Arthur Miller, Radical:
Sure, sure, there's lots of shit to talk about today, but let us pay attention to a passing here. The other shit of our daily world of Bush will continue. But some important items will not:

One of the things muted or lost in the encomiums to the playwright Arthur Miller, who died last week, is just how radical a son of a bitch he was. Sure, sure, by the time most of us experienced his work, generally as forced marches through The Crucible or Death of a Salesman in high school or college undergraduate classrooms, with some teacher making us talk about witch trials, Salem and HUAC, and/or read Miller's "Tragedy of the Common Man" essay, we were jaded to such visions of a society that had turned on its own people. (Oh, maybe we cried at the end of the tv-film version of Salesman when John Malkovich wept to Dustin Hoffman.)

But Arthur Miller is one of the last connections to a time in American history when the laborers of this country were part of a movement, with their own muted history, their own vibrant culture. One of Miller's mentors was Clifford Odets, the playwright of the 1930s who dared to directly tie the good of union workers and the underclass to the rise of socialism. Miller's earliest efforts imitated a form of workers' theatre that put forth the simple proposition that the American Dream, that big, unwieldy fucker of "work hard and you'll be rewarded," was a chimera, a phantom, a sucker's illusion of individualism and success put forth by the moneyed people to keep the underclasses in line. Like the lottery today. Or Bush's Social Security plan.

And that's why we pay attention to Miller here. He fought, fuckin' fought old school, for the good of those who were run over by governments, cultures, and moralities. And so, so much of what he wrote still has the ability to kick the ass of anyone inundated with the lies of the right wing and the powerful.

You want your corporate evil masking its hunger for government contracts? Miller was unafraid of calling out the corruption at the heart of postwar America, when, so filled with hubris and stinking of victory, the population was manipulated into abandoning class issues for the bizarre fight against an ideology, Communism. All My Sons' main character, Joe Keller, is a war profiteer who knowingly sold faulty airplane parts to the government. The planes end up falling from the sky, and in an investigation, Keller lies so his partner can take the rap. Keller's defense is that he did it all for his family, so that his family could be secure and not face bankruptcy and shame. Remember: this is just after the Depression, when such anxiety was palpable for the audience.

You want your fucking "war on terror" revealed for the hatred of freedom that it actually is? Look at The Crucible now, beyond the association with McCarthyism. Check out Judge Danforth and ask yourself if John Ashcroft is not the same man. When you read shit like the torture of innocent men in the name of the good of the American soul, think about John Proctor, unwilling to confess to being something he is not. We could do the character analogy game all day. Miller said that America was a country given to delusion, mass hysteria, a screaming naked man running down the floor of the asylum, declaring himself God. Please, someone, put a fuckin' straitjacket on him.

And as for his most devastating work, Death of a Salesman? Goddamn, what a vicious attack on American "values." Forget Willy Loman for a minute. Forget the lies that Willy lived, about the big man he deluded himself into thinking he was. Think for a moment about Biff Loman and how subversive a character he actually is: so filled with illusions about what it means to be privileged in America that he has to keep running and twisting himself in knots to try to outrun the wave of bullshit that threatens to engulf him. Biff is a hippie, Happy is the pathetic establishment, and neither of them is capable of functioning under the weight of American "dreams." When President Bush and the Republicans talk about the "ownership society," what are they doing but suckering everyone into that unfulfillable dream again?

This doesn't even get into the righteous anger of After the Fall and Incident at Vichy, or the sexual confusion of A View From the Bridge. This doesn't even get into his work supporting dissident writers and freedom of speech, like his time with PEN.

Miller was there, man. He walked the walk. He faced down Roy Cohn in Hollywood and HUAC in DC when lesser men crumbled. He traveled to Turkey, Czechoslovakia, and Nigeria to face repressive regimes. He was a radical in the true sense in that he directed his life and talents toward revelation and activism. He saw no other way. Or else we all faced the damnation of silence. He wrote about blacklisting, "The heart of the darkness was the belief that a massive, profoundly organized conspiracy was in place and carried forward mainly by a concealed phalanx of intellectuals, including labor activists, teachers, professionals, sworn to undermine the American government." What is the right's assault on Ward Churchill and academia and the left in general but another version of the same thing, over and over?

Besides, he also fucked Marilyn Monroe. Balls as big as cantaloupes, Miller had.

And there are precious few men or women left who have walked that walk, and there's even fewer who would dare to walk it now.