The Dramaturge and the President

Today I was sent a copy of an article written by Jonathan Raban for The Guardian, Saturday 24th January, which describes Barack Obama’s chief scriptwriter, Jon Favreau as ‘presidential dramaturge’. This is the dramaturge (note the ‘e’) as the writer who helps give voice to another’s vision, rather than the dramaturg who assists in prompting, questioning, discovering and developing the structure of the presidency as event.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to speculate what this use of the term might bring to popular understandings of the dramaturg or dramaturge. Will it, one wonders, only serve to reinforce a suspicion that the dramaturg(e) is a covert source of power? Certainly the depiction of Favreau as a red bull drinking, video-game playing, immature white prankster is not a particularly attractive one; nor is the suggestion that a president might become ‘the unwitting puppet of his ghosts’ particularly reassuring. Nevertheless, the association with a generally favourable reading of Obama’s inaugural speech and its potentially revolutionary break with the Bush regime might go some way to align the dramaturg(e) with forces for positive change, rather than reaction. This dramaturge’s openness about his role might also help to open up conversations about what it means to speak in the first person, and whether this can be, legitimately, a collaborative endeavour.

In truth, of course, it doesn’t tell us much about the dramaturg. What it does suggest, though, is that the word (or at least its variant) is becoming more recognisable as it proves a useful one for describing a variety of roles. A recent blog mentioned our book in relation to a reconsideration of the event of church worship. Now we find it used in politics once more, this time in a form very different from the Reichsdramaturg. Where next, I wonder?