Framing Anti-War Theatre: Public Perceptions of Embedded
Utah State University
Extending research of framing anti-war protest is framed in the public sphere, this study examines theatre critics' reviews and viewers' responses to Tim Robbins' anti-war play Embedded. My research examines how two groups of publics interpreted Embedded: (1) professional theatre reviewers and (2) a sample of Utah State University students. It is important to note that the majority of the students who participated in this study are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), a consistently social and political conservative religious sect. Thus, how this specific group of viewers deciphered Embedded is of special interest. Critical analyses of both reviews and responses revealed the prominence of two seemingly irreconcilable partisan master frames in critics' and spectators' interpretations of the play's protest narratives. Although these frames seem to be incompatible, adherents to both "whining for peace" and "anti-war protest" consider protection of American democracy the primary goal. However, members of both groups define the role of anti-war protest in, and defense of, democracy differently. Examination of discourse suggests that marginalization of anti-war protest continues to be the privileged discourse. Overwhelming dismissal of Embedded's anti-war narratives by the majority of critics and Latter-day Saint (LDS) viewers indicates that dissent was framed according to cultural and societal values, which perpetuated conceptions of anti-war protest as deviant. Thus, in both public discussion and personal interpretation of Embedded's outward expression of protest, anti-war activism is perceived to be illegitimate when the United States is at war. Results suggest that most theatre critics and LDS viewers relied on values framing in their perception of the play, which negated complex and nuanced discussion regarding military action in Iraq. By broadening discussion of how anti-war dissent is framed by including theatre critics and individual viewers, this research provides insight into how dissenting action is perceived within a larger cultural context. As findings reveal, it is reasonable to conclude that marginalization of anti-war dissent is not limited to mass media. Rather, I argue that dismissal of protest may be perpetuated on a wider societal scale, a problematic trend, especially as protest is widely considered to be a valuable tenet of democratic practice.