The Majority: How to Engage With the "Other Side"?
Playwright and actor Rob Drummond’s one-man production of The Majority has a clever conceit: audience participation. At specific points during the show, Drummond posits statements to the audience. Using clickers, they respond whether they agree or disagree. The percentages of the audience’s responses are then calculated in real time, and the majority response determines the play’s proceedings. Many of the polls concern moral dilemmas concerning free speech and choice, which are interspersed with Drummond’s personal narrative regarding the aftermath of the 2014 Scottish referendum. Many of the questions tackled reflect upon one’s ethical and moral choices in the face of contemporary issues that arise from this context.
I found the questions asked by Drummond before his actual narrative to be the most interesting. After polling the audience to gain an understanding of its demography, I was shocked to discover that ninety percent of those present were white. (After seeing the show’s promotional material, I had higher aspirations for the diversity of the performance’s audience.) Drummond’s experiences in 2014 are intended to serve as an allegory for one’s behaviour in the anti-immigrant United Kingdom in a post-Trump, post-Brexit world. However, the audience’s lack of non-white, non-middle class liberals renders his attempts to navigate the concepts of race and nationality flawed from the outset.
As his story progresses, 2014 era-Drummond realises that his antagonistic attitude toward those with opposing viewpoints is close-minded and lacking in empathy. He derides himself for pushing his liberal beliefs onto other people without abandon and for speaking to those on the right with condescension. To further his point, the final statement posed in the show concerns whether one believes that abuse toward someone else for merely holding an opinion is acceptable. In other words, how harmful is it to maintain an ideology? Is just believing in something enough to deserve punishment? Drummond clearly does not think so. At the performance I attended, ninety percent of the audience disagreed: no, they would not level abuse. Exasperated, Drummond questioned why the remaining ten percent still felt that abuse was acceptable after all of his efforts to teach us a lesson on morality.
In the strictest sense, Drummond is correct. It is technically most comfortable to reach one’s opponents by speaking to them without deviating into condescension and stridency. However, he does not recognise that racist (or sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant) thoughts and ideologies themselves are forms of violence. Consider that professional Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer even proclaims that this moment is not violent. If we are to take him at his word, where is the justification for people angrily protesting Neo-Nazi and alt-right marches all across America? Ideologies are not held in a vacuum and are therefore not restricted from retaliation from people who feel a genuine pain from this racist vitriol.
Fascists have recently started to rebrand themselves through some phrases including the “alt-right” and “white nationalists”. By doing so, they are attempting to move their views to a more centrist midpoint to become more palatable to mainstream society. However, this codification does not negate the fact that they remain fascists who hold incredibly vile ideologies. When calling them out for what they indeed are (Neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan), reasoning with them sounds like an insane proposition. Drummond wants to develop tolerance and understanding through the use of peaceful discussion with those with opposing political views. In doing so, he delegitimises active resistance in service of sympathising with fascists. This further problematically equates the violent ideologies of white supremacists to those on the left (such as the Antifa and Black Lives Matter movements) seeking to gain rights through active resistance. This mirrors a narrative perpetuated by the media which criticises violence on the left (in both right and left wing outlets) while failing to adequately interrogate the terror of right-wing rhetoric and the fact that they routinely perpetuate violence against marginalised individuals.
I am not arguing that violence from the left as a retaliatory tactic is the solution to today’s fraught politics. But Drummond’s why-can’t-we-all-get-along tactics are impossible to marginalised peoples who cannot suffer the emotional labour and threats to their physical safety to speak to fascists. As a result, framing his solution as a universally attainable goal does not reflect the lived experiences of many who are not white and middle class. Oppressed minorities cannot consider this query without considering the legacies of racism and colonialism that threaten their livelihoods. Making the moral quandary limited to a dichotomy and framing it as a question of universal morality is, therefore, a failed attempt to isolate issues of free speech and ideology from their sociopolitical contexts. Because of this, framing Drummond’s trolley problems in a vacuum normalises and rationalises its white audience as a conduit for “the majority” of the United Kingdom.
As this was performed at the National, it’s unsurprising that The Majority doesn’t challenge any existing power structures. As an institution of our capitalist framework, the theatre serves to appeal to its middle and upper-class patrons who are privileged with access to tickets. As a result, The Majority serves to acquiesce its audience by allowing them to leave with the impression that they have engaged in politics without changing the status quo in the slightest. I would have found it far more exciting if he had taken the opportunity to truly interrogate the privilege of the audience by speaking to themes such as toxic liberalism and the left’s complicity in racism. Through these lenses, Drummond could still have expressed his desire to have discussions with others civilly and peacefully--but with the victims of fascism, not its oppressors. Instead of considering the worst in our societies, we could all be using this opportunity to amplify the voices of and protect our most vulnerable.