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Mooning–a theatrical art

ART TIMES July, 2004

The other day in my home town, a fellow decided to hop out of his car at a stoplight, run around in front of another car, drop his pants, moon the other car, pull ‘em up, zip ‘em up, hop back in and drive away. I suppose it won’t come as any surprise that my home town is also the home of a leading university, to which the young man in question had come to imbibe the fruits of wisdom and knowledge at the feet of high masters of learning. During the course of his pursuit of the Muses, he has become, it turns out, a serial mooner. He cheerfully confessed to over 50 incidents of mooning. It is said he considers mooning as high hilarity. Oh, well…

The failure of the institution to impart true wisdom and knowledge to our grasshopper, our budding brother of the behind, our winsome seeker of truth, knowledge and a shiny butt, can be seen in one vividly apparent fact, or at least a fact that becomes obvious upon considered contemplation of the event. It shows up with awful clarity in the astonishing omission committed by our connoisseur of the displayed derriere.

He confessed to his act of mooning, he confessed to all his other acts of mooning, he even evaluated the act of mooning as a source of humor. Yet he did not take the vital next step, the step that could have made his fame and fortune.

He didn’t claim it to be art. In particular, he didn’t claim it to be theatre. And over and above that, he didn’t claim it to be comedy.

Yet consider: he performed a physical action in public, an action requiring a certain level of skill and control. Oh, yes, skill and control. Just try it sometime. You have only a few seconds leeway. You must carry out a rapid exit from the vehicle, an agile cavort into the performance space, a rapid manipulation of wardrobe in which the consequences of wardrobe failure could be both humiliating, painful and possibly dangerous, followed by an equally rapid exit from the performance space and re-entry into the vehicle. His action elicits a distinct and vivid emotional response in the audience – in this case, of course, not literally an audience, but definitely a viewing public. Like any good piece of mime, it is a focused expression that vividly communicates a specific impression. It even conveys character, or at least an instant and quite powerful impression of character. It doesn’t, to be sure, tell a story, or at least not a fiction, but not all theatre does so. And it certainly has the potential to do what comedy does – to point out the common nature of man, or at least man’s derriere, a piece of his nature that can scarcely be more common, or perhaps less so, depending on one’s point of view.

He should have claimed it was art, and he should have protested his arrest and fine as censorship. With that and a little good press-agentry, he could very well have rendered the painful process of acquiring an employable level of vocational training – the only kind of education presently available to most students in the American system of higher education – quite unnecessary. He could probably have lived for quite some time off his exploit; indeed, if he has the creativity to expand upon this line of performance and develop it for a wider public, he might live off it indefinitely. There was, after all, the famous case of the 19th century vaudevillian who made a living through musical farting – and does this present any less a possibility?

Alas, there were no pictures or video made of this possibly seminal performance, and it seems likely that our performer, not being dedicated to his craft as a superior artist must be, will fade quickly into the gray mist of the steadily and gainfully employed, albeit with a hidden colorful streak in his past. Theater art will not, as it were, make a bum turn. But perhaps someday, in some way, some such freaky fandango as this might turn the whole course of theater history into new and unexpected channels. Could one arsk for more?