Kathleen Parker

When Bill Shakespeare observed that life is but a shadow strutting and fretting its hour upon the stage, he must have been imagining Crawford, Texas, circa August 2005.

Indeed, recent events surrounding the war protest led by Cindy Sheehan have added a new dimension to the definition of tragicomedy. Not just tragic, not just comedic, but also ridiculous. The theater of the absurd has found pay dirt in East Texas.

Of course, there's nothing amusing about war, or loss of life, or a mother's pain. But those noble human concerns become something else once the red eye of the television camera finds its mark.

Once a cause becomes a cause celebre, original intent gets lost. Once celebrities attach themselves to tragedy - and the tragic figure herself becomes a celebrity - then authenticity becomes subordinate to calculation. Sorrow's spontaneity evaporates in the media haze and everything thereafter is street theater.

When Cindy Sheehan knelt to place flowers on her son's grave, alone with her pain, she was a sympathetic character whose loss would break a million hearts. When Cindy Sheehan knelt to place flowers next to a stage-prop cross erected for Nikons and networks in Crawford, she was an actress studiously performing for an audience that may easily find other places for their sympathies to repose.

Her supporting cast did her no favors by layering cliches onto what already was becoming a tired script, beginning with - fire up your bongs - Joan Baez.

Having Baez show up for a war protest is like having Oprah show up at a Weight Watchers meeting. You get instant bona fides along with your gratification. With Baez, you get to bask in the real thing - a been-there, done-that star straight from the annals of anger. Speaking to a crowd of about 500, Baez said: "It was the final tear for the overflow and you can't stop running water. Cindy's was the final tear."

Whatever that means. I think something sad and poignant. In any case, Baez's folk singerese seems an improvement over her declamations at a concert last year in Charlottesville, Va., where Baez revealed that she has "multiple personalities," including a 15-year-old poor black girl named Alice from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas.

As reported by Ronald Bailey in Reason magazine, Baez performed what was essentially a minstrel show without the blackface. Young Alice said things like "I'se g'win ta' do this and that, and commented on President George W. Bush.

"De prezident, he be a racist," she said, and, "De prezident, he got a bug fer killin'."

Kathleen Parker

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