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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class: The Musical

Veblen as musical theater:

Up to Date in Kansas City: Seven New Musicals Get Readings in Festival July 15 & 22, by Kenneth Jones: Could the next great American musical surface in Kansas City? Theatre League, Inc., is investing in that idea with the first annual Kansas City Crossroads Musical Theater Festival, starting July 15. ... Works were solicited in recent months in an open submission process. The July 15 presentations are Frog Kiss, An Unlikely Romance, Too Good To Be True, Maccabeat and Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class... Here are the titles, creative teams and casts for the 2006 Crossroads Musical Theater Festival:

Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class, book and lyrics by Charles Leipart, music by Richard B. Evans. Directed by Ernest Williams, music directed by Tony Bernal. 2 & 8 PM July 15 at Kansas City Ballet, 16th and Broadway.

It's New York City, 1900, and out-of-work economics professor Thorstein Veblen takes his 'Theory of the Leisure Class' to the Fifth Avenue Vaudeville Theatre stage. He announces that to facilitate the promotion and sale of his recently published economic treatise, he has engaged several unemployed actors to present a musical demonstration of his socio-economic theory. He introduces the heroine of his story, Ellen Potts, a soon-to-be-heiress, with an overdeveloped social conscience. Veblen's demonstration takes Ellen through courtship, marriage, and the pursuit of her dream of social justice for the poor of New York — and ultimately into conflict with Veblen's vision of a Conspicuously Consuming and Status Driven American Society.

Cast: Jim Korinke, Heidi Stubblefield, James Wright, Elaine Fox, Lyndsey Agron, Chris Cobbett, Mark Snethen, Dean Vivian and Cindy Baker.

For relevance to today, there are other choices as well such as Veblen's The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904), though I have a hard time imagining anything of his as a musical, play, etc. Here's a small part of chapter 10:

The largest and most promising factor of cultural discipline - most promising as a corrective of iconoclastic vagaries - over which business principles rule is national politics. ... Business interests urge an aggressive national policy and business men direct it. Such a policy is warlike as well as patriotic. The direct cultural value of a warlike business policy is unequivocal. It makes for a conservative animus on the part of the populace. During war time, ... under martial law, civil rights are in abeyance; and the more warfare and armament the more abeyance. Military training is a training in ceremonial precedence, arbitrary command, and unquestioning obedience. A military organization is essentially a servile organization. Insubordination is the deadly sin. The more consistent and the more comprehensive this military training, the more effectually will the members of the community be trained into habits of subordination and away from that growing propensity to make light of personal authority that is the chief infirmity of democracy. This applies first and most decidedly, of course, to the soldiery, but it applies only in a less degree to the rest of the population. They learn to think in warlike terms of rank, authority, and subordination, and so grow progressively more patient of encroachments upon their civil rights. ...

[T]he pomp and circumstance of war and armaments, and the sensational appeals to patriotic pride ... direct the popular interest to other, nobler, institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comforts. Warlike and patriotic preoccupations fortify the barbarian virtues of subordination and prescriptive authority. Habituation to a warlike, predatory scheme of life is the strongest disciplinary factor that can be brought to counteract the vulgarization of modern life wrought by peaceful industry and the machine process, and to rehabilitate the decaying sense of status and differential dignity. ...

In this direction, evidently, lies the hope of a corrective for "social unrest" and similar disorders of civilized life. There can, indeed, be no serious question but that a consistent return to the ancient virtues of allegiance, piety, servility, graded dignity, class prerogative, and prescriptive authority would greatly conduce to popular content and to the facie management of affairs. Such is the promise held out by a strenuous national policy.

    Posted by on Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 12:15 AM in Economics, History of Thought | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (3)

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