Among the playwrights were Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Eugene Ionesco. The most popular work of the latter was “Rhinoceros” (1959). In part, it was a response to the re-emerging of Nazism and Fascism which had spawned the Second World War, and the ongoing grip of communism on the U.S.S.R. under Joseph Stalin. The play explores the themes of conformity, mass movement and authoritarianism, and analyses the mentality of those who embrace the appeal of the collective.
Conformity in this context is aligning one’s thinking, attitudes and behaviour with the ideology of the crowd. The cost can be the loss of our individuality, freedom and identity. While some conformity is inevitable — and necessary for our well-being — as we belong to a community, there needs to be limitations in order to safeguard our integrity. Otherwise, we can be absorbed into a movement that claims our total allegiance.
When we are offered empty promises and easy answers, as in the case of United States President Donald Trump, we can be persuaded or coerced to join up. Or just as damming, we can opt out by denial or rationalization. This is how dictatorships and totalitarian regimes arise.
While the play has relevance in the current rise of the far right, it speaks to every political situation. Locally, we too often have followed a Pied Piper offering us grandiose promises and unattainable goals. “Rhinoceros” speaks to the Muskrat Falls project which enticed so many to back it, especially members of the government.
In the play, it is the unlikely character Benanger who refuses to join the others. He is like the child who shouts, “The Emperor has no clothes.” His words fall on deaf ears; no one listens to his plea for sanity.
Once a mass movement gains control, those who resist it are targeted as the enemy, to be silenced or even eliminated. Vigilance is required to safeguard freedom, justice, equality and peace. This task often falls to the solitary, the prophet, the mystic, the artist, the writer, the comedian, those who can see through a “third eye.”
Conception Bay South