American Theater and Ola

With the year coming to a close, I find myself looking back. It should be no surprise that part of this reflection  involves the myriad shows and performances put on on campus this year, but  it did inspire a question in my mind. Why do we pick the shows we perform? Do we weigh so heavily toward American artists because we are an American school? With this in mind, I talked to a few directors and faculty about their choices.

Almost unanimously, the answer was “best fit.” Though interest and/or challenge play some role, every person I spoke to cited the campus atmosphere as the number one influencing factor. Natalia Romero, music director for 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee said she chose the show because she felt it would resonate well with the student body, and that the messages within would be felt and appreciated right now. She also mentioned how she thought that another important consideration for the show would be the actors. Different shows might required a different crop of actors currently active at St. Olaf.

At St. Olaf, the majority of shows put on by the theater department are either classical plays, or written by American authors. When you take into account the reasons behind show choice, that leaves us with this: That St. Olaf is apparently in dire need of American theater themes right now! All joking aside, it makes sense that on a campus such as ours, it’s American themes that resonate with us. Like it or not, we’re middle America, but that can’t stop us from both appreciating, and criticizing that culture through the lens of theater.

Equal Pay? Maybe someday.

Tomorrow, President Obama will  sign a pair of executive orders increasing wage transparency in Federal programs. The orders hope to achieve two things: First, to protect workers’ rights by prohibiting offices to take action against employees who speak out about their pay and treatment. Second, to organize a database of worker salary structures to observe any discrepancies in pay.

Though some may argue that pay discrimination is in the past, it is still quite present in America, and the world at large, today. In the US, on average, men are paid $1.38 for every $1 paid to women. The median African-american worker is paid 74% less, while the median Hispanic worker is paid 63% less. Structural prejudice such as this greatly contributes to greater inequality in American society. After all, if someone can’t even earn the same wage for the same work, their prospects are going to be much dimmer.

Interestingly enough, Minnesota was one of the first states to begin combating unequal pay. In the late 1970s, Minnesota took a look at most of the paid workers in the nation, found large gender discrepancies, and took steps to equalize salaries. During the 80s, state funding was appropriated to begin amending the pay disparities for state employees. In 2005, it was found that the average pay ratio was now 97-100 female-male, making it one of the most equitable states in the nation.

It speaks volumes that, while women are still paid less than men, it’s seen as a leap forward for pay equity. The ambivalence that tends to surround the issue needs to go away, and hopefully President Obama’s upcoming actions will help.

Exporting Hate

I’m sure most people have already heard at least something about the current events in Uganda regarding their anti-gay-rights bill. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that punishes homosexuality with life in prison. This may seem like some kind of backwards behavior, but what you might not know is that it can be traced back to America. Specifically, American evangelists.

Most of the blame lies on the head of Scott Lively, a radical evangelist who travelled to Uganda to preach his version of Christianity. He brought with him a strong anti-LGBT message, that gained quite a bit of traction with religious Ugandans. The culture of hate that sprang up is directly responsible for the horrible conditions LGTB individuals suffer in Uganda today.

Make no mistake; this isn’t simply a case of shaking our heads at foreign policies. Everything that this hate crime stands for is locally grown and exported. Though a certain Americentricism is arrogant, America still has a lot of pull around the world. We can’t expect to spread positive ideals when poisonous ones still have such strong roots at home. Most people want to see America as a force for good, but that’s as unrealistic as the old images of communist devils and foreign evils.

If you want to learn more about the situation, please take a look at the following links: