A reading of work-in-progress by Jeff McMahon

With music by Aaron Neber

Read by: Steven Mastroieni, Vickie Hall, Daniel Tobin, Denise Funk, Abraham Ntonya

What do you value? How do you determine relative worth?  How do we assign value to experiences, things, and people?  A look at life through the metaphor of markets.

 Friday, October 31, 2014 at 7:30pm

Nelson Fine Arts Center/FAC #133, ASU Tempe   (51 E. 10th St., behind ASU Art Museum)

$10 general/$5 students

TheatreLAB, School of Film, Dance and Theatre, Arizona State University   https://asuevents.asu.edu/what-its-worthmarket-based-memories


Work-in-progress showing of WHAT IS IT WORTH?/MARKET-BASED MEMORIES

On February 14, 2014 (Valentines Day) I will be presenting my work-in-progress collaborative performance, WHAT IS IT WORTH?/MARKET-BASED MEMORIES, as part of ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre TheatreLAB 2.2 series. Through highly stylized dialogue and original songs, this show investigates worth, value and debt using the metaphor of markets.

Music by Aaron Neber and Jeff McMahon
Performed by Brian Anderson, Isaac Kolding, Beth May, Jeff McMahon, Micah Jondel DeShazer.

7:30pm in Nelson Fine Arts Center, Studio #133, 51 E. 10th Street in Tempe on ASU campus.

Jeff McMahon reading at Columbia Selects, KGB Bar in NYC January 2, 2014

Thursday, January 2, at 7 pm the first Columbia Selects reading of the New Year! Selected by the Columbia Writing Program.

Ruth Galm’s debut novel, tentatively titled Into the Valley, will be published by Soho Press in the spring of 2015. She is working on a collection of short stories fueled by her muses: women, the American West, disconnectedness. She was born and raised in San José, California, spent eight years in New York City, and now lives in San Francisco.

Jeff McMahon, a writer/performer, is Associate Professor in the School of Film, Dance & Theatre at Arizona State University. Most recently, his essays were published in The Guardian and the Kenyon Review Online. He has also been published in The Threepenny Review, TDR, New England Review, and PAJ. Jeff has been a writing fellow at the Edward F. Albee Foundation in Montauk, New York, and Fundación Valparaíso in Mojácar, Spain. He is currently collaborating on a theatre piece with songs, What Is It Worth?/Market-Based Memories, as is finishing a memoir of life in the East Village 1980-2000. http://www.jeffmcmahonprojects.net/wordpressblogjeff/

Born in Poland, Ela Bittencourt is a writer, critic, translator, and arts and education nonprofit professional. Her work has been published in print and online, in publications such as Guernica, The Brooklyn Rail, and Frieze Magazine. She reviews film regularly for Slant, The L Magazine, and Reverse Shot. She holds an MFA in writing and an MA in arts administration, both from Columbia University, where she also taught university writing. Since 2001, she serves as the executive director of the Richard & Mica Hadar Foundation. She divides her time between New York and São Paulo.

What is Columbia Selects? The first Thursday of each month the Columbia MFA program hosts a reading series featuring Writing Program alumni. These fresh talents are finished with or near to finished with their first books, but do not yet have a book contract and/or an agent. In recent years, many of our featured writers have achieved critical and commercial success. This is your chance to glimpse who you’ll be reading in 2014!

Columbia Selects is curated by Bryan VanDyke and Emily Austin.

Columbia Selects: MFA Readings @ The KGB Bar
Thursday, January 2 @ 7 pm
KGB Bar 85 E. 4th St
F Train to 2nd Ave


For more info send an email to kgbcolumbia@gmail.com.

A Meaning of Manning

August 28, 2013

The Bradley Manning case is a postmodern crisis to smack our political theories, even as the relentless “masculine” assurance of U.S. foreign policy clutches its sabers and rattles. Is Bradley, (now Chelsea?) unstable, shifting, disloyal to the very genitalia s/he was born with? What’s apparently so scary and unforgiveable about Manning, and, without the obvious gender issues, Edward Snowden, is their refusal to sit still and take what they are given. Court-martialed for revealing “privileged” information to the very people who were supposedly paying for the privilege (we-support-the-troops Americans), Manning slips aside, taking full responsibility and even culpability for the reveal; guilty of collateral damage no one can prove occurred (not all the king’s men nor all the king’s horses). But the threat of what he did, the possibility of its disruptive capability, remains to determine an essentially life-ending prison punishment (in Snowden’s case, banishment at best). Unlike some of the crimes these two (three?) revealed, there are no bodies. Outside of military courts the rule is: no corpse, no case; but not so for military justice. The “corpse” is now the crime of revealing hysterically hoarded information, the release of a secret ruled more antisocial than the real crimes it revealed. Information is indeed power, and in government the old fear rises up that the revolution might begin, that the people, so armed, may themselves rise up.

As a woman now, Bradley has more balls than the people who want him in prison. Manning was a man. He manned up. He did the right thing, something significant, brave, reckless yes but with a callow commitment we will never get from politicians or most “leaders” including, most frustratingly, our President, who should know better than to trust the old guard. A braver man than Obama, someone whose confidence came a bit more securely pedigreed (FDR perhaps) might have triangulated the Manning and Snowden cases to make the larceny, the lies, and the killing in our names more punished then the leaking. Obama still has a chance to do so, via a pardon, but that surely won’t come until the end of his term, if it comes at all. For far too many Americans, Obama himself, not unlike Manning, is unstable. He could slide into blackness, into “representing,” and that must never be allowed to happen.

The Manning problem is that Manning is not the Hero. As we have known, so thoroughly that even 80’s pop announced it, “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” We need human beings who act on ethical grounds, who see the goals of human freedom and dignity as increasingly blocked by the very forces (and it is always force) sent to depose and then re-impose “freedom.” Remember that one of our recent incursions was titled “Operation Enduring Freedom.” How do we respond when someone does lands a punch for actual democracy, something brave and thus reckless as all bravery is, putting into practice what many of us preach? He must be put away, out of sight, politically killed, before he shape-shifts, becomes a she and thus something we will feel even worse about. He can’t really be “killed” because we are sophisticated savages. We will put him in prison, with other militarized misfit men, so that his switchiness, his instability, can be wrecked, mocked, further ruined, and his personhood marooned in the liminal, but with no context to express itself in. That’ll teach ‘em to think out of the box!

Is part of our Manning problem the realization of this significance, the change-causing result of his/her actions? For those of us who rail against the reign of debauched reason, who blog and bloviate and write editors and hope that someone is listening and leaning-in to our commentary, Manning (and Edward Snowden) come as reality checks. Their acts made the lumbering ship of state list and pitch and fire back. It’s perhaps the enormity of the canon with which the mighty ship responded that stuns; we thought Obama and his crew were on our side, the side of “speaking truth to power,” but we were squeaking, and they were stalling. Manning (and Snowden) acted first and spoke later, and for that they shall be punished. We assure ourselves that we are a society that aligns itself with David, but we are now surely the most gigantic Goliath.

Yes, Manning is crazy. How could his human being, so frail yet so fierce, be other than that? One wants to be respectful to this young person’s complexity, but perhaps it is we who have made Manning plural, bifurcated, have forced a complex soul into an unsustainable binary; you are a man, you are a woman. You are either for us or against us. You are an American, you are a traitor. You are a soldier, you are a citizen. These should not be oppositional. We have made it so. In order to survive in post-modern culture with integrity deeper than self-advertisement, you must be crazy, off-center, confused at best. Take your meds, bury yourself in social media (not live society), unload on your therapist(s) if you can pay for them or your job deems you worth keeping sane, load your gun, focus on (your own) family, shut up and shop. Crazy behavior must be rehearsed and displayed on “reality” shows, as it is not for the public forum. Citizens, public forums are not for the public. You don’t properly know how to know, so best to engage in the diversion of elections and leave knotty knowledge to the truly knowing, who know what to do because they have been doing it forever.

If Bradley had taken the appropriate meds, would he have fully become Chelsea, an eager young woman taking up arms in Afghanistan to defend home and country? The focus on Manning’s gender dysphoria seems to suggest this. I don’t buy it, though perhaps this is the essential breach between politics and art, between art and society. One encourages stability and an increasingly illusory civic cohesion. The other, disruption and interference in assumptions. But when that civil society condones uncivilized tactics, such as the murder of unarmed civilians, it’s crazy-making, begging the dramatic act as the only eruption possible to change the culture.

Had Manning taken an AR-15 (or the military equivalent) and gone officially crazy, as did some fellow officers, wiping out entire families in a militarized zone, there might at very least be a template, a narrative we have now been anestheticized to understand; bad apples, you know? But he cracked open in a very different way. Manning is a man and a woman and a lost child who found something and thought the world might be set right if when he saw something, she said something. But both voices, blended or distinct, drown in the backchatter of fear. The rest of us watch and claim sides.

PRISM (the search for a target)


July 10, 2013

In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Miss Prism misplaces the baby whose care she is momentarily careless of. The baby, deposited in a handbag abandoned in a train station, suffers a trajectory of life circumstances that ultimately land him pretty much where he would have been had he not left the perambulator to begin a life of accelerating deceptions. It’s the getting back to the bag that provides the drama.

We in the U.S. are caught in the misprision of PRISM, unsure of just who dropped and who picked up the baby, and who is misrepresenting whom. This baby of metadata is one none of us seem to have met, let alone named; just how has this ravenous baby been left unattended? Is a minor functionary’s act careless theft or patriotic responsibility? Is our future more promising because of his action, revealing an entire country as being careless and asleep at our own station? We try to do the right thing, but are so confused and just put the baby down for a moment. We must trust those in power, as they are ever so earnest, and we believed them from the start. Changing our mind now could expose us to comment. Fussing over information gone missing, prizing a privacy few of us exercise, might we notice there are worse things happening in the neighborhood?

Such as: an armed vigilante blasting away an unarmed youth in the privatized streets of America. George Zimmerman was armed with a gun and accompanying need to see his target as guilty of something. The NSA possesses possibly incriminating data (and power to prod people with really big guns). Edward Snowden was armed with his ethics and moral outrage, Treyvon Martin with his fists and a bag of Skittles. Revealed with all the data handed to them, NSA has to do something big; someone somewhere has to be guilty of something to justify all this ammo. The rising action of the play demands it, just as did Zimmerman’s foregone conclusion. In a recent exchange with journalist/student Madiha R Tahir at the Univ. of Wisconsin, an NSA recruiter got all caught up in the tautologies of defining on whom and why “we” spy, revealing that, really, everyone is potentially an adversary, even allies. And “… reporting the info in the right context is so important because the consequences of bad political decisions by our policymakers is something we all suffer from.”

Some lessons from this prism:

If you are going to attack someone in most of the United States, do it with a gun. Shoot them before things get out of hand; this proves you are more serious about protecting yourself than the other guy (conveniently dead). This is the American way now; we either have too much information, overwhelmed by the possibilities of data storage, or we shoot from the hip.

Get the data, then determine if you need it.

Only consumers give away such data for free. For corporations (and governments) it’s proprietary (to them, not us). We mortals are mere content.

If  you have information the citizens of a country need to protect themselves from their government, protect yourself from that government by departing that country before the big reveal. The U.S. has the longest arm in the world, the real worldwide web.

Being armed with the vote or mere citizenship is risky; you can be disarmed when the risk is determined to have passed (farewell Voting Rights Act) Better to have a gun.

Passports are pliable, permeable documents. The U.S. is the World State.

Just because someone says they are earnestly protecting you does not mean they are.

Presuming the U.S. Government tracks down and captures Snowden (such power is what we have been paying for all these years), should he use one of the tactics available to Zimmerman, the “Stand Your Ground” defense? His former employer will undoubtedly be threatening him with “great bodily harm.” That’s what our prisons are for. Misprision indeed.


© 2013 Jeff McMahon