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Both Sides of the Coin

Saying that there is no intolerance, prejudice, and stereotypisation in the


21st century would be incorrect. Despite a slow but steady progress
towards ‘true’ equality, the political and racial divide is higher than anyone
would wish it to be. In addition to the political (far) right’s horrific stance
on race, sexuality and other similar issues, there is an increasing trend of
calling or labelling something or someone as homophobic, racist, and
bigoted, to name but a few. These polar opposites not only further the
divide and increase tensions between groups of people, but lead to a
feeling of isolation, too. Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (1991, 1993)
and its vibrant characters do an excellent job portraying these issues of
judgement, strife, and loneliness.

Despite popular opinion, the USA are not as ideal as one would
think. Ideally, the situation in the States would be blamed on ignorance,
giving people a chance to educate themselves and correct course.
However, people seem to strive for power first, education second, and
altruism fifth. This is backed up by Roy Cohn, a powerful conservative
lawyer and power broker, who describes politics as “[…]gastric juices
churning, this is enzymes and acids, this is intestinal is what this is, bowel
movement and blood-red meat – this stinks, this is politics, Joe, the game
of being alive.” Instead of describing politics as something to do with the
brain or the heart, Roy sees politics as a fighting pit, a game of
accumulation of wealth, power, status etc., located in the gut and devoid
of morality.

Among the more vocal, liberal critics and disappointed optimists is


Louis, a gay Jewish man living in New York. In the play, Louis voices his
feelings: “I hate this country. It’s just big ideas, and stories, and people
dying.” He thinks of America as a blind country, overlooking the suffering
of countless people, among which are also those dying of Aids. Louis is of
course right, but not completely. He is judging the collective, not the
individual. The individual cannot be held accountable for the failures of the
collective, because there is, at least logically, no such thing as group guilt.
However, logic is quickly thrown out of the windows when it comes to the
matters closest to our hearts.

Prior Walter is an excellent example of this type of wrongful,


irrational accusations. He superimposes a homophobic and judgemental
way of thinking over Hannah. He judges her and finds her beliefs
“repellent.” When Hannah inquires what these beliefs she apparently holds
might be, Prior replies: “I’m a homosexual. With AIDS. I can just imagine
what you believe.” The key word here is imagine. Accusing someone of
wrongful thinking, homophobia, and/or bigotry without solid proof is
ignorant and plain wrong at best.

Upon being deemed, on bad evidence, a hateful person, Hannah


responds in a way that would defuse many heated arguments in the ‘real
world,’ too. She says: “No you can’t. Imagine. The things in my head. You
don’t make assumptions about me, mister, I won’t make them about you.”
These two lines are an excellent example of non-judgement and a good
way of turning a heated, senseless argument into a worthwhile discussion.
This left Prior no choice but to agree, and so would any other rational
person. Instead of shifting blame in hopes of one-upping one another, we
should defuse the situation by emotionally distancing ourselves from the
argument’s content and approaching the dialogue with a level head. This,
of course, is easier said than done.

Thus, the words “The Great Work Begins” take on an additional


meaning. They stand for aiming and striving towards a greater good,
union, and peace. Just as with Angels in America, there is no clear
conclusion or end in sight yet. People are messy and bound to make
mistakes on the way to justice, inclusion, and equality, but a step towards
a more balanced, centrist approach has been taken. As Prior put it in the
one of the play’s last lines: “We won't die secret deaths anymore ... We
will be citizens. The time has come.” This leaves us at least somewhat
optimistic, just as Louis was when he talked about the shift of power in
politics: “Why does the power […] seem drawn inexorably downward and
outward in spite of the best effort of the Right to stop this?” We are
headed in the right direction indeed, but there is long way ahead of us
indeed.

In conclusion, unjust judgement and accusations are almost ever-


present in today’s political climate, but this does not mean that we,
collectively, are not getting better educated and increasingly accepting /
inclusive. For every Roy, there are at least ten Priors, who eventually
mature and embrace change as something that is not inherently evil.
Tradition has its uses, and so does novelty. What we need to do is strike a
balance between the two and live to the best of our capabilities and wish
nothing but the best to our fellow men.