The Terms of My Surrender: Don’t Fuck with the Librarians, Or You’ll be Sorry!
It’s been one crazy week in the country where this Canadian has chosen to call his home. Even I was shocked to watch (and read the captions as I just can’t stand listening to the #OrangeMonster’s voice) the man who won the electoral college respond over the weekend to Charlottesville. His meltdown at the Tuesday news conference was mind-boggling and an astounding bit of absurdist theatre, sadly taking place in the real world and not in some scripted television show on some streaming platform. So it just seemed like the perfect week to see Michael Moore’s one man Broadway show, The Terms of My Surrender at the Belasco Theatre.
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday night, he lead a post-performance march on the Trump Tower joined by his theatre audience and a few big named celebrities. They boarded two double decker buses that were provided by the production waiting outside the theatre for the audience to board. Now that, I must say, is great theater pairing itself with the real world in a dramatic and compelling manner. It falls squarely into the framework that Moore tries to establish in the opening moments of his Broadway debut. And he does it pretty successfully with passion, intelligence, and a sly wink. The initial montage is frightening but invigorating. His first words to the audience fire us up in the way we are hoping to be. We are told flat out that we, the individual, must find the will-power and drive to make small steps towards change and resistance. We must ‘do’ and ‘act’. It’s the theory that everyone and anyone can make a difference and cause change; from a librarian at a conference to a young high school student who sees injustice, regardless of how hopeless one feels as we look around this messed up world.
The show is surprisingly humorous and filled with stories that are meant to inspire and inform. Many details of Moore’s life are discussed that are used as evidence backing up his theory. He wrote a speech at the age of fifteen that rippled through the news and political world causing change to the Elks’ “Caucasians only” membership policy. He became the youngest elected official in the country when elected to his school board. He traveled to Germany with a Jewish buddy to protest Reagan’s laying of a wreath at a Nazi cemetery. All of these stories are fascinating bits of inspiration and history, especially the Reagan scenario that this Canadian had somehow missed. It’s a bit self-congratuatory but he does make his point. The best bit, in an ever-changing segment centered around an invited guest each night, is the story of a librarian who heard at a conference that Moore’s book, ‘Stupid White Men’ might not make it to the bookstores. The reason being cited was that the post-9/11 world was not ready for such a strongly-worded, biting piece of political commentary, but this woman, who was brought out to wild applause, caused a ripple effect within her community that started with one email sent to a librarian listserv. Without her knowledge nor Moore’s that simple action made it’s way through the system. As she said, it went viral, in a 2001/2002 kind-of-way. And much to the surprise of both parties, the publishing company was forced to change their mind. The book went onto the shelves and became a hit. The #1 Top Selling Nonfiction book of 2002, we are told.
There are many moments that border on the self-congratulatory, but also feel important and inspirational. Others feel like old late night talk show skits that have lost their political zing. The unpacking of T.S.A. prohibited items and the Canadian vs. American game show that tests the knowledge of the “dumbest Canadian’ against the ‘smartest American” in the audience are both amusing but feel oddly like fill-ins. Both are obvious and a bit old, no matter how humorous Moore tries to be (and our contestants were equally funny with the American woman hysterically running the show, much to Moore’s surprise). But we all were really there for the ‘call-to-arms’ against the current state of affairs, and in that rally cry, we were given plenty to chew on. One had to wonder as the show began, will Moore stay scripted or will the current drama of the increasingly bizarre White House play into the performance being rewritten on a moment to moment bases. The usher told me that the show was approximately two hours long, but Moore is known to go longer and totally off script. Donald will continue to give Moore plenty to talk about if it is up to him, as he will only double down on his insane racist rants as he is want to do, fueling division and hatred across the country.
Moore attempts to give us plenty of small actions to take: uploading the app 5calls.org or everylibrary.org and telling us not to leave the house without being an American fighter. He wants us to become the equivalent of the brave souls of the French Resistance during WW2, not letting our daily busy lives get in the way of joining our own Trump Resistance. He wants us to define a whole new way of winning that has evaded the Democrats in this country. “We are the majority” he says, and pleads with us to not forget that. Moore, in The Terms of My Surrender, is preaching to a New York like-minded liberal choir, and begging us, in essence, to stand up and do something. No matter how small or insignificant it feels at the time. But above all, he says, “don’t fuck with the Librarians”, or you’ll be sorry.