Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Uh-oh: Coming in Hot too hot to touch?

photo by Krista Niles

The writers and director of the controversial new play by Kore Press recognized they had a hot-potato in their hands early on in the creative process. They wanted very much to avoid propagandist rhetoric and held in mind the notion that what art can do is to simply reveal, to allow a view through another's veil. The idea was that the power of revealing would open authentic dialogue among diverse and often polarized communities, as well as among individuals.

Although the general response so far has been a thumbs up, the attempt at a sincere exploration of highly sensitive material has invariably alienated us from some of the very groups we as a Press wished to engage: decision-makers in the Peace Movement criticized the lack of a clear stance against the military-industrial complex, a point that many second-wave feminists agree with. Then there is a question about whether or not a single actor should play 14 different characters from various backgrounds and ethnicities (but what of Anna Deveare Smith?). And, perhaps if the play were a little more detailed in its rendering of military life, service members might not see it as too radically liberal to attend?

"I came to this play expecting propaganda, but instead found truth," says one veteran in attendance, Jamie Jansen. "As a veteran who has been to both theatres of operation, it was not an easy transition back into normalcy. In part, this is because we will never be "normal" again. It changes you in very profound ways. I don't speak much about my experiences. They are tucked away in a box, and every attempt is made to keep them there. This play gave a voice to all of the experiences and feelings in that box. It is a true gift."

Controversy is a good thing--it gets people all riled up and talking--so perhaps we should not apologize after all for refusing to offer pat answers and just continue to raise the existential questions: Why is it that the country cannot stomach seeing women in power, at war, and find it so hard to bear witness to all of what happens there?

--Staff writers


  1. The Tucson WILPF branch, after seeing the production, sent me this letter:


    Those of us from the local WILPF group who have seen "Coming In Hot" have all been raving about your incredible acting ability, the lighting techniques employed, the music/sound accompaniament, the staging, etc. It was a masterful presentation. We hope you know how much we all individually appreciate, respect, and support your career and your efforts and we want you to know that we will continue to give you enthusiastic support in your future projects.

    That said, the WILPF Steering Committee discussed the endorsement as a WILPF grant project at the steering committee meething this morning and, regretfully, feel "Coming In Hot", while very moving and well done, does not carry a clear and strong anti-war message that reflects the mission statement and work of WILPF. This is not to denigrate your work nor the work of WILPF either one. The play is a series of viginettes of individuals...some endorse war, some condemn war, and some are unclear. Borrowing from the Mission Statement on the International WILPF site, we base our decision on the following:

    The US-WILPF mission statement proclaims that “WILPF members create the peaceful transformation they wish to see in the world by making connections that build and strengthen relationships and movements for justice, peace, and radical democracy among people all over the world.”

    What do we mean by radical democracy? US-WILPF recognizes that because we come from an anti-democratic society, daring to imagine "radical democracy" is an act of courage and vision. Radical means “at the root,” and democracy means “rule by the people.” But combining the words together gives us something more than the sum of two parts. Radical democracy is not something modern societies have experienced in a widespread, sustained fashion, so it’s not a reality we can precisely define. But we have seen glimpses that suggest it is part of our core nature, something we can nurture and develop, so capturing its essence gives us something we can aspire to.

    Radical democracy is a state of political being. It is not a kind of government, it is an end of government. It starts when people assume they have the values, beliefs, and skills to govern themselves.

    This is clearly not the vision nor clear message conveyed in the play and therefore, although we want to give you a big collective "KUDOS hug" from your WILPF sisters and wish you the best in your career, we do not think "Coming In Hot" is appropriate as a WILPF endorsed project. It is our sincere hope you will accept our decision in the positive light it is given and we wish you all the best in your work.


    Since that time, the branch president, Pat Birnie, contacted me and alerted me that some on the Steering Committee had felt pressured into a consensus and want to revisit the discussion November 12th. Lisa and I plan to be there, and it will be interesting to see where it goes. I think the play ABSOLUTELY sets up a landscape friendly to notions of radical democracy. It will surely be a conversation worth having.

  2. Susi Snyder, Director of the International branch of WILPF in Geneva said:

    "This book, and this play, offer an incredible opportunity to engage in discussions with individuals who may not currently share WILPF's vision of a world without war. The play provides an opportunity to make connections between military and peace communities,
    setting the stage for enlightening dialogue. The DVD that will be produced as a part of this can serve WILPF members as a great educational tool-local showings will likely draw new individuals to see it, and will offer an opportunity to engage with them on issues of WILPF's concern. This could enhance our membership as we're likely to find new individuals interested in our work, and should also demonstrate the fact that WILPF women do not shy away from hard conversations.

    I wish that I could have been at the live presentation of the play. I'll
    have to settle for the DVD, and I look forward to seeing it when it reaches me in Geneva."

    Susi Snyder

  3. My best friend's brother was the first soldier from Tucson to be killed in Iraq. I have seen how his death has affected his widow, children, siblings and parents, as well as other family members and friends. But I never had any real idea of how it must feel to be a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Coming in Hot, while a topnotch production brimming with extraordinary talent, was a very difficult play to watch. It drove home HARD the feelings and challenges that a soldier endures. I can't imagine anyone leaving this play without a deeper desire for peace, a strengthened wish for our troops to come home.

    It is a most powerful performance, and its messages stay with you long after the curtain comes down.

    Billie Stanton
    former opinion editor
    Tucson Citizen (closed 5/15/2009)

  4. "Radical democracy" is a noble ideal to strive towards -- abstract as it is, even approaching ineffable. This dialog might benefit from similarly rethinking the word "war," which could have us consider it not only as organized violence against a people for political reasons, but more broadly, the actions and beliefs that lead to violence. From this perspective COMING IN HOT addresses a war much larger than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a war that is ancient: the systematic and culturally condoned violence against women -- a war in which the battleground is the female body and psyche, and the casualties are the unrealized potentials of a society in which women are not subjugated. The play’s moral stance on this larger, ancient war is courageous and unambiguous; it encourages a macroscopic view of the complexities of the contemporary American military experience, a view that shines light into the shadows of sexual violence and discrimination, and won’t let us forget what is kept hidden in the dark.

    Christopher Nelson

  5. Tremendously well said, Billie and Christopher. Thank you both for those insights.

    It is a beautiful notion, the ineffability of radical democracy. To be ineffable is to be unexplainable, as in a sacred mystery. If it's there, we know it, but we can't describe it.

    I'll be thinking about that for days.

  6. This from a Facebook post:

    Frank Parker November 5 at 2:33pm

    "Coming in Hot" was not just a well written and acted play, it was a necessary play. During the Vietnam War my brother served two tours of duty in Vietnam and I was prepared to go to prison as a Conscientious Objector having exhausted all my appeals to the draft board. It took many years for my brother and I to find our common ground but we did. We did because our hearts ached to express our love and respect for each other. I eventually discovered one of the most honorable, caring, loving human beings I have ever known. Likewise, so did he.

    After getting to know him better, "Make Love Not War," took on a personal meaning for me. Why wage an emotional war on someone I love? I don't have to become a warrior to love my brother. I do have to find peace on its most fundamental level.

  7. Deeply moving, Frank, and such an important point, in my view. It's easy to love people who agree with us, but there's nothing courageous about that. To work to find that seed of love and let it grow - that is the great work. Thank you for posting.

  8. Dear Krista,
    I would like to invite the community in this blog to join my blog-project. 'Chains' is a blog-project on applied anthropology and digital activism, open to all. Our history is documented in this blog and in a Facebook page with the same name. This project aims to give everyone a chance of creating a narrative of difference informed by the ideas and methods of anthropologists. Chain-Blogging involves the creation of a network of interrelated blogs across countries of people learning about diversity by face to face encounters and sharing their stories online. You will find me here: I look forward to your participation. Regards, Pedro

  9. Hi, thanks for this very informative article. I like it. =)
    Cheers from t shirt printing company.