Wednesday, November 12, 2014

WPA Science Fiction

(A scene from the WPA opera "The Romance of Robot," New York City. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

(WPA poster promoting the operas "The Romance of Robot" and "La Serva Padrona." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In his book, All of this Music Belongs to the Nation, Dr. Kenneth Bindas of Kent State University explains that the opera The Romance of Robot "satirized a society where the modernist efficiency of logical decision making and organization replaced individual initiative and humanity...The story concerned a scientist/dictator of a future world where machines rule and humans serve their every need. The scientist, in an effort to detail the superiority of machines and, by extension, the superiority of his own mind, creates a perfect man in the Robot; yet, in doing so, he also sows the seeds for his society's destruction" (University of Tennessee Press, 1996, p. 50).

According to Bindas, production problems and an unusual music score caused The Romance of Robot to be less-than-successful. Also, the creativity & complexity of the story may have made it vulnerable to the type of scrutiny that so often came from the pseudo-patriotic blowhards of the day, i.e., that it was "un-American." Many conservative politicians of the 1930s (Republicans and Democrats) sought to achieve nationalistic machismo (and thus, votes) by bullying playwrights, actors, and other artists. Of course, we see the same type of foolishness today, where anything that doesn't line the pockets of the already-wealthy must be "evil socialism!"

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