Backstage -- Where The Real Show Goes On

First, a little name-dropping. I’ve been backstage after shows with the likes of Judy Garland, Paul Newman and Alan Alda to Billy Crystal, Bob Newhart and Matthew Broderick. And while the dressing rooms are always small, crowded and glamor-less, here’s where to find the best shows in town ever since the Wizard told Dorothy “ignore that man behind the curtain.”

You see, what goes on behind many of the world’s most famous curtains is what often counts most. Take the room just behind the Papal Balcony pronouncements…the Oval Office just behind the Rose Garden press conferences…the teachers lounge just before classes begin for the day…those smoke-filled-rooms where candidates are picked who look most like they were really picked by the voters.

Backstage is not a lie or a fraud. But is is where the show begins. Where the cast study their scripts and rehearse their lines. Better some rehearsal than some would-be populists climbing platforms or pulpits to just wing it. The trick is — they’ve got to work hard looking like this stuff comes straight from their best heart. We like it that way, we respond to it that way, we are led or mis-led that way.

I’ve never had anything to do with Papal pronouncements or smoke-filled decisions; but I have penned some words-from-the-heart for presidents and faculties. Nothing wrong with these folks working off a prepared script by a contract writer. After all, you’d much prefer a leader who was prepared rather than not. But now here’s where democracies run into some trouble — voters often confuse the on-stage and the back-stage worlds.

The confusion grows out of our mixed emotions. Democratic societies have some contradictory expectations. We want our leaders and celebrities to be smart, but not so smart as to make us feel dumb….attractive, but not so sleek as to make us feel less….fast on their feet, but not so agile as to make us feel deceived…most of all, we want them to speak their minds, but mainly when their minds sound a lot like ours.

When you think about it this way, being a popularly chosen leader or celebrity in a democracy isn’t as easy as it looks. This leaves us with two alternatives: (1) A demagogue who doesn’t have to please us because he rules us, or (2) Plato’s famous “philosopher king” who is so wise we don’t mind being ruled by him.

As I see it — the second alternative is nowhere in sight, whereas the first is always in sight just waiting backstage ready to take over. We paid for these tickets so we better be sure we know what we’re getting….

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