A man dares to expose an unpalatable truth publicly and is punished for it. 

It has been suggested that the play was indirect inspiration for Spielberg’s blockbuster movie, Jaws. Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, but mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) overrules him, fearing that the loss of tourist revenue will cripple the town. 

In An Enemy of the People, Ibsen chastised not only the conservative aspects of society but also the liberalism of the day. The show feels timely now because Ibsen illustrated how people on both sides of the societal spectrum could be equally self-serving. 

I was intrigued to read that the play has been translated into colloquial Arabic and featured a rock-themed soundtrack played live on-set. Jointly sponsored by the Norwegian Embassy in Cairo and the Ibsen Studies Center in Norway, it received various positive reviews at a time when Egypt was plunged into the Arab Spring. 

A German version, starring Matt Smith and Jessica Brown Findlay, converted the Act IV town meeting into an audience participation event that allowed contemporary issues to be aired.  Call it general public komment.  

The show was also produced in China, where the audience in Beijing reportedly showed overwhelming support for Dr. Stockmann, and allegedly shouted criticism of the Chinese regime during interaction parts.  Even in subsequent censored performances, audiences yelled "for personal freedom!"   

The strongest one is the one who stands alone. 

(Eric Preven is a longtime community activist and is a contributor to CityWatch. The opinions are of Mr. Preven and not necessarily those of CityWatchLA.com.)

 

ERIC PREVEN’S NOTEBOOK IN BRIEF:

  • A New York play implemented a unique promotion during intermission, partnering with a liquor company to offer shots of Aquavit on stage to audience members with a special hand stamp.
  • The play, featuring a town meeting scene disrupted by strategic opposition, mirrors the plot of Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People," where Dr. Stockmann is ostracized for exposing contaminated water in a spa town.
  • The contemporary relevance of the play is underscored by a similar disruption observed at a City Council meeting, reflecting the suppression of whistleblowers and critics in public forums.
  • The article reflects on various adaptations of the play, including a rock-themed version in Egypt and interactive audience participation in Germany and China, highlighting global resonance with themes of individual courage and systemic corruption.
  • The article also mentions the potential of utilizing promotional strategies like the Aquavit promotion to enhance public engagement at meetings, hinting at creative solutions to revenue needs in public settings.
  • Finally, the article discusses the broader cultural impact of Ibsen's work and its relevance to current societal issues, touching upon the tension between public health and economic interests as portrayed in both the play and real-world scenarios.