Steve Bannon, the man I’ve described in the past as Buckingham to Trump’s Richard III, is once again in the news. He’s been charged with criminal contempt for refusing to cooperate with the Senate with the January 6th commission.
Bannon, the former head of Breitbart news, and Former President Trump’s former chief strategist, has long been a controversial figure with his extreme right wing views on immigration, race, and politics in general.
One thing many people might not know about Bannon though, is that before he was a publisher and a politician, he was an aspiring writer in Hollywood, and in the late 1990s, Bannon wrote, “The Thing I Am,” a rap-musical version of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy “Coriolanus.”
What Is Coriolanus?
Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s most obscure tragedies, but arguably, one of his most fascinating ones. It’s the only play set in republican Rome, so it’s the only Shakespeare play that deals with issues of democracy. The play starts with a riot where poor Romans are complaining about grain shortages, loudly condemning rich landowners who are hoarding grain while they starve. Ironically, Shakespeare wrote this at the same time when he himself was guilty of hoarding grain during a shortage, and tensions were so high that some farmers called for people like him to be “hanged on their own gibbit.”
The play has been called fascist, communist, democratic, republican, and monarchist. It’s main character is a Roman general who wants to be consul, (a high governmental position in the Senate), despite the fact that he hates the common people. Like Julius Caesar, it raises interesting questions about who should be in charge of our society, without prescribing an answer, (which would have been impossible for Shakespeare living in Jacobean England). In the play’s most famous scene, Coriolanus finally bursts out and rails against the commoners for their ignorance and their distrust of other would-be millitary dictators:
A review of Bannon’s Show:
Bannon updated the text and set it in Los Angelos during the riots of 1992, which if you remember, were protests to the earlier police brutality trial over the death of Rodney King.
The show was never produced, though a staged reading of the text was held in 2016. I was unable to find it on Youtube, but I did find a link to a video on Facebook under Now This Politics. The full reading is here:
They say! F#$% they! They hang out shooting pool and think they know what’s going down – who’s up, who’s out, who bounds, and if there’s crack enough. If I had my way, I’d make a quarry of these slaves.”
Whoever deserves greatness, wants their hate. Peep game, boy. To count on them for favors is to swim with fins of lead.”
“So f#$% you! Trust you? Ha! With each passing minute, you change your common mind. You call him noble that was once your enemy, then dis your king. You cry against the “other” – crackers, Blood, Crip, popo, Pol, the rich – it don’t matter, n!@$; awe keeps you feeding each another.”
I never knew the ‘racist Steve’ that’s being reported now,” Jones told The Daily Beast last year. “I never heard him make any racist jokes, and his best friend was an African-American who went to [college] with him… I never saw even a hint of racism.
“But I did see this elitism… He would always look down on poor people of any color. At one point, he told me that only people who own property should vote. -Julia Jones (Bannon’s Co writer)
The Cast included Rob Corddrey, Kate Berlant, Jordan Black, and Cedric Yarborough.
The subject matter is poorly handled and the way it treats the LA riots is at best, a historically inaccurate attempt for Bannon to play ‘white savior’ to a group he considers inferior, and at worst, a call to action for racists to imprison and oppress the black residents of LA.
The riots were not a war, they were a result of a protest. Instead of addressing the Rodney King trial which was the cause of the riots, Bannon focuses on the ‘war’ between the Crips and the Bloods, saying the riot was a result of this war.
If you read Breitbarts article about the riot, (and I don’t recommend it), it is described like a war. It’s the same war conservative pundits are continually trying to convince us is coming- a race war between ‘gangs’, ‘immigrants,’ and the politicians who enable them, who don’t want you to defend yourself.
The opinion piece I read found it ironic that Bannon makes Coriolanus the leader of the Crips, but if you look at his politics, It’s clear why- Bannon is attracted to masculine violence and his base of violent, predominantly white males see modern life as a culture war between them and the rest of the world. His Coriolanus is a BAMF who defends himself with his gun . A politician or a policeman ♂️ would have someone to answer to (more like Shakespeare’s Coriolanus,) but Bannon’s Martus has no restaint and can indulge his violent tendencies in the lawless hellscape of LA.
It should be noted that Bannon is clearly not speaking from experience or research, merely his ugly stereotypes of black gang members that he got from reading his biased Brietbart articles. Though the hero is black, the dog whistle racism is still there- these people are out to get you, and even though they have guts, they are a threat to “civilization.”
References/ Other Reviews:
- New York Times Steve Bannon’s Hip Hop Shakespeare: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/17/opinion/sunday/steve-bannon-hip-hop-shakespeare-rewrite-coriolanus.html
- Refinery 29: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2017/05/152427/steve-bannon-rap-musical-the-thing-i-am
- Rolling Stone: He Approaches the Baby Gangster. Steve Bannon’s Rap Musical: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/he-approaches-the-baby-gangsta-watch-steve-bannons-rap-musical-115694/
- Hooton, Christopher. Watch a script read of Steve Bannon’s rap musical: ‘If I had my way, I’d make a quarry of these slaves.’ The Independent. Retrieved online from: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/steve-bannon-musical-rap-film-script-screenwriter-shakespeare-coriolanus-compton-table-script-read-a7712736.html%3famp