A play by this title, written by me, recently finished a short run at the Metropolitan Playhouse in the eighth year of the East Village Theater Festival, an annual presentation of plays written about life on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
The play's story is simple: an FBI agent, American by citizenship but born in Egypt, seeks to recruit informants at a local mosque, and towards this end pulls in a cab driver who prays there and amuses the other cabbies with the story of Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America. Except that the cabbie calls it the "fever dream" of Captain America — the fever that comes from a taste for dominance but no stomach for empire, from a self-congratulatory story that America brings justice wherever it goes constantly betrayed by the venalities and meanness that power requires to stay in power.
The agent, to squeeze the cabbie, tells him that telling that story will be considered a threat to the United States unless he coĂ¶perates, and in the end the cabbie can only twist and evade so much until he has to choose what he had to choose the moment he sat in the agent's chair. Being enlisted in the fever dream is like being attacked by one of Ridley Scott's aliens in Prometheus: it worms its way down your gullet, then explodes your heart from inside.
And so goes the American fever dream today, this bloody swamp of spite and whining and selfishness and social/economic injustice. All of which might be tolerable if it didn't cause such literal injury to the body politic. Just one example: the documented way extreme income inequality increases illness and death among the lower depths. The more you don't have and can't get, the more your mortality is shortened: proven.
And yet we, as a society, agree to let this and other indignities happen (even if many of us as individuals disagree). Like the cabbie, we're enlisted. As in Prometheus, we incubate the fever.
What am I doing? I write my plays. Which is to say, what I do is like pissing on a forest fire. Yet I don't go join myself to any number of groups who are fighting a good fight to drain the swamp, or at least keep it from flooding everything, because there is an Eeyore part of me which says, "What's the point?" There is a perverse satisfaction that comes from watching the train wreck in action — not proud to admit that but cannot deny it either.
Perhaps the futile gesture won't prove to be futile, maybe the good works people are doing will accumulate into a critical mass that will break the fever and bring people back to kinder hearts and less spleen. But I also think a much more massive intervention needs to happen, an old-fashioned mass political movement that goes beyond the soft-touch niceties of the social media, where people are willing to build barricades (physical and virtual) and throw their bodies on them.
My fever dream is another revolution that goes beyond the airiness of Occupy Wall Street and re-anchors this self-professed Judeo-Christian democratic culture in the Christianity of liberation theology, the Judaism of tikkun olam (repairing the world), and the democratic energies of Eugene Debs, Michael Harrington, Dorothy Day, and [fill in the blank of your favorite rouser of rabble].
Unless you like the current fever dream. If that's the case, let's talk — I'm curious to find out why, since it makes no sense to me.