Kathleen Parker

NEW YORK - It is hard to ignore Shakespeare most any day, especially here in the theater nexus of civilization. All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players, indeed.

But the Bard's words are particularly wounding - cutting deeply into one's pride and sense of human purpose - during Republican convention week as thousands play their assigned roles to an audience composed mostly of one another.

Act I: The Mammoth Protest in which either 100,000 or 500,000 people, depending on whose version one prefers, march down Seventh Avenue to rage against the Bush machine. Supporting actors include the world's eighth-largest army (the combined forces of New York City's finest and various other security forces), the media horde, and 5,000 Republican delegates.

Watching events from the comfort of one's own La-Z-Boy rather than from a city sidewalk in sweltering heat, one might assume that the city is consumed by rage, protest and great event. In reality, the protest and participants, though large in number and impressive in passion, are specks of dust on life's wide-angle lens.

Just another colorful incident in the city that spawned flash mobs. Strangers brought together to perform a pointless act. Performance art on a grand scale signifying - not much. After clogging streets and taxing the patience of cab drivers for a few hours, the crowd disperses, rage dissipates and stagehands sweep up the litter.

It's hard to make a splash in a city of 8 million people who have seen it all.

A person could, for instance, drop his trousers in the middle of Eighth Avenue, as several members of Act Up did a few days ago, but it's possible no one would care. New York, after all, is home to "The Naked Cowboy," who plays guitar in Times Square bereft of britches.

Act II: The Extreme Protest, in which one could rappel from the top of a building and hang an anti-Bush banner, as a couple of men did from The Plaza hotel. Or offer sex in exchange for votes against Bush. "F--- The Vote," is a campaign that invites liberals to take back the government "from the sexually repressed, right-wing zealots in control."

Young women on street corners this week were handing out red-hot tickets that advertised this political strategy: "By stripping conservatives out of their clothes, we can also strip them of their power."

Cute. After your nap, we'll have sugar cookies and punch.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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