Last week, when President Obama and our representatives in Congress held a bipartisan summit in Washington to discuss health care reform, political reporters called it "nothing more than political theater." And they clearly didn't intend the term "theater" as a compliment. What they meant was that the meeting would be highly ritualized and generally tedious, meaningless, and worthless.
Yet the word theater, as I've understood it, actually describes something that intentionally uncovers meaning in the chaotic events of everyday life. It engages with the profound ideas that matter most through a, yes, ritualized process that creates a entertaining environment where additional discussion and thought is possible and, perhaps, complexity and contradictions are reconciled.
If our political process were actually like theater at all that would be an exceptionally good thing.
In fact, in honor of this slander against a word like theater that means so much to me, I've decided that, from now on, every time I see a show that parrots the conventional wisdom, is only produced to fill up time in a season, or wastes my time with smart, handsome people showing me how righteously they can act and how talented they are at their craft, I'm not calling it bad theater—I'm just calling it "nothing more than political punditry."